Seward Square was tinged with extra green Monday morning as Mayor Muriel Bowser and about 30 volunteers held up signs reminding drivers to proceed with caution on the first day of school.
The “Slow Down” event on Capitol Hill started at 6:30 a.m., and is one of six taking place around D.C. today at some of the city’s busiest intersections. The campaign is being promoted on social media with the hashtag #SlowDownDC, while families drop off and pick up their kids at school. The events are not officially part of D.C.’s Vision Zero campaign, an idea hatched in Sweden that aims to reduce the number of traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2024.
“We’re excited about all our kids coming back [to school] today,” said Bowser outside of Brent Elementary at 301 North Carolina Ave. SE, just a block away from Seward Square. She added that the campaign is a reminder to drivers that the maximum permitted speed on streets next to schools is 15 mph.
While the mayor and her staff—wearing green “Team Muriel” T-shirts—stood on a few corners around the square, drivers honked and waved. Some slowed down to say hello; others sped by, presumably on their way to work. (Many vehicles, heading northwest on Pennsylvania Avenue, had Maryland license plates.) Sonia Conly, who lives in the neighborhood and is a member of the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council, said she wasn’t convinced of the campaign’s efficacy to get drivers to slow down; drivers going 30 mph or even faster weren’t likely to read all the signs.
“I think what counts is having some enforcement on an occasional basis,” Conly explained. “You have this campaign today, but what’s going to happen to [driving] behavior the next day?”
Conly pointed to speed cameras and police-car presence as alternatives to a one-day campaign. She said long-term strategies, such as Vision Zero, have greater chances of making streets safer for pedestrians.
D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen, who stopped by the event on a tour he was conducting of schools in Ward 6, said it was hard to tell if the signage affected driving speeds, but added that he appreciated the visibility they brought. (Allen sits on the Council’s transportation committee.)
Students can now take both Metrorail and Metrobus free of charge, the result of a $7 million initiative organized by Bowser. (The D.C. Council approved it in May.) Soon, more might bike to school: As part of a “Cornerstone” initiative, second graders will learn how to bike.
Outside of Brent Elementary, it seemed like a relatively normal first day of school while parents greeted each other and their children’s teachers. Meghan Halderman, a recent transplant from Cleveland who was dropping off her daughter Monroe, said even though she drove alongside Seward Square, down 4th Street SE, she didn’t notice the Slow Down canvassers. Still, she added she was excited for Monroe to start in D.C Public Schools because of “the diversity.”
Others appeared to be more relieved than excited by the first day of school. “It’s a holiday for parents,” one woman joked to two others at Brent: “That’s what it feels like: a national holiday.”
Photos by Andrew Giambrone