- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hispanic pedestrians are run down by cars in greater numbers than members of any other ethnic group, according to new data that is prompting the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to press municipal transportation departments to address the problem.

A resolution, scheduled for a vote Wednesday, calls for a public education campaign “with increased targeting of high-risk populations.”

In Northern Virginia, Hispanics stand an eight in 100,000 chance of getting struck by a car or truck, compared with three per 100,000 for Caucasians, two per 100,000 for Asian Americans and six per 100,000 for the black community, according to a recent report from COG, a regional planning agency.

Maryland and the District report similar accident rates by ethnic group.

“Here, people walk to everywhere,” Mario Quiroz, a spokesman for the Silver Spring-based immigrant-advocacy group Casa de Maryland, said about his predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. “You go walking to shopping, your laundry, your bank.”

Roadway dangers are greatest for new immigrants, he said.

“Some immigrants are not used to using crosswalks,” Mr. Quiroz said. “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”

Hispanics also suffer a higher-than-average death and injury rate from pedestrian accidents nationally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Income appears to be a factor for some of them.

“Quite often, people do not own a car, and they live in places that do not have sidewalk facilities or very poor ones,” said Anne P. Canby, president of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, an advocacy group for multimodal transportation planning. “To get to transit, they have to walk.”

Nationwide, 4,784 pedestrians from ethnic groups were killed in traffic accidents in 2006, the last year for which the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics has figures.

More than 80 pedestrians are killed and 2,300 injured every year in the Washington area, according to COG. Pedestrians make up one-fifth of the region’s traffic fatalities.

COG’s resolution also asks local governments to enforce pedestrian-safety laws more stringently and to design traffic facilities to make the region more “walkable.”

A lack of coordination among regional governments has limited the success of pedestrian-safety planning until now, COG officials said.

The resolution represents a goal, not a new law for the region’s governments, COG officials said. “This is essentially moral persuasion,” said Mike Farrell, the council’s transportation planner.

The resolution follows the May release of the District’s Master Plan for pedestrian safety.

The plan calls on the D.C. Department of Transportation to rearrange 61 “high-hazard” intersections with better safety equipment and designs, such as brighter striping of crosswalks or installing flashing-yellow streetside lights to let motorists know when pedestrians are about to cross.

The master plan resulted from a study of the most hazardous intersections for pedestrians and strategies for re-engineering them.

Pedestrians near the 16th Street and Columbia Road intersection in Northwest seemed aware of the traffic dangers on a hot Tuesday morning this week.

“They should put cameras here, because some of these cars turn and almost kill people,” D.C. resident Ana Cinto said in Spanish just before she boarded a Metrobus. “They don’t wait until people cross the street.”

Carlos Parada Lopez, a janitor , suggested the District build a pedestrian bridge over 16th Street. “There’s too much traffic,” he said in Spanish.

He spoke about a Guatemalan woman whose death created concern in the Hispanic community when she was hit by a bus while crossing a street near the boundary between the District and Silver Spring in 2007.

Others said careless pedestrians could be blamed as much as heavy vehicular traffic.

“There are people who don’t wait, they just cross,” Ana Mejia, a D.C. street cleaner, told The Times reporter in Spanish. “They have to watch.”

D.C. officials said some downtown streets have outgrown the original development plan envisioned by urban planners a century or more ago.

“It certainly wasn’t anticipated that this amount of traffic would come through” the Adams Morgan area, said Karyn G. LeBlanc, the transportation department’s spokeswoman.

The junction of Columbia and Adams Mill roads in Northwest is among the intersections scheduled for a more pedestrian-friendly redesign.

The transportation department plans to broaden Columbia Road near the intersection to eliminate a “slip lane” that allows motorists to move out of the main flow of traffic into a special lane for turning onto the intersecting street. The slip lane is separated from the street by a median strip.

Although the slip lane makes turns easier for motorists, it forces pedestrians to cross an additional roadway.

“There just won’t be an added roadway there for pedestrians to walk across,” Ms. LeBlanc said.

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