Rally for streets that don’t kill people by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

Following weeks marred by multiple traffic-related deaths in the District, Councilmember Charles Allen (ward 6) introduced a bill on Tuesday that would push much harder for Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate traffic-related deaths and injuries. It would also push DC to fulfill its Sustainable DC commitment to get to 50% of trips by transit and 25% by walking and bicycling by 2032.

The Vision Zero Omnibus Amendment Act of 2019 was co-introduced by Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Kenyan McDuffie, Elissa Silverman, David Grosso, Robert White, Brandon Todd, and Anita Bonds, and co-sponsored by Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Vince Gray. If passed, it could do a great deal to make pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and all road users safer in the District.

What would the bill do?

Advocates say that while Vision Zero is a great goal, it has been lacking political commitment since it was introduced in DC in 2014. This bill would build in legal requirements and accountability. Allen’s office describes it as having three main components: better infrastructure, enforcement of existing laws, and planning for a more equitable, less car-dependent transportation system.

Highlights from the bill include:

  • A requirement for DDOT to certify plans for private developments that include new sidewalks, marking unmarked crosswalks, and add protected bike lanes that are in the Transportation Plan
  • A requirement for sidewalks on both sides of all streets and connections be made to any existing sidewalks within .1 of a mile
  • For residential intersections of two-way streets, all-way stops are the starting point for design
  • A faster approval process for DDOT to make critical infrastructure repairs at high-risk areas
  • A legal ban right-on-red turns in the District of Columbia (this was recently announced as a new policy by the Mayor and DDOT, but hadn’t been implemented)
  • Creation of a Citizen Traffic Safety Enforcement Pilot program to test training and empowering citizens to enforce parking laws in crosswalks, bicycle lanes, fire lanes, and bus stops
  • Limiting speed to 25 mph on most minor arterial roads and 20 mph on local roads
  • Levying a $10,000 daily fine on contractors who do not restore crosswalks and bicycle lanes within 24 hours of completing work
  • Allowing parking enforcement to target repeat reckless drivers by impounding parked cars with five speeding violations at 31+ mph over the speed limit or violations for passing a stopped car yielding to pedestrians in a crosswalk
  • A requirement for a Complete Streets Policy laying out standard project delivery processes for projects managed by DDOT
  • A requirement for DDOT to aggregate crash and speed data in one publicly-accessible site

A disappearing crosswalk on Prospect Street by Mike Maguire licensed under Creative Commons.

It also includes a requirement for DDOT to update the Transportation Plan every two years. It will be approved by the Council, and should include:

  • A plan to get to 50% of commutes by public transit and an additional 25% by bike/ped by 2032, in line with goals set by the landmark Clean Energy DC law
  • Identify areas in need of improved transit access
  • Identify high-risk intersections
  • A list of one street or one bus line in each ward that will get a dedicated transit lane

The provision to plan for 50% of commutes by public transit and 25% by riding bicycles or walking by 2032 are particularly encouraging, as they reflect the kind of paradigm shift needed to meet equity, sustainability, and safety goals on a broader scale. Until the new plans are established, the bill calls for MoveDC to function as the official plan.

The legislation has been introduced (reportedly with close support from Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (ward 1)’s office) amid a wave of proposed bills in recent weeks, which aim to rebalance priority of road use toward safety and multi-model transportation, such as Councilmember Mary Cheh (ward 3)’s bike lane bill and Allen’s emergency bill to speed up redesign of Florida Avenue, where cycling safety advocate Dave Salovesh was killed on April 19.

Two more bills focused on protecting vulnerable road users were also introduced Tuesday: Councilmember David Grosso (at-large) announced a bill to protect pedestrians by mandating curb extensions, which place the curb level with the parking lane, in all future DDOT road improvement projects. Councilmember Brandon Todd (ward 4) reportedly proposed legislation to make bike-related rules part of the DC Department of Motor Vehicles’ driving test.

How is Vision Zero supposed to work?

Vision Zero sets out a series of priorities for designing the spaces in which we travel, including establishing maximum safe speeds for roads; separating cars from pedestrians and cyclists; making streets predictable and simple; making it hard for road users to break the law; and tackling non-design factors that influence safety, such as driving while distracted or drunk.

A caution sign on 8th and D streets NE urging drivers to watch for pedestrians has been knocked over. Image by the author.

Vision Zero is based on the premise that most crashes are due to human error and that roads must be designed to optimize the chances of avoiding such errors. The Vision Zero Network highlights fundamental principles for making progress in the US by emphasizing preventability and human error, as well as the importance of prioritizing human life and health.

Vision Zero in DC is not a thing, but it could be

Vision Zero has been a bust in DC since Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced it in 2014, with traffic-related fatalities actually increasing year-on-year. DC’s efforts in this respect have been significantly outperformed by other cities such as New York. The death toll so far in 2019 is on track to match that of 2018, which saw the highest number of traffic-related deaths (36) in a decade. Advocates have been saying for years that DC’s leadership would have to make eliminating traffic-related deaths a much higher priority to make any progress.

It’s not clear that the District’s explicit goal in this respect—zero traffic-related deaths by 2024—was achievable, even if it were supported by more meaningful provisions. Reducing traffic-related deaths has not been a policy priority, though it should be. District lawmakers need not look far for ideas about how to make our roads safer. What’s been lacking are legal provisions that make these ideas a “must-do,” not a “nice to have.”

Advocates were encouraged by the hire of Linda Bailey in January as Director of DDOT’s new Vision Zero office. But the deeply sad spate of deaths since then in wards throughout the District renewed calls for action. Though Allen’s team has planned to reintroduce the Vision Zero bill for months, public outcry around recent deaths may have lent it more urgency, judging by comments from lawmakers in response to those deaths.

Is this time any different?

Road safety advocates in the District are mostly cheering for this bill.

Allen’s team was keen to point out on Twitter in response to concerns about the scale of the bill’s impact that it would place legal requirements on DDOT to put road safety at the heart of capital improvement plans going forward.

As Nadeau poignantly observed following the deaths of Dave Salovesh and Abdul Seck on the same weekend in April, “the best time to take decisive action on street safety was before these people were killed. The second best time is now.”