With dozens of people struck by cars every month in the District, pedestrian and bicycle safety is a serious concern. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) has introduced a new street safety campaign for 2011 with the intent of addressing inter-modal accidents.

Image from StreetSmart.

However, the new ads from the Street Smart public safety program that are now appearing on area billboards and bus shelters send the wrong message. In the ads, a damaged car is shown after what appears to be an accident with a pedestrian or bicyclist, both of which are proportionally much larger.

Images from StreetSmart.

The ads feature several warnings, such as “Get Real…Wait for the Walk” to “Watch for Bicyclists When Turning.” But the defining feature in each image is that the car, not the pedestrian or cyclist, is the only injured party during a crash.

Image from StreetSmart.

Previous ad campaigns from the MWCOG have been particularly noteworthy. One launched in 2008 depicts a car violently hitting a person on foot. The ads were clearly meant to shock both drivers and pedestrians into being more aware of their surroundings in order to avoid collisions; they were so effective that I still remember them now, several years later. The new ads, on the other hand, remind me of times as a kid when I accidentally fell while walking. My dad would ask, jokingly, if the sidewalk was hurt in the fall, which took my mind off a skinned knee or bruised arm. While I was just fine after a minor stumble, pedestrians and bicyclists hit by vehicles are not often so lucky. Everyone should follow traffic safety laws, but the idea that it’s only the car that gets damaged in a pedestrian accident defies logic. MWCOG’s Street Smart program is an important one, and this iteration of ads could be substantially less effective than what the council has produced in the past. Correction: The ads as listed on the StreetSmart website have yellow borders reading “A Giant Pedestrian (or Bicycle) Safety Problem.” Several people pointed out that this should be considered part of the creative. I’ve updated the images to include that, and also show both versions of the pedestrian and bicycle ads with different taglines.

A native Washingtonian, Adam currently resides in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland where he studied political science and he has a keen interest in local governance.