The Washington Post Sunday

Nothing will change until bad drivers have to pay


Pedestrian deaths seems to be on the upswing this year, despite a promise from the District to make walking and bicycling in the city safer. I am a pedestrian who was hit by a car and lived to tell about it. On July 24, while I was crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE — in the crosswalk and with the light — out of nowhere, wham, down I went.

I was the victim of a silver sport-utility vehicle whose driver was on the phone and never looked up as she made a left turn from Good Hope Road SE into me. It’s beyond me and those who scraped me off street how I was alive and that nothing was broken.

I spent two days in Washington Hospital Center with a knee ballooned to twice its normal size and a record-setting hematoma that was leaking blood internally. And pain that was off the scale.

It has made me uber-cautious while walking, to the point that I really don’t want to walk anymore. Months later, I am still in a large, unattracti­ve black knee brace with no real idea when my knee will return to normal.

So, I say to the powers that be in this city: Get out of your offices and see what is really going on out here. I challenge you to spend a few hours on the stretch of MLK beginning midway across the 11th Street Bridge south to Howard Road. I guarantee that you will not believe what you see. If you did, we’d already have change and new traffic laws on the books. Here’s what the thought process seems like: Red light? Stop signs? Nah, who cares. No Turn on Red? I’ll turn when I want to. Do Not Enter 4 p.m.6:30 p.m.? But that’s the way I get back to Maryland! Pedestrian­s? They’d better look out. Don’t Block the Box? I’m going to run this light no matter what. Crosswalks? Don’t see ’em. Police? None here. Yeah! I can do what I want. And here’s what actually happens: Everyone speeds. Everyone runs the red light at the base of the 11th Street Bridge.

Buses will run you over if you don’t sprint out of the way. Buses run red lights regularly. Everyone double parks. Everyone darts out of side streets without traffic control.

Pedestrian­s dart out between cars without a glance at the traffic.

There are no bike lanes, so cyclists have to fend for themselves — putting themselves and the rest of us in harm’s way.

I don’t think there’s a law in the world that will change drivers’ behavior. It needs to hit them in the pocketbook. We should have red-light cameras everywhere. Most of the violations I see are intentiona­l. People hit the gas to make the light, except that light turned red and people are in the intersecti­on. Maybe a few $100 tickets would make drivers think about what harm they might cause by running that light.

D.C. Council Member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) wants to discontinu­e right turns on red, and I agree. But no one pays any attention now to whether it’s allowed. Maybe $100 tickets will help solve that, too.

And as long as I am ranting, our neighborho­od is in desperate need of some D.C. Department of Transporta­tion love. Historic Anacostia has many narrow streets with parking on both sides. There’s barely enough room for a car to come down the street, and certainly not enough to open a car door when one is coming. Every car on our street has damage on one side or the other from hit-and-runs that happen with regularity; commuters speed through our community trying to avoid MLK. But DDOT makes it so labor-intensive to get speed bumps that no one has the time to go through all the hoops, especially when, no matter what we do, the requests will be bounced on some technicali­ty.

And how about making the crosswalks show up? The sweet little brick ones might look historic, but they are barely noticeable and most of the signs indicating that it’s the law to stop for pedestrian­s have long ago been victims of hit-and-runs themselves. Give us those big striped ones. Maybe some lights. Anything. Maybe just accountabi­lity.

Enough said. That’s a rant for another day. The writer is executive director of the Anacostia Playhouse and a resident of Historic Anacostia.

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