In the days and weeks leading up to his confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, Everett Lott has traveled across the District to speak with residents and lay to rest concerns about delayed traffic safety assessments, reckless drivers and lack of speed bumps and stop signs.
Those conversations, in part, have inspired what Lott described as the goals he wants to fulfill as director of D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT).
“We want to implement interventions throughout the District so people can feel safe walking to their homes with the children and to places of worship,” Lott said.
“It’s also an equity issue to make sure we’re doing interventions in all parts of the city. We’re implementing strategies to create safe passage for all, whether you’re a vehicular traveler, bicyclist, pedestrian, child, or one of our seniors,” he continued.
Hours Upon Hours of Questions
On Tuesday, members of the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Transportation and the Environment grilled Lott for several hours well into the night about his stewardship of DDOT and the agency’s perceived lack of responsiveness to residents’ traffic safety concerns.
Questions by D.C. Council members Mary Cheh (D- Ward 3), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) and Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) followed hours of public witness testimony centered on pedestrian-involved accidents, an uneven transportation infrastructure, and unanswered requests for stop signs and other traffic safety measures.
In the weeks since a car struck Tyrone Belton and his two daughters in a crosswalk at the intersection of Wheeler Road and Mississippi Avenue in Southeast, attention has centered on the increasing number of pedestrian-involved accidents and Vision Zero, the Bowser’s administration’s yearslong efforts to significantly reduce traffic fatalities and accidents.
Belton, whose recovery time and that of his daughters has been determined to be at least two months, said no one from the Bowser administration has contacted his family since the Oct. 15 incident.
He expressed confusion at DDOT’s traffic safety improvements along Wheeler Road, telling The Informer that the agency had simpler solutions at its disposal.
“They put down some markings in the middle of the street [to let] drivers stay on their side of the road when they’re turning, but they should’ve added traffic cameras on this street all the way up to Geraldine Apartments and all the way up to the top of the hill at Alabama Avenue,” Belton said.
“It’s ridiculous how there are so many schools on this one strip, and it’s like people don’t even care.”
DDOT Responds to Residents’ Concerns and Criticisms
Over the years, Vision Zero has received criticism for failing to reduce traffic and pedestrian fatalities. Between 2017 and 2020, the Metropolitan Police Department reported 160 traffic fatalities.
Last month, the Office of the D.C. Auditor launched an investigation to determine why Vision Zero hasn’t produced the desired results. D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson reportedly requested documentation about traffic fatalities and DDOT responses, a list of traffic safety assessment requests and the use of federal funds.
DDOT, a Vision Zero program partner, had been compelled to revisit and better streamline how it processes traffic safety assessment requests.
On Wednesday, DDOT hosted a virtual job fair to hire 40 safety technicians, formerly known as school crossing guards. The agency has also accelerated roadway and intersection improvement projects, including 91 speed humps at more than 30 locations, 16 stop signs, right-turn hardening measures at four locations, and high visibility crosswalks.
Such moves haven’t sufficed for some residents, like Joy Douglas, who said DDOT continues to ignore many of Ward 8’s major corridors, including near DC-295 where she recently purchased a home.
“They haven’t done anything about the speeding that happens up and down Malcolm X Boulevard,” Douglas said.
“There were cameras there but they took it down because people kept beating their tickets in court. There are children on that street. I don’t think DDOT will take care of it until something happens.”
Douglas counted among several Ward 8 residents who attended a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 21 at RISE Demonstration Center in Southeast.
At that event, Lott, DDOT Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator David Jones, and DDOT Bicyclist/Pedestrian Program Specialist Karyn McAlister spoke before residents of ANC Commission 8C about ongoing safety improvement projects along Wheeler Road.
McAlister’s presentation highlighted traffic safety and speed reduction tools for the corridor, including median islands that create narrow roadways, speed cameras, curb extensions that slow down turns, and lanes in the middle of the street that drivers ease into as they make left and right turns.
Residents later asked questions about other corridors and intersections in Southeast.
During this portion of the meeting, they mentioned parking issues along Savannah Terrace near a KIPP campus and drivers who speed along Valley Avenue in Southeast. They even weighed in on the inequity in policy as it relates to their ability to fight the installation of bike lanes on certain streets.
ANC Commissioner Mustafa Abdul-Salaam (SMD 8C05) noted that residents in other Ward 8 ANCs have had similar discussions. He told meeting participants that an ideal solution involves developing and championing a traffic safety plan that reflects the desires of all, if not most, Ward 8 leaders and residents.
“There’s an opportunity for ANC commissioners to come together and make a one-ward strategy that’s more effective,’ said Abdul-Salaam.
“Moving forward, it [means] looking at the recommendations we’re making and talking to other ANCs for other common areas of concern. The more united we are around a common transportation plan, the more powerful it’s going to be.”