The Washington Post

Amid uptick in traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties, area res­i­dents have lit­tle faith in driv­ers

- luz.lazo@wash­ emily.guskin@wash­ Scott Clement con­trib­uted to this re­port. Driving · Washington · George Mason University · George Mason · Alexandria, VA · Arlington County · Montgomery · Maryland · Virginia · Elizabeth · Lyft · United States of America · Washington Metropolitan Area · Gaithersburg, MD · Crystal City

sharp in­creases in deaths of pedes­tri­ans and bi­cy­clists. The find­ings also pro­vide some in­sight into road users’ ex­pe­ri­ences, where ten­sions be­tween driv­ers, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans have es­ca­lated amid the growth in bike com­mut­ing and the use of newer trans­porta­tion ser­vices such as ride-hail­ing and scoot­ers.

In fol­low-up in­ter­views, Wash­ing­ton-area res­i­dents said they worry about a cul­ture of speed­ing and reck­less driv­ing and other un­safe road be­hav­iors. Dis­trac­tions such as cell­phones, among all road users, have made the streets more dan­ger­ous for ev­ery­one.

They de­scribe the re­gion’s driv­ers as er­ratic and rushed, and in­ter­ac­tions — es­pe­cially be­tween driv­ers and cy­clists — as ad­ver­sar­ial and hos­tile.

“I am more afraid of the road­ways now than I have ever been and I have been driv­ing for 36 years,” said Ce­cilia Marsh, a Re­al­tor from Gaithers­burg. “The lack of hu­man­ity on our road­ways is dan­ger­ous . . . We just don’t think about some­one other than our­selves.”

Six in 10 peo­ple who drive at least a few times a week say that driv­ers vi­o­late laws at least “very of­ten,” 44 per­cent of reg­u­lar cy­clists say the same thing about bi­cy­clists and 48 per­cent of reg­u­lar walk­ers say pedes­tri­ans vi­o­late traf­fic laws — none of th­ese de­vi­ates sig­nif­i­cantly from opin­ions of oth­ers in the re­gion.

But there is most agree­ment that driv­ers vi­o­late traf­fic laws fre­quently. In fact, sim­i­lar shares of al­most all de­mo­graphic groups say that driv­ers vi­o­late traf­fic laws.

Marsh said many driv­ers ap­pear to be un­aware of the rules of the road, fly­ing through stop signs or ig­nor­ing bans against right turns on red. A re­fresher driv­ing course would be help­ful, she said. But mostly, she said, peo­ple need to use the com­mon sense.

“That text mes­sage and that phone call is not that im­por­tant. Driv­ing is se­ri­ous busi­ness. You can kill some­one in the blink of an eye,” Marsh said.

Robin Swearin­gen, 32, a pub­lic health pro­fes­sional who com­mutes by bike from the District to Crys­tal City, said maybe it’s that peo­ple in the Wash­ing­ton re­gion are more stressed or in more of a hurry. He has been struck by a car while rid­ing his bike twice in the past four years; once by a driver mak­ing an illegal right turn and the other by a car that cut across a bike lane from an al­ley, he said.

Swearin­gen said the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween driv­ers and bi­cy­clists are “pretty ad­ver­sar­ial.” Driv­ers park in bike lanes and shout at rid­ers on the road be­cause they don’t think cy­clists be­long in traf­fic lanes — where they are legally al­lowed to ride.

“There’s gen­er­ally not a cul­ture of re­spect for bi­cy­clists,” Swearin­gen said.

The poll find­ings likely re­flect how much exposure D.C.-area res­i­dents have to var­i­ous modes of trans­porta­tion in an area where driv­ing is still the most com­mon way that peo­ple get around, said Jean­nette Chap­man, deputy di­rec­tor of the Schar School’s Stephen S. Fuller In­sti­tute at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity. They also could be a re­flec­tion of how fa­mil­iar res­i­dents are with the laws re­gard­ing those modes.

For ex­am­ple, more peo­ple say that they have no opin­ion about e-scoot­ers — the lat­est en­trant into the re­gion’s trans­porta­tion sys­tem — in the sub­urbs where the de­vices aren’t avail­able or very preva­lent.

“They don’t have a whole lot of exposure to them,” Chap­man said. “I am not sure how well peo­ple know the laws reg­u­lat­ing scoot­ers. Are they sup­posed to be on the side­walks? Are they sup­posed to be on roads?”

Scoot­ers have be­come ubiq­ui­tous down­town, where they have be­come a pop­u­lar choice for get­ting around since their ar­rival more than a year ago. The de­vices are also avail­able in parts of Alexan­dria, and Ar­ling­ton and Mont­gomery coun­ties.

A larger share of D.C. res­i­dents (58 per­cent) are crit­i­cal of scooter rid­ers, where they are most preva­lent. In the Mary­land sub­urbs, 43 per­cent say scooter rid­ers vi­o­late laws at least very of­ten, along with 38 per­cent in the Vir­ginia sub­urbs.

The prob­lem with scoot­ers and bi­cy­cles, some res­i­dents say, is that they are not just in the streets shar­ing space with cars, but also on crowded side­walks. Though bikes and scoot­ers are banned from side­walks in down­town Wash­ing­ton, for ex­am­ple, many rid­ers ig­nore the rules.

“The prob­lem isn’t just that they are on the side­walk, but that they go so fast,” said Jane Wal­st­edt, 77, who lives in Dupont Cir­cle. “The other day I was walk­ing through Dupont Cir­cle, and a scooter rider whizzed past me on the left very close, with no warn­ing. If I had un­know­ingly veered to the left, he might have mowed me down.”

