Two months after multiple DC advisory councils asked the city government to improve pedestrian safety on Eastern Ave NE in the Kenilworth neighborhood, a car driver hit and killed a 51-year-old woman, Sherron Pressley, while she was in a crosswalk on the same street.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the car driver made a left turn from Eastern Avenue onto Kenilworth Avenue NE and struck two pedestrians in the crosswalk area. The driver fled the scene. Both pedestrians suffered “life-threatening injuries,” and one of them, Pressley, ultimately lost her life. The crash occurred on August 30 at approximately 3:45 pm.
At the same site three days after the crash, we talked to a woman who lives in the area. She says that “it does not matter if you have the [crosswalk] light or not” because of the number of drivers running red lights at this intersection. The resident says she walks across the intersection every day and watches cars rushing to U-turn onto Kenilworth “without paying the light any attention.”
We traversed the crosswalk multiple times and noted that the walk signal only gave 16 seconds to cross with a 85-second wait between walk signals. Many other pedestrians we saw, including those with strollers and wheelchairs, chose to cross without waiting up to 85 seconds for the light.
A 2007 study from the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) plans “pedestrian safety improvements” for the intersection of Kenilworth and Eastern avenues, including curb extensions and new crosswalks. It is not clear why DDOT never implemented the above layout, but this improved intersection could have saved Pressley’s life. (We've reached out to DDOT and will update the post if we hear back from the engineer we were referred to.)
Kenilworth Avenue southbound currently consists of one travel lane and one parking lane. A curb extension to make the crosswalk one lane wide instead of two lanes wide would significantly decrease the amount of time a pedestrian has to spend in the street.
Curb extensions calm traffic, slow turning vehicles, and emphasize pedestrian right-of-way. This change on Kenilworth would not even have affected the volume of vehicle flow or the parking lane because the street already has only one travel lane.
The crosswalk at Kenilworth Avenue is vital for area residents because they are only able to purchase walking-distance necessities from the Kenilworth Market and a Chinese restaurant, as seen in the below screenshot.
The resident interviewed at the crash site says, “this [crosswalk] is the danger right here.” She requested that DDOT be proactive, and suggests that the agency install a red light camera.
Traffic deaths in Washington, DC have increased every year since 2015, when Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her Vision Zero initiative to accomplish zero traffic fatalities by 2024. Despite similar commitments by other jurisdictions, the Washington Post stresses that pedestrian deaths are soaring nationwide “largely because of the nation’s appetite for fast arterial roads in urban-suburban areas.”
Kenilworth and Eastern avenues are two of these fast arterial roads. DDOT has received complaints from pedestrians regarding onerously long waits for series of walk signals at multiple complex intersections. DDOT is hosting some high-crash site visits and beginning to redesign some streets, but Pressley’s death exemplifies the consequences of too-little, too-late efforts.
Authors’ note: Eastern Avenue forms the DC-Maryland border, but DC is responsible for the entire intersection analyzed in this article as well as all sidewalks and curbs on the Maryland side of Eastern Avenue.