- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

The string of pedestrian deaths in the District in the past two weeks has left community activists and city officials at odds over how to teach motorists and pedestrians to share the roads.

Six pedestrians have been killed in the District this year, said George Branyan, pedestrian program coordinator for the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT).

Three pedestrians, including a 2-year-old girl, were killed the weekend of Feb. 3. In one incident, two men were killed Feb. 5 as they tried to cross Suitland Parkway in Southeast.

Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey hasn’t been fervent enough in teaching people about the dangers of crossing the street and educating motorists about being more aware of pedestrians.

“The chief’s lackadaisical approach to this problem has been most distressing,” Mr. Lynch said. “It’s impossible to eliminate all pedestrian and driver error, but we can reduce the number of incidents. … There’s smart moves the city could be making that they just don’t seem to be doing.”

Chief Ramsey agreed that enforcement must be stronger and that education about pedestrian, driving and biking safety is necessary, but he refuted charges that the District hasn’t addressed the issue properly.

In 2002, the District implemented “Street Smart,” an initiative that targets bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians with educational components such as posters and pamphlets, including Spanish-language versions.

“I am pleased with Street Smart,” Chief Ramsey said. “Perhaps Mr. Lynch isn’t aware [of the program]. However, in light of recent accidents, we must redouble our efforts.”

The District also has increased its ticketing of pedestrian traffic violations.

Although the District issued about 1,600 tickets for pedestrian traffic violations last year, the number of pedestrian deaths increased to 16 from 10 in 2004, according to statistics compiled by the Metropolitan Police Department.

About 90 percent of the tickets issued were part of the Street Smart initiative.

Mr. Lynch said that Street Smart is “way too little” and that Metropolitan Police rely too heavily on automated traffic enforcement to regulate safety.

“The speed cameras work to an extent, but they’re only effective after the fact,” he said. “At the most dangerous intersections, we need a more visible presence; i.e., having police cruisers visible at dusk hours, countdown signals at more crosswalks.”

On Jan. 28, Jay Shawn Johnson, 7, and his mother, Shanika Howard, 25, were struck by a vehicle about 9 p.m. while crossing in the 800 block of Southern Avenue in Southeast. Both later died. Police said the two were not in a crosswalk.

Just blocks away at South Capitol and Atlantic streets, Darnia Switzer, 2, and Stanley Jones, 14, were struck Feb. 3. Darnia died later that night, and Stanley was seriously injured.

Anthony Gay, 29, is charged with negligent homicide. Authorities think speed might have been a factor in the crash, which is still under investigation.

Curtis Turner Jr., 26, of Riverdale and Adrian Simmons, 28, of the District were killed after being struck by a vehicle in the 2100 block of Suitland Parkway in Southeast about 4 a.m. Feb. 5.

The department’s major-crash investigation unit is looking into the case.

Mr. Branyan said 60 pedestrian-enforcement police officers have been deployed throughout the District.

Metropolitan Police and DDOT officials will examine the sites where the recent crashes occurred to see what safety improvements can be made. “We’re working with Metropolitan Police on short-term responses,” Mr. Branyan said. “But it’s a long-term process.”

Cheryle Adams, a pedestrian-safety advocate, said she has pressed city officials for years to organize a pedestrian task force.

In 1993, Miss Adams was struck at 13th and L streets in Northwest, where two vehicles crashed attempting to beat a red light. One driver lost control and hit Miss Adams while she was in the crosswalk, pinning her to a lamppost and severely injuring her legs.

“How many more pedestrians must be injured or killed before there is some measure of safety taken to decrease this problem?” she asked. “The time is now to start working towards a solution.”

DDOT will hold a meeting Wednesday with traffic-safety specialists and advocates who will discuss the department’s current pedestrian-safety efforts. Officials also will listen to suggestions about improving pedestrian safety.

Mr. Branyan said the Street Smart campaign this year will begin next month.

Mr. Lynch expressed little faith in DDOT, which he said has been in “disarray” since director Dan Tangherlini announced his resignation last month to take over as interim general manager of Metro.

“For two years, Dan Tangherlini and DDOT has promised a model pedestrian program; I’m still waiting to see it,” Mr. Lynch said.

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