Wil­liam Her­ron, a re­tired fed­eral worker who bikes and walks daily, and drives oc­ca­sion­ally, said all road users are con­tribut­ing to un­safe streets. He said there’s not a day he doesn’t see driv­ers, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans with their eyes glued to their smart­phones.

“We have all of th­ese distracted peo­ple com­ing and go­ing in the same space. It is not sur­pris­ing that peo­ple are get­ting hit and in­jured and killed,” Her­ron said.

“When you were grow­ing up did your mother tell you to look both ways be­fore cross­ing the street? My mother did,” he said. “But I just see peo­ple merging into in­ter­sec­tions with­out even look­ing, ex­pect­ing the traf­fic to stop.”

Eliz­abeth Thomp­son, a 33year-old D.C. event plan­ner who drives daily, says she’s seen road be­hav­iors worsen over the past few years with the ad­di­tion of thou­sands of for-hire ve­hi­cles on the re­gion’s road­ways.

“There are so many Uber and Lyft driv­ers. They are lost. They are mak­ing re­ally dan­ger­ous ex­its or left turns. They are mak­ing last-minute de­ci­sions and then they put on their [haz­ard lights] and park in the mid­dle of the street to let some­one out,” Thomp­son said.

“I can al­most 99 per­cent guarantee that if some­one does some­thing crazy on the road in front of me . . . They have a GPS go­ing in the car and some­one sit­ting in the back seat. And al­most al­ways, it is with a Vir­ginia li­cense plate,” she said. “Not point­ing fin­gers, but yes, point­ing fin­gers.”

Stud­ies have shown that the ex­plo­sive growth of Uber and Lyft have made traf­fic worse in ma­jor U.S. cities, in­clud­ing the District. Rev­enue data show the ride-hail­ing in­dus­try’s growth in the Dis­in­clud­ing trict quadru­pled from late 2015 to 2017.

Thomp­son said more des­ig­nated pickup and drop-off zones for ride-share cars might be a so­lu­tion, along with bet­ter en­force­ment and driver train­ing.

“There has to be more rig­or­ous polic­ing of those ser­vices,” Thomp­son said.

The District and area ju­ris­dic­tions have been try­ing to crack down on bad be­hav­ior with the in­creased use of au­to­mated en­force­ment. The rev­enue gen­er­ated by speed and red-light cam­eras — tens of mil­lions of dol­lars, shows the ex­tent of the prob­lem. In the District, which re­cently raised traf­fic fines, of­fi­cials are even con­sid­er­ing re­cruit­ing cit­i­zens to en­force some traf­fic laws.

Chap­man, of the Schar School, said there is more de­mand for the limited road space now than there was as re­cently as five years ago be­cause of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of new modes of trans­porta­tion. Those new modes, such as scoot­ers, ex­ac­er­bated ex­ist­ing prob­lems and cre­ated new ones — such as ques­tions about what rules they should fol­low and how they should be reg­u­lated.

Chap­man said data and re­search show that road prob­lems — from grid­lock to col­li­sions to fa­tal­i­ties — are per­va­sive and not limited to just one mode, such as cars.

“There’s also a lit­tle bit of po­ten­tial oddity that hap­pens when we think about other com­muters or trav­el­ers: ‘I am not vi­o­lat­ing [the law] but ev­ery­one else is,’” she said.

When it comes to cy­clists, nearly half (49 per­cent) of Wash­ing­ton-area res­i­dents say bik­ers break traf­fic laws at least very of­ten, in­clud­ing 22 per­cent who say they do al­most all the time.

D.C. res­i­dents are more likely to com­plain about bi­cy­clists’ be­hav­ior, with 61 per­cent say­ing cy­clists break the rules of the road at least very of­ten com­pared with 48 per­cent in the Mary­land sub­urbs and 47 per­cent in the Vir­ginia sub­urbs. Roughly one-third of city res­i­dents say cy­clists al­most al­ways break laws (32 per­cent).

“It seems peo­ple are al­ways blam­ing car driv­ers for ac­ci­dents with bi­cy­clists, but I’m sur­prised there aren’t more ac­ci­dents given how many bi­cy­clists go through red and yel­low lights, swerve be­tween lanes and be­tween cars, and ride against the traf­fic on one-way streets,” District res­i­dent Tommy Sams said. “They too should fol­low the laws.”

Her­ron, the re­tired fed­eral worker who bikes daily, says his close calls on the road have mostly been en­coun­ters with other cy­clists or scooter rid­ers.

“Given my age, prob­a­bly I am in­clined to obey the law and stop at the stop sign or a red light and not run though it like many bik­ers do,” said Her­ron, 77. “That is a very dan­ger­ous prac­tice, not just risk­ing be­ing hit by a car, but risk­ing hit­ting other peo­ple and other bik­ers.”

The Wash­ing­ton Post-Schar School poll was con­ducted by tele­phone April 25 to May 2 among a ran­dom sam­ple of 1,507 adult res­i­dents of the Wash­ing­ton area, with 75 per­cent of in­ter­views con­ducted on cell­phones and 25 per­cent on land­lines. Re­sults from the full sam­ple have a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or mi­nus 3.5 per­cent­age points.

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 ?? MATT MC­CLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST ?? Area res­i­dents con­sis­tently said driv­ers vi­o­late laws the most, but out­side the city, those num­bers drop for other modes of tran­sit.
MATT MC­CLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST Area res­i­dents con­sis­tently said driv­ers vi­o­late laws the most, but out­side the city, those num­bers drop for other modes of tran­sit.

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