Photo by ell brown on Flickr.

More and better traffic enforcement is key to reducing pedestrian crashes along our main streets. Last week, Mayor Gray announced that he is giving the green light to a new set of traffic cameras which MPD has been trying to buy for over a year. This is great news for DC pedestrians.

Older folks are at particular risk in crossing our streets, such as Connecticut Avenue, because speed kills. A driver traveling 30 mph who hits a pedestrian is only 45% likely to kill that person, but at just 10 mph faster, the odds jump to 85%. For seniors, the risk is even greater.

Seniors feel very vulnerable crossing the street, because drivers don’t wait for them to cross when making right- and left-hand turns. And, of course, there are those cars that blast through red lights. In fact, most pedestrians hit by drivers are struck when in the crosswalk and crossing legally with the light.

Pedestrians will welcome any measures to slow down cars, make drivers stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, and clear the box so that parents crossing the street to take their small children to their preschool don’t have thread their way through the cars blocking the intersection and the crosswalks.

Lisa Sutter, head of photo enforcement for DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, first presented her photo enforcement program to the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council in December or 2010. I thought Santa had delivered the absolute best Christmas presents. The new cameras will catch violators not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, speeding through red and green lights, and blocking the box.

Ms. Sutter has the proof. She collects data on how her cameras affect driver behavior.





Cameras work. Drivers slow down and stop going through red lights. Plus, revenues drop over time. 

Many of the complaints against cameras, such as those from AAA, say that the measure is just a play for revenue. But it is not really a good revenue source once drivers learn and begin to follow the law. Maybe new cameras would help plug a budget gap this year, but DC will not be able to count on a lot of revenue over time. What they can count in is safer streets.

Look at Connecticut Avenue north of Chevy Chase Circle.  The cars go the speed limit.  As a pedestrian who has had many near misses, I am all for it. And I drive a car, as well. 

Besides, we all want safer streets, and we need to invest the resources to get there. If an effective method pays for itself and provides funding for more expansion,  should we not support it?

Each pedestrian killed costs $3.84 million (in 2005 dollars) from losing wages and productivity, medical expenses, motor vehicle damage and employers’ insurance costs. A pedestrian injury costs $52,900 (also in 2005 dollars, according to the National Safety Bureau.)

Aren’t these fines a small price to pay to reduce crashes? 

ANCs 3C and 3F passed a resolution in favor of photo enforcement, and other ANC’s across the city are considering similar actions. It is time to view the risk of bodily harm from the traffic violations on our streets as we do the risk from crime. In fact, the risk is greater.

In their report of Traffic Safety in the New Millennium, the International Association of Chiefs of Police wrote, “More people are killed and injured and the economic losses to society are greater from traffic crashes than that from crime.” 

It’s long past time to install more traffic cameras and make our streets safer. Mayor Gray took the right step, and the DC Council should approve the program as part of this year’s budget.