- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The region’s annual traffic-safety campaign began yesterday in the wake of several pedestrian fatalities — a situation that has frustrated residents, drivers and transportation officials.

The Street Smart pedestrian safety campaign, sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, aims to 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, with messages in English and Spanish.

Traffic and law-enforcement officials started the joint campaign at National City Christian Church at Thomas Circle in Northwest, a busy circular intersection with heavy pedestrian traffic.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, said his administration is working on ways to make the streets safer and to encourage people to walk and to live close to Metro stations.

“This is a regional commitment,” he said. “And with the District of Columbia at the core of the region, we’ve got to make sure that this is a pedestrian-friendly city, not just pedestrian-safe.”

So far this year, nine pedestrians have been killed by vehicles in the District, including two Alexandria women hit by a Metro bus on Valentine’s Day.

About 90 pedestrians are killed and 3,000 injured in the region each year in accidents with vehicles.

Cathy L. Lanier, acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, said enforcement and education are key, particularly among haphazard drivers and absent-minded pedestrians.

“There’s been a lot of incidents in the media lately that has highlighted those areas where we need work,” she said. “When you’re walking as a pedestrian with your BlackBerrys and your cell phones and your pagers — there’s a lot going on and everybody’s in a hurry — but we all have a responsibility to be alert and pay attention.”

In Montgomery County, the number of pedestrian fatalities increased from seven in 2005 to 18 last year. County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett said the situation will only get worse without help as the county’s population increases.

“We’re now approaching 1 million citizens in Montgomery County,” said Mr. Leggett, a Democrat. “In addition, we’re going older. We also have a large number of people who have limited English capacity, so our road signs and directions will adversely affect people who do not have English proficiency.

“Given that combination, it is no wonder that we have the types of collisions that we have, and we must address this in a very fresh way.”

The county has become the first jurisdiction in Maryland to use speed cameras.

Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, called last month for the Metropolitan Police Department to develop a traffic division after four pedestrians were killed in an eight-day span.

The District recorded 17 pedestrian fatalities last year, compared with 16 in 2005, according to the District Department of Transportation.

Mr. Lynch said he met with Chief Lanier and officials from the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority, DDOT and D.C. Public Schools yesterday afternoon to discuss the problem.

Mr. Lynch said Chief Lanier told him the department is too understaffed to devote officers to a full-time traffic division but promised to reconsider if statistical improvements are not made within the next year.

“I think it’s a bit of wishful thinking to think that this will be sufficient,” Mr. Lynch said. “We agreed to disagree whether this will be enough.”

Metropolitan Police Officer Erica Dortch-Jones said she alone had issued about 50 warnings to pedestrians and motorists at Thomas Circle by noon yesterday.

She said she routinely encounters hostility and indifference from pedestrians, some of whom disregarded her commands and crossed against the light in plain view.

“Many of them don’t know the law, and some of them have a sense of entitlement,” Officer Dortch-Jones said. “But it’s for their own safety that we enforce the law.”

She stopped a D.C. resident to warn him about jaywalking across Vermont Avenue. The pedestrian, who gave his name as Joel, became irate.

“I’ve got people cursing, calling me names … when I attempt to cross with the light,” he said, adding that he would continue to jaywalk when he felt it was safe until police cracked down on violators in motor vehicles.

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