- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2005

Kathy Harrison-Crews, with the wave of a hand, stops a rumbling tour bus in its tracks. A minute later, with a flick of the wrist, the 5-foot-tall, 33-year-old sends the bus and hundreds of other trucks and cars racing past her while she stands in the middle of 14th and E streets NW.

Many of the drivers appear to believe that the speed limit hasn’t changed since they left Interstate 395, but Mrs. Harrison-Crews isn’t worried.

“I have my little dance. As long as I keep moving from side to side, I keep safe,” she says after her Thursday morning shift directing rush-hour traffic.

Mrs. Crews is one of the District’s traffic control officers, a team tasked with keeping cars moving on the city’s congested streets.

She stands in the busy intersection wearing a safety-yellow vest, white cap and gloves that sport Day Glo fingertips and an orange octagon on each palm. Bundled in a blue uniform against the cold, she blasts a whistle and motions commuters, delivery men and some bewildered out-of-state drivers to stop and go, turn right and turn left, with authority that belies her small stature.

“You have to have control of what you’re doing. Once you let the cars intimidate you, you lose control. They have to know that when I say stop, I mean stop,” Mrs. Harrison-Crews explains.

Pedestrians get gentler treatment: “Please don’t walk, sir” or “OK, go ahead ma’am.

“I don’t want them to get hit,” says Mrs. Harrison-Crews, who notes she, herself, hasn’t had any scrapes with oncoming automobiles.

One officer was hit and slightly injured during the program’s first week, but no other incidents have been reported, says Mary Myers, a D.C. Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

Mrs. Harrison-Crews, a mother of four whose husband, Vincent Crews, is serving in Kuwait with the Navy, has worked for the District since 1997.

She has been on the traffic control beat since October, when the District started the program. It was one of the first initiatives to come from Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ “Downtown Congestion Task Force,” a group of city officials, business and community leaders.

Thirty officers work to prevent congestion at 15 downtown intersections during rush hour.

Mrs. Harrison-Crews says she volunteered for the program because it looked challenging and offered a change of pace from her work writing tickets in the parking services department.

When not directing traffic, the officers still hand out parking tickets. But that duty now takes up only half a day and is focused on easing the flow of traffic by eliminating double-parking and parking in bus and loading zones.

“I would rather be in the intersection than giving out tickets,” Mrs. Harrison-Crews says.

The program so far appears to be having an effect. Traffic stops and goes in time with signals while Mrs. Harrison-Crews is working. When her shift ends, some drivers decide to pull into the intersection to wait for signals to change, rather than holding back to see if traffic will clear. They get stuck and end up blocking the way for other motorists.

“A shrewd or attentive driver would know when they shouldn’t enter an intersection. But that’s a very real problem,” says John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The traffic control program is preventing some drivers from blocking “the box,” the portion of the road where north-south and east-west traffic cross.

“That’s encouraging because it creates a bottleneck when commuters block the box,” Mr. Townsend says.

Not everyone is happy. The intersection of 14th and E is a bustling zone for taxis looking for fares at the J.W. Marriott and Willard hotels. The drivers don’t like being held up.

“I’ve noticed a difference [since October] ” it’s worse,” says one driver, who refused to give his name. Two colleagues nodded in agreement, but also declined to give names.

Mrs. Harrison-Crews sees the taxis as one of the bigger challenges of her job.

“My major problem is the cabdrivers. They just shoot out” into crosswalks, she says.

But other drivers have come to accept, and even appreciate, her presence.

“We let people know it’s for their safety we’re here. And when people say thank you, that makes my day,” Mrs. Harrison-Crews says.


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