The area near the 1600 block of Kenilworth Avenue NE where Pressley was killed. Image by the author.

The man accused of striking and killing 51-year-old Sherron Pressley with his car on Kenilworth Avenue NE has a hearing before the DC Superior Court this Friday, May 17. While the case is moving forward, little has changed at the dangerous intersection where Pressley died more than eight months ago.

According to a police statement, on August 30, 2018 21-year-old Markel Ford was driving westbound on Eastern Avenue NE and made a left turn onto the 1600 block of Kenilworth Avenue NE near the DC-Maryland border, striking two pedestrians in the crosswalk area. The driver of the vehicle fled the scene, and the two women, Pressley and Diane Beckett, were transported to a nearby hospital. Pressley died later that day at 3:45 pm.

On January 29, 2019 Ford was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, and his case is moving forward. From a safety perspective however, things haven't been moving as quickly. Sherice Muhammad, the local ANC 7D commissioner and chairperson for the area, has been on the ground working to improve safety.

“Anytime someone is killed it accentuates what needs to be done. Unfortunately it took that to get some real focus on the the issue,” Muhammad said. “The family is still grieving, and did it have to happen? No!”

The area near the 1600 block of Kenilworth Avenue NE. Image by the author.

Muhammad has been working with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), but she says the process has been slow. The agency is working on a Parkside Access and Circulation study, which seeks to find vulnerable spots in the area that includes this intersection. The goal of the study, according to DDOT, is to:

  • Develop an understanding of access and circulation constraints through data collection, community input, and analysis.
  • Develop a comprehensive listing of planned development and transportation improvements in and adjacent to the Parkside neighborhood.
  • Develop recommendations to address both current and future needs (including support for and management of expected growth and changes to the transportation infrastructure).
  • Analyze and prioritize improvements based on a performance indicator that incorporate the community’s overall goals and objectives.
  • Develop a draft and final Access and Circulation Plan based on transportation analysis of operations, safety, and accessibility, as well as community and stakeholder input.

Proposed changes to the intersection where Pressley died.

The Parkside study points out that besides Pressley, in the past five years, two bicyclists were also injured in crashes on Kenilworth Avenue NE near Foote Street NE.

Study area from the DDOT Parkside Access and Circulation Study. The dots mark where Pressley died and where two cyclists were injured. Image by DDOT.

People living in the area have known that this intersection is dangerous for a very long time, and so has DDOT. A 2007 study about the same intersection of Kenilworth and Eastern avenues would have provided for “curb extensions and new crosswalks along with other improvements.”

“The area needs dire remediation,” Muhammad says.

Since Pressley’s death, there have been more traffic fatalities in DC. As of May 9 there have been 10 traffic fatalities in the District, data from the DC Metropolitan Police Department shows, which is the same amount of deaths this time last year. A look at the 20-year span from 1999 to 2018 shows that traffic fatalities have fluctuated from year to year.

Traffic fatalities peaked in 2001 with 72 deaths recorded, while 2012 saw the lowest with 19, according to police data. Looking at the past five years, traffic fatalities seem to be ticking back up with 26 death recorded in 2014 and 2015, 28 in 2016, 30 in 2017 and 36 in 2018. Ward 8 bears a disproportionate number of traffic deaths. Sixty percent of this year's fatal crashes have been in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray wrote a letter to DDOT Director Jeff Marootian on October 25 where he spoke of Pressley’s fatal crash and the history of that intersection:

Eastern Avenue, NE and Kenilworth Avenue, NE. This intersection, where Ms. Pressley was struck, has been a longstanding concern raised by Ward 7 residents and as well as members of the Pedestrian Advisory Council and the Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Council. Motor vehicles have been observed running the red light at this intersection, posing a significant and already fatal threat to pedestrians and other motorists. I understand that the incident involving Ms. Pressley is still being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and DDOT is awaiting a report to review it with the task force and make safety recommendations.

T.N. Tate, Communicatons Director for Gray's office told me in an email, “Councilmember Gray has invested funds in the FY20 budget for DDOT’s planning and design of a traffic turnaround at the intersection of Kenilworth and Eastern Ave NE.”

If you're interested in learning more about this issue, Muhammad is putting together a transportation equity forum in the near future, and we'll update the post when we get more detail. The next public hearing on the Parkside Study is set for Wednesday, May 15 at 6:30 pm at Mayfair Mansions Community Center located at 3744 1/2 Hayes Street NE.

George Kevin Jordan is GGWash's Editor and Correspondent writing about urgency and equity in transportation in the Washington region and also the transformation of Tysons. He is a proud new-ish resident of Hillcrest in DC's Ward 7. He was born and raised in Milwaukee and has written for many publications, most recently the AFRO and about HIV/AIDS issues for TheBody.com.