Image by Matthew Paul Argall licensed under Creative Commons.

Many of my neighbors and I were alarmed to see a message on our neighborhood email list near the start of September. Doug Hollis, Deputy Chief of Operations and Programs for DC Public Schools, wrote:

In the first 7 days of the traditional school calendar, DCPS have had 4 situations (that we are aware of) where a student and/or a caregiver was struck by a vehicle near one of our schools. These are unfortunate and avoidable situations.

Unfortunate, to say the least. Avoidable? Given that we don't know all the details, it's worth thinking about how these and similar ones might be avoided.

Perhaps it's not so surprising after all that there is a high rate of crashes right when the year starts. Children walking or exiting vehicles, and parents driving, aren't familiar with the drop-off patterns yet, and might make mistakes.

But we have to design our public spaces so that mistakes don't mean injury or death, and children can safely get to school.

DCPS provided more information about where the crashes happened:

Aug 21 or 22nd (near Lafayette ES) – A childcare provider and student involved incident with metro bus near the school.

Aug 27th – (near Garfield ES) - 6 year old hit exiting a vehicle and stepping into the street in the 2300 block of Alabama Ave SE.

Aug 28th (near Garfield ES)- grandmother and Stanton ES student were hit by car in the 2400 block Alabama Ave.

Aug 28th (near Simon ES)—4th grade Simon ES student hit by vehicle.

Here's a map of where those locations are.

Locations of the 4 crashes by Google Maps.

Lafayette Elementary is in upper Northwest, in the part of Ward 4 west of Rock Creek Park. The other three are in Ward 8, DC's poorest ward and the one with the lowest level of car ownership in the District.

Yet many high-speed roads across DC and the region are designed for fast movement of traffic. On Alabama Avenue, at least, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has a plan for making the street safer, the Alabama Avenue SE Corridor Study. It's proposing changing what's often two lanes each way, with or without on-street parking, into bike lanes and parking on one side, or parking and bulb-outs which extend the curb into the intersection, or other designs.

Alabama Avenue SE study recommendations by DDOT.

The 2300 block of Alabama Avenue SE is around the intersection with Suitland Parkway, where the Alabama Avenue SE project recommends a special design (lower left corner below):

Alabama Avenue SE study: location-specific intersection designs by DDOT.

What's next? District Department of Transportation (DDOT) spokesperson Terry Owens said,

A Notice Of Intent (NOI) was issued on August 30, 2018 for the section of Alabama Avenue between Stanton Road and Bruce Place. The NOI improvements include:

  • Install high-visibility crosswalk and pedestrian refuge at Webster Place;
  • Install high-visibility striping in existing crosswalks and shorten crossing distances;
  • Relocate bus stop at 18th Place to Webster Place;
  • Consolidate southbound bus stop at Bruce Place to southbound bus stop at 22nd Street;

Once the NOI closes, we will finalize drawings and plan to install the improvement this fall, weather permitting. The NOI closes on October 15th.  DDOT is also designing an intersection improvement at Alabama Avenue and Irving Place to include a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon(RRFB). This location is directly in front of Garfield Elementary School and will aid in pedestrian crossing.

This last item would address the third crash above. Unfortunately, most of the Alabama Avenue safety study will sit on a shelf, possibly indefinitely. Owens said, “At this time, there are no immediate plans to move forward other recommendations from the Alabama Avenue Corridor Safety Study.”

The DC Council is holding a hearing on Thursday, before Mary Cheh (Ward 3)'s transportation committee and Charles Allen (Ward 6)'s public safey committee, about progress on the Vision Zero effort of eliminating all serious injuries and fatalities on DC roadways.

This post has been updated with information about DDOT's plans for the Alabama Avenue study.