If you’ve ever tried to cross the street in a big city, you will know this to be true: life is precious and fleeting and crazy drivers are, in fact, the enemy. In all seriousness though, once you have experienced the ups and downs of pedestrian life you will come to honestly doubt the fact that your mother ever actually crossed a street. I mean, has she even seen a street? Who has time to look both ways when there are businessmen behind you pushing you into road kill territory on their hustle and bustle of a morning commute? Not to mention that without fail, whenever I do look both ways I end up looking like an idiot because it is a one-way street. Sometimes I feel the need to justify my actions aloud “YUP! ALL CLEAR! NO DRIVERS GONE ROGUE AS FAR AS I CAN TELL”. Now the businessmen are pushing past me and clearly not going to ask me out. Thanks, mom.
Once you realize that the look both ways before you cross the street rule isn’t going to save your life, you will simultaneously realize that being a pedestrian is seriously scary business. Luckily for those of us going head to head with cars on DC roadways, a change is gonna come.
Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced a new initiative as part of the Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets. The initiative, named “Vision Zero” has been planned in hopes to eliminate traffic fatalities in the city. The plan is named Vision Zero due to the city’s goal of bringing the number of citywide traffic deaths to zero. Although specifics have not yet been released, it is speculated to focus on improving pedestrian and cyclist safety through street redesign.
The plan doesn’t come as a shock in DC’s bustling metropolis. Similar plans have begun to pop up in cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and more. The nationwide attention to pedestrian safety has been inspired by a Swedish transportation concept that was used throughout the country in pursuit of similar goals.
Greg Billing, the advocacy coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, claims that the first step in the Vision Zero implementation will be setting a deadline for ending pedestrian, cyclist and driver deaths. Does the city having an impeding target surprise you? New York and San Francisco have made the same bold commitment, sharing a goal of 2024. Billing goes further, insisting that cooperation and coordination across all levels of the city will be imperative to success. “Vision Zero takes commitment from the top leadership all the way down to implement and to actually see through that vision”, Billing says. Currently eleven district agencies are involved in the planning process, including the Metropolitan Police Department, Office of Planning, Office of the Attorney General and Department of Public Works.
Thankfully, overall traffic fatalities are declining on both a nationwide and local scale. However, it still remains a concerning issue for city dwellers. In 2014, around 515 pedestrians and cyclists were struck in DC. There have already been 60 reported incidents this year. The Washington City Paper mentions that while the city has improved in some areas – such as protected bike facilities and better walk signals – we are still lacking in simpler tasks such as clearing snow from bike lanes and sidewalks. The eagerness of DC to embrace Vision Zero gives hope that sometime in the near (ish) future, non-car transit options will become safer and more appealing to the average citizen.
Concerned those safety precautions will ruin your need-for-speed mentality? Can’t picture your Sunday afternoons without driving through the city with the windows down listening to “oldies” (read: Britney Spears, baby, one more time)? Not to worry! In an interview with WAMU, the mayor admitted that lowering the city’s speed limits would be a unlikely measure. The city already has a 25 MPH residential speed limit, putting us on par with New York City’s default limit. Cruise on.
As I touched on earlier, being a pedestrian is risky. I have experienced the trials and tribulations on foot and can hardly imagine how much more stressful those same issues would be on a bike. Put me on two wheels with cars whizzing by and I am sure to have a heart attack – be it from seeing my life flash before my eyes or just a little more exercise than I can handle. All in all, I don’t think there is anything negative to say about a city that is trying to improve its livability factor for residents. Safety should always be a priority. My one hope is that through the Vision Zero initiative, DC will realize the serious need for safety patrol on every street corner. Then alas my talents will be realized and I can stop feeling like 5th grade was the peak of my contribution to society. Now, to campaign for cuter uniforms…