After at least 31 people were killed on DC roads this year, Mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration announced today a slew of steps to try to halt the carnage.
At a breakfast with the DC Council Tuesday morning, Bowser and her team revealed their plans, which include:
- Banning right turns on red at 100 intersections in early 2019
- Installing some “hardened left turns,” like New York has done, which add rubber curbs along the centerline to stop people from cutting off a corner when turning left
- Adding 100 more Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs), where the walk sign comes on before the green light for cars (people on bikes are legally allowed to ride during an LPI in DC)
- Trying some “neighborhood slow zones” which lower residential speed limits to 20 mph
- More four-way stop signs
- Five new “pick-up/drop-off zones,” which remove parking to allow delivery vehicles, ride-hailing, and private drivers to stop to pick up or drop off people or goods (this is an issue DC Sustainable Transportation has been working closely with DDOT on, and worked with Chairman Phil Mendelson to get authorization and funding in the latest budget)
- Creating a special Vision Zero office with staff dedicated to making safety fixes and coordinating with other agencies on safety issues
- Doubling protected bikeways from 10 miles to 20 (no specific timeline, but DDOT is “investigating acceleration to construction for several projects”)
The Department of Public Works will be deploying 15 enforcement officers on bicycles to look for infractions like blocking bike lanes. In addition, DPW will be seeking authority to mail tickets to drivers who drive off before the enforcement officer can give them a ticket, WAMU's Jordan Pascale first reported.
The DMV will be adding new testing requirements to help drivers learn the rules of the road including how to coexist with non-car travelers, but the specifics were not immediately available.
NBC4's Adam Tuss and Mark Segraves previously reported that rights on red could be banned across all of downtown DC. Marootian said it's likely the greatest share of the 100 intersections will be downtown, because that's where there are the most frequent problems with drivers turning right improperly.
DDOT Director Jeff Marootian also noted that right turns on red aren't the main safety problem at all spots, just some. A right turn on red is a problem when drivers habitually coast into the intersection, perhaps looking to the left for a break in traffic, and not looking to see whether someone is crossing in the crosswalk from right to left.
In other locations, it's not the crosswalk before the turn that's the problem, but the one after — where the driver turns left or right and then hits a person on foot or bike. Here, the problem is more right on green, and that's where measures like an LPI are best.
What our contributors think
Greater Greater Washington contributors discussed the earlier NBC report about rights on red specifically. Abby Lynch said, “I was recently in New York City, and was reminded of how much safer I felt crossing the street as a pedestrian in congested Manhattan (or more comparable-to-DC Astoria), because I didn't have to worry about getting hit in a crosswalk when I had the light. NYC drivers are aggressive, for sure. But they don't try to roll through crosswalks and slide into traffic like they're entering a highway.”
Mitch Wander added, “If this change is known to enhance safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers, then let's do it. As a car driver, I have noticed that at some locations the no turn on red signs are partially obscured by the traffic signals or poles, since they are usually right next to the traffic signals. The visibility of the sigage could be improved.”
Patrick Thornton argued that it would be better to ban right on red universally:
From a design perspective, it should be banned universally. Don't make drivers think. When they get in the habit of making rights on red, they may violate a no right on red out of habit, not because they are looking to break the law. And then they may make that right on red, and hit a baby in a stroller.
Good design should cause people not to think.
I would argue that the proper decision if you want to sometimes allow it is to have explicit signs saying that you can make a right on red, instead of going the other direction and only having a sign if they are banned. It's a concept called choice architecture, and if we can make the default that you cannot make a right on red, it will change how people think.
Ideally, right on red would be banned everywhere and there would be red light cameras to track this. This would be in the “don't make me think” model of design. A backup option would be to have signs that let you know when you can make a right on red, instead of what we have now.
Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Are Bicyclist Association, added, “Eliminating Right Turns on Red is actually mandated by DC Council legislation in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act of 2016. The law requires the Mayor via DDOT to establish Bike/Ped Priority Areas that would be where additional safety strategies should be implemented such as elminating RTOR, lower speed limits (20 mph), protected bike lanes, and additional automated enforcement.”
The mayor and her cabinet will be announcing these steps at a council breakfast Tuesday morning.