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After a series of well-publicized pedestrian deaths, walkers’ safety is a hot local topic. So the fact that only about 40 people attended Thursday evening’s public meeting on the citywide pedestrian plan probably reflects inadequate publicity for the event, not a lack of interest. Still, there was a significant gap between the planners and the walkers.
Part of the misunderstanding stemmed from the consultants’ reliance on jargon. Representing the Toole Design Group, Colleen Mitchell referred to “sidewalk deficiencies” (that means there aren’t any), “work zones” (construction sites), and “deliverables” (whatever the consultants get paid to produce). But the fundamental issue was that the pedestrian plan, whose final version should be ready in October, emphasizes engineering fixes, while the citizens’ priority was enforcement of existing traffic laws.
Called at the new Columbia Heights Recreation Center, the meeting began about a half-hour late, with Adrian Fenty‘s arrival. The mayor read a few “talking points” he admitted to not having seen before delivering them, demanded applause for new Transportation Department Director Emeka Moneme, and then headed for the door. It was left to three consultants and a few DOT employees to explain further.
Essentially, the meeting presented some survey data and four citywide maps. The latter depicted those sidewalk deficiencies, recent vehicle-pedestrian collisions, about 25 “pedestrian study areas,” and dangerous sites where large numbers of walkers regularly encounter “high deficiency roadways.” The last map’s top six problem areas, depicted in bruise-colored purple: Maine Avenue SW, Washington Circle NW, Florida Avenue NW near North Capitol Street, East Capitol Street near Benning Road, and two sections of Minnesota Avenue, one near the Metro station of the same name and the other near Howard Road.
When the subject was opened to questions, the planning vernacular vanished. People just wanted to talk about how hard it is to cross the street, which a online survey done by the city had already indicated as pedestrians’ top concern. As if on cue, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham arrived to say that the D.C. Council plans to transfer 43 traffic control officers from the police department to the transportation department, add another 20, and give them all the power to ticket traffic violations. This may not change anything—-how will people on foot catch errant motorists?—-but it drew more applause than Moneme.