The most striking traffic safety issue this morning isn’t a fatal crash or dangerous intersection, but the removal of a ghost bike memorial to Alice Swanson, who was killed just over a year ago after being run over by a garbage truck at 20th and R streets, NW. City Paper has the most complete account of what happened to the ghost bike; it seems DPW removed it after receiving complaints from unidentified local business owners, without first informing WABA or Swanson’s family or friends. DCist’s Aaron Morrissey explains why it’s important to keep the memorial in place. Ghost bikes exist around the world without controversy. Why does DPW feel that DC should be different? In lieu of a ghost bike, Swanson’s aunt has placed flowers at the site with a simple posted question: “Why has the mayor taken the bike?”
Speed (almost) kills: From Prince William County comes the story of a close call with a fortunate ending. A father driving his young daughter to the babysitter was driving 40 mph in a 25 mph zone. When an officer tried to pull him over, he sped away and crashed the car. After pulling the seriously injured driver out of the car and to the ground, the officer pulled his uninjured baby daughter to safety. The driver has been charged with driving with a revoked license, eluding police and child abuse and neglect. Luckily, the girl is still alive and no one else was injured. A pedestrian struck on the side of the road would have been more than three times as likely to survive had the driver been going the speed limit. (Fox 5, WTOP)
Hit-and-run highway: Also last week in Prince William County, a recent immigrant from Ghana was biking home from work at night along the shoulder on Lee Highway in Haymarket when a driver came from behind and struck him before fleeing the scene. The cyclist was airlifted to the hospital but died the next morning. It is precisely these types of “invisble riders” — cyclists by necessity, not choice — who are least likely to have lights, helmets or other safety accessories. Although events such as WABA’s light giveaway aim to improve safety for this population, more can be done to make these riders less vulnerable, including road design that doesn’t punish them for not being able to afford a car. (TheWashCycle, Fox 5)
Broken but not defeated: A more fortunate local cyclist told a bike blog about his experience of crashing with a taxi that turned the wrong way down Madison Drive on the Mall. The cyclist got nine hours in the emergency room, along with cracked ribs, a fractured nose and a broken bike. The taxi driver got a ticket from Park Police for an illegal left-hand turn. (Cozy Beehive)
Motorcycle fatalities at full throttle: The riskiest two wheels on the road, however, are motorcycles. Sixty motorcyclists died on our region’s roads last year, and the national fatality rate for motorcyclists is rising even as other surface modes become less deadly. Motorcycle deaths and injuries have more than doubled in the past decade, caused by less restrictive helmet laws, more motorcyclists on the road, more powerful bikes and larger automobile sizes. (Post)
This is your car on drugs: Last week, a woman was killed on a sidewalk while walking to church in Glen Burnie. Police believe that prescription drugs may have led the driver who killed her to lose control of his vehicle. The driver has a history of traffic violations; charges are pending against him in this case. Despite this horrific fatality, Anne Arundel police say that crashes involving pedestrians are down by 10 from this time last year, to a total of 104. (Maryland Gazettte, WBAL)
When is a stop sign safer than a light?: Last week, a reader wrote to Prince of Petworth with a question: Would the intersection of 11th Street and Park Road be safer for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians as a four-way stop than with its current configuration as a signalized intersection? Both the Prince and his commentariat were united against converting the intersection to an all-way stop, with commenter WDC asking, “When is a stop sign ever safer than a stop light?” The answer is quite often, especially on low- to medium-volume streets like Park and 11th. Stop signs force intersection users to interact with each other instead of with a traffic signal, resulting in both reduced vehicle speeds (no more cruising on green or catching a yellow) and improved overall journey times (no more waiting for a red light to change). But what about safety? According to numbers cited by AASHTO, “intersection crash rates frequently increase with signal installation.” An average of 2.5 crashes per year happen at unsignalized urban intersections, while signalized urban intersections average 4.6 crashes per year. And FHWA cites numbers that show “removing unwarranted signals may result in a 24% decrease in all crashes, a 53% decrease in injury crashes, a 24% decrease in right-angle crashes, and a 29% decrease in rear-end crashes.”
How about a roundabout? Perhaps a “modern roundabout” would work even better? Tom Vanderbilt points out that “stop signs are not a speed control mechanism.” Watsonville, California installed one and found that the average speed declined from 37 mph to 30. Nevertheless, residents petitioned the City Council to remove the circle, which they called “unsafe.” This is a good example of how the perception of safety isn’t the same as actual safety.