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 aspedestrians, 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.