5.1: Struck in DC

Ghost Bike, taken by flickr user M.V. Jantzen
Ghost Bike, by flickr user M.V. Jantzen using a Creative Commons license.
In the time I’ve lived here, I have seen DC become more populated by cars while at the same time appearing to become a less car-friendly city. I don’t mean that the city’s government and infrastructure is hostile to vehicle owners and drivers, simply that the city seems to already have reached its critical mass in terms of being able to accommodate as many drivers as we have.

Admittedly, the public transportation options aren’t always the best or reliable, but due to its “tri-state” nature, the DMV has a lot of cars all the time trying to share1 the roads with cyclists–and on occasion the crosswalks with pedestrians.

Struck in DC is a blog and twitter account focused on collecting details of pedestrians and cyclists involved in accidents the District and they were patient enough to take a few minutes out to answer my 5.1 questions about their mission.

1. What is your goal? On twitter, you track reported incidents of struck cyclists and you collect submissions on your website, but to what end?

Our initial goal was to raise awareness – we were shocked at how many pedestrians and cyclists are struck in DC every day, and we thought other people would be, too. We also hoped a pattern might emerge that would highlight particularly dangerous intersections so we could promote awareness and look closely at what needed to change.

2. How many people work to maintain the site and twitter account? Are you all metro DC ped/bike commuters?

There are currently two of us. We both live and walk in the District. One of us commutes daily via bike and Metro, the other by foot and Metro.

3. What inspired you to create Struck in DC, have any/all of your site maintainers experienced a “struck” incident?

One week last spring, a bunch of us on Twitter noticed that @DCFireEMS was posting a LOT of incidents of pedestrians and cyclists colliding with motorists. One person tweeted, “Someone should keep track!,” so we started to. It was surprising to learn that there wasn’t a sudden spike in incidents, but that the reporting had just gotten more frequent. @DCFireEMS still doesn’t report every incident on Twitter (and has gone for weeks at a time without reporting any), but they have said that they respond to, if I recall correctly, 10-12 incidents a day.

During my first week of work in DC, around 9 years ago, I was struck by a van while I was crossing M Street, at 20th or 21st, NW. I was crossing with the light, in the crosswalk, and the driver was turning left on to M Street. I made eye contact with him to make sure he knew I was there, although there were a fair number of pedestrians in the crosswalk at the time. I don’t know what went through his mind next, but he released the break and hit me hard enough to knock me down. He was waving apologetically, but kept on going. Other pedestrians pounded on the side of the van as he passed, drawing the attention of a police officer who was near the corner for a different accident. The police officer flagged the driver to pull over and he did. The officer also offered to call me an ambulance, but I refused. Since then, I’ve had many close calls as a pedestrian and was “tapped” recently by a bumper of a car intentionally by a driver impatient to make a turn. Every time, I have been with the light (if it’s a signalized intersection) and in the crosswalk.


4. Your website states you “[advocate] for accurate, up-to-date reporting to make DC safer for all.” Are you working with or providing data to, any local pedestrian/cycling advocacy groups?

Currently, the only data we have is reported by @DCFireEMS on Twitter or submitted to us on Twitter or through our blog, and MPD’s annual reports, which are all public. We have discussed mapping all the data we have to see if any patterns emerge, but without more meaningful data than time, location, and who was involved, it’s tough.

5. What are your plans (wish list) for future development of Struck in DC?

The wish list would involve getting meaningful, reliable, consistent data. It would be fantastic if someone recorded (and shared) key information about incidents, including what happened, what tickets (if any) were issued and to whom, and what other factors were at play. Was the driver going through a yellow light? Was the pedestrian on the phone when it happened? In the crosswalk or out? Was the cyclist in a lane? Was there a lane available and, if so, was it obstructed? Having that kind of detailed data would inform municipal stakeholders like MPD, DC Fire/EMS, and DDOT as well as the walking, cycling, and driving public. It could let us know if particular behaviors, traffic patterns, road designs, etc. contribute to the high incidence of vehicles colliding with pedestrians and cyclists. With that kind of information, we could educate, inform, and advocate for infrastructure change if it’s needed to make us all safer.

5.1 If you were guaranteed a response, what one question would you ask DDOT Pedestrian Program Coordinator George Branyan and/or DDOT Bicycle Program Specialist Mike Goodno?

We’d want to know if they truthfully think that Vince Gray and Terry Bellamy are willing to stick their necks out and be progressive, pushing for infrastructure that will really make the roads safer for bikes and pedestrians, even if it means frustrating drivers (especially suburban drivers who don’t pay for the upkeep of the infrastructure that they use every day). When it comes to a car versus someone on a bike or on foot, the latter two are most often at the greatest risk.

As a District pedestrian, I look forward to seeing Struck in DC get better at tracking the data and pressing the case to the DDOT that a stronger effort is needed to at least educate all of us–drivers, cyclists and pedestrians2–on safety, and hopefully backing that up with more bike lanes, stronger punishments and more police vigilance.

The image above is a ghost bike placed in Dupont Circle in remembrance of Alice Swanson who died after being struck by a garbage truck in July 2008. The following video Struck in DC shows testimony during a DC City Council meeting about car vs. human collisions and includes an interview with Ruth Rowan, Alice Swanson’s mother.

It’s just common sense, but it bears repeating: Be careful and safe on the streets. Look out for yourself and others. Thank you to Struck in DC for their time, and I hope everyone’s Hump Day is already rolling swiftly towards Friday. :mrgreen:

1 Or not.

2 I see a lot of cyclists and pedestrians doing extremely dumb things every day too. Having the right-of-way or being a human-powered vehicle is still no excuse for disregarding your own personal safety and that of others.

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1 Response

  1. Samantha says:

    I am SO glad to see that @StruckinDC is not blinded to the fact that both pedestrians and drivers are accountable for safety on the streets. Looking forward to more developments from them as well! (Thanks for this great post!)

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