Posts Tagged ‘safety’

vz

Vision Zero: Less Talk More Action

Crossing the street in the nation’s capital shouldn’t be a death sentence. Unfortunately, for far too many, it has become just that.

How many more people will be injured?

How many people will have to lose their life before we see real change?

When Nspiregreen led the development of the District’s Vision Zero Plan, I was excited about the opportunity to prioritize vulnerable users such asvzpedestrians, cyclists, and disabled individuals in transportation planning and engineering. What surprised me as I talked to hundreds of residents in all eight wards of the District was the number of people who had either been hit themselves or knew someone who had been hit by a car while crossing the street. I have definitely encountered my share of reckless and impatient drivers but listening to the experiences of others was both eye-opening and humbling. What I didn’t know then, is that I would witness an accident just as tragic.

By 9:00 am, I am usually in my office downtown; but, as the universe would have it on this bright and sunny morning, I was taking my son on a long walk to daycare from his morning Doctor’s appointment. We were crossing eastbound on the southside of 15th St. and H St. NW paying attention to the heavy traffic around us and people who like me just wanted to get to their destination. As soon as we crossed the street, I looked immediately to my left and saw a man jumping out of his truck. He was distressed and yelling something. My eyes went from him to the road in front of him and that’s where I saw the body of someone laying in the road. I immediately dialed 911. I wasn’t on that side of the street, but I knew it was bad because the person wasn’t moving. As the operator asked me what seemed like a million questions, I made my way across the street to see a woman lying there – Starbucks cups laying on the ground – with no movement. Things were happening so fast. There were some men assisting her and someone checked and discovered that she did have a pulse. There was blood and she wasn’t conscious. I couldn’t believe the scene unfolding before me. We were crossing the street at the same time (with the walk signal) but someone made a left turn and hit her. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Where in the hell are the police? The ambulance? My mind was racing. I was anxious. But mostly my thoughts were on her.

I stood around a while hoping that I would get some signal that she would be okay. By the time the paramedics arrived, I decided to get my son to daycare and come back. I was moving but I was so unsettled. Throughout the workday, my thoughts were with her. The next day I found out the unfortunate news that Mrs. Carol Tomason a wife, mother, grandmother and lifelong educator didn’t survive the hit. I can only imagine what was on Mrs. Tomason’s mind that morning – enjoying her vacation spending precious time with her children and grandchildren. Like many of us in the District she was looking forward to enjoying her coffee drink and getting on with her day. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t get to live out this day. Her family is now left to mourn her death caused by an accident that should have never happened.

This is only one of the regrettable stories of tragedy that have become all too common on DC streets. In her obituary, Mrs. Tomason’s family asked people to support DC Vision Zero. Without swift action and accountability, DC Vision Zero is just a plan with pretty graphics. We developed it with policies and enforcement mechanisms that should be implemented. It is a tool to address what has become all too common behavior in the District. There should be less talk about Vision Zero and its possibilities and more actions that prioritize the District’s most vulnerable users. While getting to zero may seem ambitious if everyone does their part it is attainable.

Update: As I write this blog, I was sent a link to Mayor Bowser’s new Vision Zero announcement. I won’t go into the details of the announcement here; but, I will say that I hope these new changes significantly reduce the number of tragedies that we have seen in the District.

 Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC a community, multimodal, and environmental planning firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

 

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Rebuild or Rethink?

Earlier this month a $14.2 million pedestrian bridge collapsed in Miami, Florida killing six and injuring ten people. Immediately, new articles sprang up trying to figure out the cause, such as here, here, and countless others. I’ll leave it to the structural engineers and the courts to sort out the cause of the bridge collapse.

When I first saw the photos and video, I thought the pedestrian bridge was over a highway. As more photos became available, I realized this was a bridge over SW 8 Street, or Calle Ocho, with traffic lights and crosswalks. The purpose of the bridge was to connect Florida International University (FIU) students to campus housing and the adjacent community. The real problem with this street is that functions as a highway that prioritizes motor vehicles over people. If we can change our mindset to prioritize people, can reduce the roadway footprint and reduce our infrastructure needs.

From what I can tell on Google street view, the street is about 10 lanes wide (8 travel lanes, 1 hashed area the width of a lane, and 2 bike lanes that equal 1 travel lane) plus a median. Based on data from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the Average Annual Daily Traffic on the street was 66,500 vehicles, which is about the same volume as New York Avenue NE in DC between Montana Avenue and Bladensburg Road which has 6 lanes plus a median.*

I made an approximate cross-section of the existing conditions at the location of the pedestrian bridge, based on Google Earth images. This perspective is looking westbound.

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After the investigations are finished, there is the question to rebuild the bridge. Rather than rebuild, FIU and FDOT should consider other options that would make it a complete and safe street. I played around with cross-sections including some that do not require putting SW 8 Street on a road diet. All the cross-sections are looking westbound. Some options they could consider, not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • Widen the median: It appears that the westbound lane had a double left turn at one point. Rather than narrow the roadway it looks like the lane was removed by hashing. Given the space available, they could reorganize the roadway, so the median is equal to the current median and the hashed travel lane or about 16 feet. It would create a pedestrian refuge. Below is a cross-section that I mocked up that maintains the existing number of travel lanes. 

