Image by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

Last Thursday evening, dozens of people braved sweltering heat to memorialize two men who were struck and killed by an SUV driver at James Monroe Park on the evening of July 10. They were the 13th and 14th people to be killed in a traffic crash in the District this year.

Robert (left) remembers the friends he lost at this spot. He says he sat with them there an hour before they were killed. Image by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

As DCist reported, US Park Police in charge of the investigation have not disclosed who the victims are, saying they want to notify family members first. Some community members say the victims were experiencing homelessness and were sleeping on the benches when they were killed, but police would not confirm this, nor would they say whether the driver was speeding or impared.

People have been killed by drivers  while bicycling, walking, scooting, and now while sitting. Image by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

Vigil-goers demanded safer streets. Image by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

This western section of Pennsylvania Avenue bordering the park where the men were killed is overdue for a safety update. The Downtown West Transportation Study, underway since 2016, would address this spot. The project area stretches along Pennsylvania Avenue NW from 17th Street to Washington Circle NW.

Currently people on foot have to cross six lanes of traffic, and drivers tend to speed on the wide, empty streets at night. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) presented the latest iteration of its plans to improve the area for more vulnerable road users just three weeks ago, including reducing six driving lanes to four and installing sidewalks.

Eight out of DC’s 14 traffic fatalities to date in 2019 have been pedestrians, including Abdul Seck who was struck and killed while walking on a sidewalk in Anacostia in April. Last year, 14 people were killed by drivers while walking.

Organizers say the District needs to prioritize and fund infrastructure for people walking and bicycling, and should be more responsive when communities request safety updates.

“DC elected and appointed officials know what they need to do to keep all road users safe. They have literally been studying the area where this crash occurred for years and just presented a design to the community,” organizer Rachel Maisler said. “We have a number of bills before the council aimed at protecting vulnerable road users, but haven’t had any hearings. So, we wait. DC, its commuters, and visitors deserve safe roads. Nobody should be killed by a driver while sitting on a park bench in DC.”

A memorial. Image by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

Julie Strupp is Greater Greater Washington's Managing Editor. She's written for DCist, Washingtonian, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and others. You can usually find her sparring with her judo club, pedaling around the city, or hanging out on her Columbia Heights stoop.