Stop Studying Dangerous Intersection and Take Action, Say Capitol Hill Residents

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When crossing Maryland Avenue Northeast in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, be ready to run for it.

Despite new, bright signs erected at crosswalks alerting drivers to stop for pedestrians, residents say crossing the four-lane road remains dangerous because many motorists simply do not stop. The 25 m.p.h. speed limit is routinely ignored.

And even though the District Department of Transportation has been studying pedestrian safety improvements for the Maryland Avenue corridor for three years, residents say few changes have been made. Now they are now demanding DDOT act on its safety studies after another crash.

The head librarian at the Northeast Neighborhood Library, Elizabeth Lang, was badly injured when she was run over by a cab in a crosswalk Monday afternoon at the intersection of D St., 7th St., and Maryland Avenue

The challenge of making the streets safer for all modes of transportation — car, bike, and walking — in Capitol Hill is the same one the District is facing along Arkansas Avenue Northwest in 16th Street Heights and Wisconsin Avenue Northwest in Glover Park. In each case, pedestrian safety is lagging.

DDOT promises action

After meetings with residents and years of study, DDOT officials say they are planning to make changes to the intersections along the Maryland Avenue Northeast corridor, home to several schools and a public library.

“We are working as quickly as we can to implement the intersection improvements at 7th, D, and Maryland. We plan to have those completed this summer,” said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s associate director for planning, policy, and sustainability.

The changes include building "bulb-outs," or curb extensions, to narrow Maryland Avenue to one lane in each direction, as well as other traffic-calming modifications to the "road diet."

DDOT is also studying whether a traffic light or HAWK signal is warranted at the intersection of 10th and Maryland. The study is expected to be ready by the end of the month, triggering a year-long design and installation process, according to DDOT spokesman Reggie Sanders.

To residents of Capitol Hill, these ideas are taking too long to be realized.

“There was a long public process that ended about two years ago,” said Beth Bacon. “So there are agreed upon designs for this intersection, and for a couple years we've been told it’s been mired in federal approval because Stanton Park is the National Park Service.”

“You don't need to study this thing over and over again to recognize how dangerous this is,” said Charles Allen, the Democratic nominee for the Ward 6 Council seat. “So what neighbors and I want is to see DDOT really expedite improvements, especially at this intersection. We don't need to continue studying it. We know it is dangerous.”

Crash victim expected to survive

Allen arrived on the scene shortly after librarian Elizabeth Lang was slammed into by a taxicab as she and two co-workers tried to cross Maryland Avenue Northeast at about 6 p.m. Monday afternoon. Lang was thrown about 15 feet from the impact, Allen said.

The Metropolitan Police Department said the cab driver was ticketed for colliding with a pedestrian but was not arrested.

Lang is recovering in a hospital. In an email, her husband said she has several fractures and had to spend almost an entire day in the trauma center.

“It is worth mentioning that this taxi driver barely missed two of her co-workers. This could have been a much more tragic accident,” said husband Andrew Piper.

Statistics show Maryland Avenue NE crash prone

At the nine intersections along Maryland Avenue between 7th and 14th, 188 crashes have occurred over the past six years. Nine of those have involved pedestrians and bicyclists. Before Monday, only one crash injured a pedestrian at the intersection of 7th, D, and Maryland.

None of the intersections are among the District’s 20 most dangerous, based on crash rate data. However, the percentage of crashes at Maryland Avenue intersections that result in injuries often exceeds the District average of 22 percent. For instance, 59 percent of crashes at 13th and Maryland result in injuries. At 7th, D, and Maryland, the figure is 39 percent.

“There are so many near misses. I get emails about near misses about once every two months,” said Scott Price, an ANC 6C Commissioner, who has been lobbying DDOT to change the traffic pattern on Maryland Avenue.

“DDOT has been telling us for years this is a dangerous corridor. The study started a long time ago. If they say it will be done at a certain time, we can live with that, but it is open ended,” Price added.

Allen, the Democratic Council nominee in Ward 6, said better enforcement of crosswalks by police would help, but the intersections need to be redesigned.

“These crosswalks are very long. It’s over 100 feet to get from one side to the other,” he said in an interview at 7th, D, and Maryland, near the spot Lang was run over.

“We shouldn't have to park a police car at an intersection to make it safer. We can make improvements by redesigning this intersection. That is where we start.”

As for Beth Bacon, a mother of young children, the daily sprint across Maryland Avenue grew tiresome year ago.

“I choose my crossings carefully. I take my kids — I ask them to stand on the corner while I step out and look and see if there are cars coming, or if the cars will stop,” she said.

Such complaints have been made for years. Internet message boards formed by neighborhood residents were filled with warnings about the dangers of the Maryland Avenue corridor from the middle of the last decade.