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  • Install protected bike lanes: From the Google aerial, it appears there are bike lanes on both sides of the street. The speed limit is 40 miles per hour, which means people are probably driving closer to 50-60 mph. For even the most fearless of cyclists, that is terrifying. They could consider installing a two-way cycle track on the south side of the street or raised cycle tracks on both sides of the street. Below is an example of a two-way cycle track

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  • Increase public transit: The Sweetwater Trolley operates every half hour. The Miami- Dade Transit has three bus routes that serve the university even at their peaks they are about every 30 minutes. While the system is free, 30-minute headways are not ideal for encouraging ridership. FIU could work with Sweetwater and Miami-Date Transit to develop a robust public transit system that benefits the university and residents. For the illustrative, I repurposed two travel lanes for bus only lanes and added in a bus shelter.

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  • Create people friendly public space: The sidewalks are right at the curb, which means people are walking right next to the roadway. In addition, there is very little shade along the sidewalk. Even with the location of the utility poles on the south side of the street, it is possible to create a grass median between the curb and a wider sidewalk as well as adding trees to add more shade. On the north side, it is possible to add a sidewalk and shade trees to make the linear park something more special that how it is today. If the roadway is narrower by a lane, that space could be added to the linear park. For the illustrative, I kept the cycle-track, narrowed the inside lanes to 10 feet and reduce the capacity from 7 travel lanes to 5. I left the outside lanes 11 feet to accommodate public transit.
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These are some ideas based on doing a digital tour on the site. After the investigations conclude, hopefully, there will be consideration of turning SW 8 St into a boulevard that is a gateway to FIU and Sweetwater.

*Note: FDOT’s data is 2016 and District Department of Transportation’s data is 2015. The point of comparison is volume and number of lanes.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.
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The Need for Speed

GIF from the movie Top gun where two pilots are walking along an air field with planes in the background, one says "I feel the need, the need for speed" and they high five each other enthusiastically

Speed is everywhere for human beings. It’s in our music (Speed Playlist), our movies (Cars, Fast and Furious franchise), our TV shows, our sports, it influences what we buy (Fast Action!), how we eat (Fast Food, Fast Casual). Speed is often seen as a good thing, a selling point, a marketing tool. And I get it, speed is exciting, it’s an adrenaline rush. The need for speed is directly related to the one thing that humans can’t get more of- time. We don’t have time to waste these days. The faster we can get through the monotonous, the mundane, or even tasks or situations we want to be involved in, the more time we have for ourselves, with our families, friends, and doing things we enjoy.

The need to take risks and go fast in our cars is somewhat biological. That pesky dopamine is responsible for our motivation to take risks and accomplish something. Even if that something is as simple as getting to brunch on time even when you know your friends are always late.

But here’s the thing, when it comes to traffic safety, speed kills. The faster a person is driving a car when it strikes a person walking is directly proportional to whether the person who was walking goes home to their friends, family, cat, dog, goldfish or whatever.

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According to the principles of Vision Zero, speed is the most critical factor of safety. Slower vehicle speeds result in less severe crashes and increase the likelihood that a person be able to walk away from that crash. It may be frustrating when you are sitting in traffic when you’d rather be frolicking in a field of daisies or on a beach or at home, binging on Netflix in your comfy pants. As the saying goes, no loss of life is acceptable.

Vision Zero focuses on putting human life and health above all else with the belief that no one should be seriously injured or killed while wheeling, walking, biking, driving, or using transit to and from their destinations. Whatever the reason and whatever situation you are coming from or are in, we are all sharing the road and no one wants to be killed, injured, or kill someone else while just trying to get to where they need to go.

You can avoid speeding by:

  1. Give yourself more time. This is the DC metro region, home of some of THE WORST traffic congestion in the US. When planning your travel in the region, account for congestions and give yourself an extra half hour. If you get to your destination early, take a walk around or smell the flowers. This includes waking up earlier, mapping your route, checking the news and traffic or metro alerts before you go.
  2. Avoid feeling pressure to speed by other drivers. If you are moving slower, keep right. Just like riding a metro escalator- walk left, stand right. If you see a driver getting frustrated behind you, take a deep breath and smile, wave, or blow a kiss. As my husband likes to say “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine”. And it’s not a challenge to your man-/woman-hood if someone tries to pass you. In the words of New Edition, cool it down. 
  3. If you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a breath, try to relax. Deep breath in and out. Put on some classical music or light hearted music. The bus in front of you is carrying more people than you are, and its existence means less cars on the road. The person crossing the road is someone’s family, friend, and/or co-worker.
  4. Slow your mustang down. Be mindful of your speed as you are traveling. Residential areas and areas near schools, recreation centers, churches, senior centers, and other areas with lots of people walking around them are places to be especially alert.

Stay safe out there everyone!

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.





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