As community members rally around a father and his two daughters severely injured after being hit in a crosswalk while on their way to school, the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) continues to receive criticism for its inadequate response to concerns about traffic safety along the southeast corridor.
ANC Commissioner Salim Adofo, whose single-member district includes the site of the incident, recounted sending DDOT a transportation safety assessment request nearly a month before a car recently struck Tyrone Belton and his two daughters at Wheeler Road and Mississippi Avenue in Southeast.
Adofo said DDOT told him that the assessment would take 130 days to complete.
Since the incident, Adofo has communicated with DDOT. Last Friday, representatives of the agency reportedly made a visit to the intersection.
On Tuesday, when Adofo testified at a D.C. Council hearing about the District’s Safe Passage program, he advocated for crossing guards and mechanisms to prevent drivers from speeding.
He revealed plans to appear, along with other community members, at the confirmation hearing of DDOT acting Director Everett Lott toward the end of the month.
“What we can do as citizens is advocate for more resources,” said Adofo, commissioner of ANC 8C07, which includes Congress Heights.
“I’m learning that Ward 8 doesn’t have enough people advocating for resources, so the places with more people on record get more attention,” he said. “You can say these things on social media but we need to be able to see it on record and show them the things that we want to see.”
Lott recently joined D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure Lucinda M. Babers near the Deanwood Metro Station in Northeast to announce the acceleration of traffic safety improvement projects and processing requests for traffic safety assessments.
Within the next six weeks, DDOT plans to complete 50 projects across the District to continue a process which began last summer. The agency has also consolidated its safety programs to address residents’ requests in a more expeditious manner.
As of Oct. 12, 67 traffic safety projects have been completed while nearly a dozen remain in the final stages of completion. In total, District officials will focus on 109 corridors, 25 of which account for a significant number of accidents and fatalities.
“We will do everything to make sure these roads are safer but people need personal responsibility,” Lott said. “We’re going to accelerate our roadway and intersection improvements to include installation of speed bumps, stop signs and hard-right-turn measures. We also know that we must shorten the time it takes to implement these safety improvements.”
A Day Forever Etched in Community Members’ Minds
On Oct. 6, designated as International Walk-to-School Day, a Jeep Grand Cherokee struck Belton and his daughters, Faith and Heavyn White, shortly after entering the crosswalk at Wheeler Road and Mississippi Avenue.
Police said Belton and his daughters had the right of way when the Jeep Grand Cherokee turned quickly onto Wheeler Road from Mississippi Avenue.
The driver of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, who hasn’t been identified, received a bevy of charges, including driving without a license.
Belton suffered a broken ankle. His 8-year-old daughter emerged with a broken leg while his 6-year-old daughter’s facial injuries will require multiple surgeries.
As of the afternoon of Oct. 12, a GoFundMe campaign Belton started has garnered more than $51,000 in contributions from more than 1,000 people.
Belton didn’t respond to The Informer for comment but he has shared several messages with his donors.
“It’s really hard for us right now. We’ve never been through anything like this but I really just wanted to thank you all for the love y’all have been showing us. The prayers and support. To be honest, I‘ve never seen so many people show us this much love. It is very much appreciated,” Belton wrote on his GoFundMe page.
D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) wrote a letter to Bowser about the Oct. 6 incident and other issues he said DDOT still has not addressed. White mentioned that his office has long requested crossing guards and speed bumps in that area.
White also attributed 15 accidents at Good Hope Road and Fendell Street to a median installed without community input.
Other areas of concern include the intersection of Alabama Avenue and Stanton Road near Turner Elementary School and the 800/900 block of Southern Avenue.
Addressing the Bigger Issue
In 2015, the District’s budget included initial funding for Vision Zero, the Bowser administration’s endeavor to eliminate traffic fatalities and pedestrian injuries by 2024 through the use of data, education, enforcement and engineering.
DDOT counts among more than 20 agencies now participating in the Vision Zero initiative.
Over the years, Vision Zero has received criticism for being described as a failure to reduce traffic and pedestrian fatalities.
Between 2017 and 2020, the Metropolitan Police Department reported 160 traffic fatalities.
As of Oct. 8, 30 traffic fatalities have occurred in the District this year, a three percent increase from data recorded around the same time last year.
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.
In the aftermath of another Oct. 6 accident on the corner of Farragut Street and Illinois Avenue in Northwest, Vision Zero representatives along with D.C. Council members Christina Henderson (I-At large) and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) converged on the intersection to address longtime concerns about the absence of a four-way stop sign.
While ANC Commissioner Zach Israel commended the response, he expressed disappointment that DDOT didn’t address his traffic safety assessment request about Farragut Street and Illinois Avenue much sooner.
With Truesdell Elementary School a couple of blocks away from the accident scene, Israel implored DDOT to develop systems that challenge longstanding ideas about what cannot be done at certain intersections.
”Something’s not right and we need to find a solution,” said Israel, who represents ANC 4D04, which includes the Brightwood Park and Petworth neighborhoods.
“The video of the accident moved them but it shouldn’t take that to prompt DDOT to take action more aggressively. I just truly hope there’s a cultural change happening but I didn’t necessarily get that from the visit,” he said.