Local officials, worried about an increase in traffic fatalities, yesterday kicked off the annual Street Smart campaign to urge pedestrians to use sidewalks and crosswalks and to obey traffic signals.
Seven pedestrians have been killed in the District so far this year, compared with 16 in all of last year, statistics show. About 90 pedestrians were killed and up to 2,600 injured in the Washington area last year.
“We don’t know why traffic fatalities are up this year,” said Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. “It’s just a tragedy all the way around.”
The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board says pedestrians and bicyclists account for nearly 25 percent of all traffic deaths.
A study conducted in September by Inova Regional Trauma Center and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments shows that drivers and pedestrians share equal responsibility for pedestrian accidents.
“Pedestrians should be aware they are more liable to be killed or injured, not motorists,” said Alexandria City Council member Ludwig P. Gaines.
Officials hope the Street Smart-Pedestrian Safety Campaign sponsored by the Council of Governments will change the behaviors of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. The campaign involves increased traffic enforcement at dangerous intersections and a series of public service announcements on radio, billboards and buses.
“As area roads become more congested and aggressive driving behaviors increase, the consequences are tragically obvious,” said Montgomery County Council member Michael Knapp, vice president of the Council of Governments.
Chief Ramsey, who praised the campaign, said there is no single cause for pedestrian-cyclist accidents, but “I’ve seen a lot of pedestrians talking on cell phones.”
The chief said the District is working with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to ensure bus stops are clearly marked and lighting is improved.
The Metropolitan Police Department reports that 90 percent of pedestrian traffic tickets issued last year were a result of Street Smart. Statistics show that eight pedestrians killed last were at fault in the accidents.
Statistics compiled by the Council of Governments show that pedestrians jaywalking, or crossing midblock, is the leading accident cause 39 percent of the time in Maryland suburbs, 21 percent of the time in the District and 18 percent of the time in Northern Virginia.
Those statistics show that driver inattention is the main cause of pedestrian accidents 59 percent of the time in the District, 53 percent of the time in Maryland suburbs and 51 percent of the time in Northern Virginia.
Street Smart focuses on “three E’s”: education, engineering and enforcement.
The education component targets pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, and includes information about devices designed to enhance pedestrian safety, such as the use of crosswalks, pedestrian warning signs, pedestrian signals and reflective materials for nighttime safety.
A strong focus of the campaign is reaching Hispanics through Spanish-language brochures and advertising outreach.
Officials kicked off the 2006 campaign at the Carlyle Street pedestrian tunnel entrance/exit to the King Street Metro Station in Alexandria, near the new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office building.
“There are 7,000 more employees coming in here,” said Mr. Gaines, emphasizing the increased risks for pedestrians in the “largest federal office campus in the nation.”