Like the Starburst Interection on H Street NE, many roads come together in a similar shape where New Hampshire Ave, Florida Ave, and W Street meet 15th Street, NW. Saturday’s fatality may earn it the nickname Death Star. The MPD news release explains the basics of what happened during broad daylight on Saturday morning:
At approximately 10:20 a.m. on Saturday, May 30, 2009, an adult female pedestrian was attempting to cross the street in or near the east crosswalk of the intersection of 15th and W Streets, NW. It was at this time when a 1999 Ford Expedition Sport Utility Vehicle traveling northbound on 15th Street, NW attempted to turn east onto the 1400 block of W Street, NW and struck the pedestrian.
Note the absence of a driver in the synopsis. Apparently the SUV was driving itself.
The victim, identified as 63-year-old Ana Marie Canales of the 2700 block of Virginia Avenue, NW, was transported to an area hospital where she was pronounced dead at 10:35 a.m. The investigation into the cause of the collision is currently ongoing by the detectives assigned to the Department’s Major Crash Investigations Unit.
The release does not indicate whether the SUV driver was making an illegal right turn or was drunk, speeding, on a cell phone or otherwise distracted. It does not indicate whether the pedestrian was crossing against the signal or how long the pedestrian may have been waiting for a signal before she began crossing. It also does not say whether the driver was charged with a crime. These details may come from the police investigation. “If the pedestrian was in the crosswalk,” Assistant Chief Patrick A. Burke said via email, while waiting for the investigation results, “this is obviously another grave violation, which would warrant potential charges.”
This intersection is a well-known danger zone. Via email, Councilmember Jim Graham said, “This has been one of those intersections where we need serious re-engineering and design.” It’s been the subject of fantasy proposals to reduce speeds and improve safety. The nearby intersection of 15th & U is one of the few in the District where crossing signals give pedestrians a head start on turning vehicles, a safety feature that, depending on the exact circumstances of this crash, may have saved the life of Ana Marie Canales. Despite this, it appears that there are no current plans to improve the intersection. The study area for DDOT’s reconfiguration of 15th Street begins immediately south of this location. The June 2008 report on alternatives for the reconfiguration simply states that “the District plans, in the future, to study safety improvements at [the 15th & W] intersection.”
The future wasn’t soon enough for Ana Marie Canales.
Update: It appears DDOT was already studying this intersection, though they hadn’t yet been able to make any changes. They’ve released details of their draft plan.