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At the intersection of 14th and Irving streets NE sits a bike painted completely white. These “ghost bikes” have commemorated the lives of cyclists killed by drivers for more than a decade. But unlike other ghost bikes, this one has training wheels.
Allie Hart was killed Sept. 13 while crossing the street. The 5-year-old was biking behind her father when a city-contracted vehicle struck her. She died at the scene and became one of 15 pedestrians and cyclists to die this year in traffic crashes, including a 4-year-old boy in April. Cyclist and advocate Tom Bridge turned his son’s old bike into a ghostly reminder of careless driving. He says Allie’s parents added the basket from her bike—complete with yellow flowers.
“It stands there as a reminder of Allie’s life cut short,” he says.
Allie’s death has sparked outrage in Bridge and other Brookland residents. Many say they have been complaining about reckless driving on their neighborhood streets for years. The day after her death, a car was filmed blowing the stop sign at the same intersection. ANC 5B-03 Commissioner Prita Piekara and her colleague have begun to crowdsource accounts of reckless driving. Hundreds of reports of stop signs blown, red lights run, and accidents witnessed have come in since last Tuesday.
“The neighborhood’s grieving,” she says. “We should not be trading speed bumps for tombstones … let’s do something before there’s a fatal crash.”
The neighborhood is fed up—and they’re taking action.
A “Garbage” Police Report
The day after the crash, MPD released a report with a “preliminary investigation” into the fatal incident. It says the driver came “to a complete stop” and while pulling out, the driver couldn’t see Allie “enter the intersection into the path of the moving vehicle.” A police spokesperson said multiple witnesses and MPD detectives contributed to this report.
Piekara calls that take “absolute garbage.” She says the implication that Allie, a 5-year-old on a 20 pound bike, is at fault in a fatal incident with an adult driver of a vehicle weighing more than a thousand pounds “fundamentally doesn’t make” sense.
“The assigning of blame, as if somehow she or her parents were doing something wrong, is frankly—it’s just disgusting,” Piekara says. Additionally, she says witness accounts she’s heard contradict the report. The objections Piekara has are:
- Allie was in a crosswalk, not the intersection as MPD reported. That important distinction gave her right of way.
- She was with her father—which is not mentioned in MPD’s report.
- The driver was driving a van that was a part of D.C.’s Neighborhood Connect program. In the report, it’s only listed as a contracted vehicle belonging to Royal Cab.
Piekara adds the report of lack of visibility is “in line with everything [she] was told.” The intersection is highly visible, with plenty of light. The driver also approached the intersection going down a hill, giving him even more visibility. She also doesn’t believe the driver came to a complete stop at the intersection.
“If you’re starting from a complete stop at zero, you’re probably not having enough speed to kill a child two inches away from your bumper,” Piekara says.
An MPD spokesperson said the Major Crash Investigations Unit conducted a “thorough” investigation and that Piekara “made comments without complete knowledge of the circumstances and details.”
“What More Can We Do?”
Allie’s death has mobilized community members who say they’ve issued warnings about reckless driving in Brookland for more than 10 years. Piekara says the issues stem from the neighborhood being more residential and near the Maryland border. Commuters will use their streets to dodge traffic, but their speeds on the quieter roads stays the same. During an ANC meeting last Wednesday, a resident reported calling 911 three times in three weeks due to vehicle accidents. Another resident told City Paper her husband was hit by a car while riding his bike through 10th Street and Michigan Avenue NE. Roughly 18 months later, a man died after getting hit by a bus in the same intersection.
Many Brookland residents say reports to DDOT are often dismissed, and requests for stop signs reportedly take weeks to get a rejection. When city officials do take action, Piekara says it’s to do four-month assessments that also result in a “no.”
Data on accidents in the area is likely incomplete, as well. During the ANC meeting, Vision Zero representative Linda Bailey said their data comes from crash reports taken on sight, but reports are only taken if someone is injured. Kelley Cislo, a staffer with Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, describes calling 911 after she was involved in a vehicle collision. But the dispatcher didn’t send police, Cislo says, and no police report was filed. The D.C. Auditor recently began a review of Vision Zero’s effectiveness at reducing traffic fatalities.
At its Wednesday meeting, ANC 5B approved five resolutions requesting DDOT to install speed bumps, all-way stops, and raised crosswalks. That’s why Piekara and her fellow Brookland ANC Colleen Costello are now crowdsourcing reports of accidents and reckless driving they’ve witnessed. They’re also hosting a community walk to raise awareness about their fears regarding their neighborhood streets.
Piekara says her goal is to make it as inconvenient as possible for people outside the community to use their streets with speed bumps and raised crosswalks.
“If you are just trying to speed through our neighborhood to cut off three minutes from your commute from Rhode Island Avenue or Michigan Ave., I want to make it difficult so you’re like, ‘You know what, I don’t want to go through.’”
— Bailey Vogt (tips? email@example.com)
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