- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

When Walter H. Penney, 48, set out on a January day on his bicycle on Sligo Creek Parkway in Silver Spring, he followed the rules he wore a helmet and rode on the correct side of the street. But a motorist going 59 mph in a 25-mph zone hit and killed him.

Of the 13,000 traffic crashes in the District every year, according to a Metropolitan Police Department study, about 250 involve bicyclists and 550 involve pedestrians.

Jim Sebastian, coordinator of the D.C. Transportation Department's Bike Program, said about 15 pedestrians die in the District each year because of traffic violations.

The police department last week observed the area's most congested intersections in seven districts to cite or warn violators of traffic rules. The education and enforcement initiative was part of the Safe Streets campaign, a joint effort between police and the Transportation Department.

In the five districts that reported results, 1,451 violations were issued 315 to pedestrians, 74 to bicyclists and 1,062 to motorists, said Lt. Patrick Burke, traffic coordinator for the police department and head of the Safe Streets program.

"When people are dying, I think it's a big deal, especially when a lot of these crashes are preventable," Lt. Burke said. "That's what we're trying to get through. We're not trying to just write a lot of tickets."

Safe Streets, which will begin a second phase of enforcement in the fall, is funded through the federal Transportation Department, said Lt. Burke. Police received $52,000 in federal funds to pay officers overtime to enforce traffic laws at dangerous intersections throughout the city.

"We're not pulling extra officers from the District for this program; we're putting extra officers on the street," Lt. Burke said.

Mr. Penney's wife, Cheryl Brand, said although enforcement is an effective way to raise awareness, the city's small fines $5 to $10 for minor violations, which include blocking crosswalks or riding on the wrong side of the street do little to encourage offenders to change their behavior.

"I guess I wonder about whether punishments work at all," said Mrs. Brand, 50. "People will probably just pay the fine and go their way."

The driver who struck and killed Mrs. Brand's husband had a prior speeding ticket for going 30 mph over the limit, she said.

Derwin Davis, 46, a bicycle courier, recalled hearing of only one instance of police enforcing rider rules. He said most offending bicyclists are recreational riders, not couriers.

"The overwhelming majority of couriers are safe riders. But some people do some crazy things," he said.

"We do stop at red lights, but as far as sticking to the other rules, we don't really," Mr. Davis said. "We have got to get to where we're going, and we have to get there fast."

Lt. Burke, however, said, "We have seen the couriers are doing the more dangerous things."

Until the next phase of Safe Streets begins sometime after schools reopen, Lt. Burke said, he hopes officers will keep on the outlook for offenders.

"You can't run overtime things all the time. I hope to keep these efforts up," he said.

Mrs. Brand said she hopes people will realize the dangers of irresponsible driving and think twice about their actions. "It all really comes down to personal responsibility," she said. "People have to do the right thing because it's the right thing."


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