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CityLab
Transportation

Are D.C.’s Streets Finally Getting Safer?

As the District lagged on its Vision Zero goals, bike and pedestrian advocates in Washington turned traffic fatalities into a rallying cry, and got results.  
Bike and pedestrian advocates participate in a "die-in" for better traffic safety in Washington, D.C.
Bike and pedestrian advocates participate in a "die-in" for better traffic safety in Washington, D.C.Aimee Custis/CityLab

Last year in Washington, D.C., a pair of city council members grilled the head of the city’s department of transportation on the status of bike and pedestrian projects in the District. It had been three years since the city had committed to following the traffic-calming principles outlined in Vision Zero, the international movement to reduce the injury toll associated with cars and trucks in cities. But the results, so far, had been disappointing: By that point in the year, 34 people overall had died on the city’s roads—D.C.’s worst year for traffic deaths in a decade.

The council members, Mary Cheh and Charles Allen, wanted an update from Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation, on what the city had been doing in its efforts to make the streets safer. But as the hearing wore on, his answers started to sound like a refrain: Almost every new bike- or pedestrian-infrastructure project, from a road diet on Maryland Avenue to an Eastern Downtown protected bike lane, seemed to be about six to nine months away. In fact, the city task force that was supposed to coordinate Vision Zero policy across city agencies had only just met for the first time the month before.