Wilson Building by Lawrence G. Miller licensed under Creative Commons.

Last Thursday, DC Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment looked at three bills, including one that could improve commutes and safety for students in the District.

The Safe Streets for Students Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0066) combines and revises two student safety measures — the Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2021 (the council is using this bill’s number to denote the marked-up bill now known as Safe Streets for Students Amendment Act of 2022) and the Safe Routes to School Act — introduced last year by Councilmembers Christina Henderson (At-large) and Janeese Lewis-George (Ward-4), respectively.

The bill would require master plans for infrastructure upgrades to promote school commute safety and establish an Office of Safe Passage reporting directly to the mayor. Committee members linked the bill to larger issues of agency oversight, public safety, and the District’s vision zero goals.

“Each and every one of those students has some commute to school, whether it’s brief, for example, down the street, or could be longer, across town, in fact, and therefore faces potential dangerous interactions with vehicles,” Chairperson Mary Cheh (Ward-1) said. “Our vision zero plans must consider how to best protect these students during these commutes.”

Cheh noted that the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has already created a Safe Routes to School Program, though the District government stands to do more.

“Traffic violence is not only the risk students face on their way to and from school,” Cheh added. “Students also can experience bullying, harassment, theft, fighting and other violence. In fact, a 2020 survey found that 36% of the District students felt unsafe or uncomfortable on their school commutes.”

On that point, Cheh recognized the Deputy Mayor for Education’s Safe Passage and Safe Blocks program. Cheh said the DME had communicated to her that the department had “limited interest in housing this program” for the long-term.

Changes (or mark-ups) to the legislation include but are not limited to:

  • Codify the existence of safe routes to school and safe passage programs
  • Require DDOT and DME to create a safe streets for students master plan to be submitted to the council every five years for approval
  • Expand membership in Safe Passage Working Group to include parents and faculty
  • Require DME to update safe passage map tool to include stop signs, sidewalks, and crossing guard locations etc
  • Provide funding for more DME staff to support the program
  • Increase the size of school zones — the areas where DDOT implements school safety infrastructure
  • Require DDOT to recommend to the council how to render crossing guard positions full time via inter-agency assignments

Councilmember Lewis-George had reservations about committee revisions, noting that her Safe Routes to School bill denoted infrastructure upgrades as required directives for DDOT to follow with little agency discretion.

“I did this because we’ve seen too often that DDOT continues to choose the least impactful mitigations or no mitigations at all, that is, until someone gets seriously hurt or killed,” Lewis-George said.

The markup passed unanimously.

The committee also considered two additional bills:

All three bills passed and will move on to the Committee of the Whole, or the entire council, for further review.

Also this week in DC Council

The Committee of the Whole will hold a Public Hearing on the Congress Heights Small Area Plan Approval Resolution at 11 am on Thursday. This resolution would approve the District Office of Planning’s CHSAP, a study of the neighborhood’s social equity, public space, and transit access, as well as a series of recommendations from the OP on how to build a more equitable and livable Congress Heights.

The Committee on Transportation and the Environment will hold a public hearing at the same time on the Battery and Electronic Stewardship Amendment Act of 2021. This bill would amend the Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act of 2014 to make clear that battery producers are responsible for primary and rechargeable batteries and to improve environmental justice-minded battery collection plans in the District.

The Committee on Transportation and the Environment will hold a public roundtable on the District’s snow removal operations plan for the coming winter on Thursday at 1:30 pm.

The Committee on Transportation and the Environment will hold a public hearing on the Rightsizing Residential Permit Parking Regulation Amendment Act of 2021 at noon on Friday. This bill would reshape residential permit parking (RPP) zones to fit ANC rather than ward boundaries.