July 4, 2022

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automotive

D.C. budget aims for road safety

“We set our vision on safety,” said Lott, who is scheduled to go before the D.C. Council on Monday to present the District Department of Transportation’s spending plan.

The council is deliberating a financial plan that some lawmakers say addresses calls for more traffic enforcement and better maintenance of city roads.

Under the proposal, about $10 million would be spent in the next fiscal year on “quick-build” changes to roads, such as the addition of speed bumps, improvements on left and right turns, and moving stop signs to ensure better sightlines. It can also include replacement of signs and flexible posts used to form an arc around some street corners to encourage slower driving.

On traffic enforcement, Bowser (D) wants $9.4 million to add 170 new speed cameras, along with dozens more cameras that would target drivers who run red lights and stop signs, illegally use bike and bus lanes, or pass school buses. It would be the most significant expansion of the program since it launched two decades ago, tripling the number of speed cameras in the city.

The proposal, officials say, responds to a rise in unsafe driving.

“The mayor has been saying that we really need to blanket the city with enforcement cameras as a way to really just keep the speed down because the speeding is really what is out of control and what is causing the traffic crashes,” Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure Lucinda M. Babers recently told council members.

Babers said a staff analysis found that 170 more speed cameras would be needed to put them on every mile in high-crash corridors. The city plans to deploy the cameras to corridors with a history of severe crashes, she said, while also using some near schools to tackle concerns about crashes involving children walking to or leaving school.

Bowser’s proposed budget also includes $9.4 million to add 100 full-time school crossing guards, which officials say will ensure coverage of all schools.

To target drivers with outstanding tickets, the budget includes $752,000 to add nine positions in the city’s vehicle booting division, which would triple its size. The Department of Public Works, which handles ticket enforcement, has two vehicles and two two-person crews assigned to booting vehicles. The teams boot about 50 vehicles daily, interim director Michael A. Carter said at an oversight budget hearing of his agency late last month. Budget cuts years ago resulted in the division reducing the number of booting crews from 10 to two, while ushering in enforcement deficiencies that have been widely criticized.

About 550,000 vehicles with D.C., Maryland or Virginia tags have two or more unpaid parking or traffic tickets that are at least 60 days old and eligible to be booted, according to city data. Many involve dangerous driving: Roughly 5,000 vehicles have tickets for traveling at least 21 mph over the speed limit, another 150,000 for running a red light and about 50,000 have fines for running a stop sign.

“The additional nine will give us greater bandwidth to boot more vehicles,” Carter said. “Definitely will enhance our capacity a great deal.”

Bowser’s proposals for tackling traffic infractions and road safety problems are likely to receive the backing of council members. Some members have said they support more traffic cameras and investment in road infrastructure. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) recently praised the budget’s investment in dedicated bike lanes and cleaning of the paths.

“Keeping our bike lanes clear of debris will help encourage safe travel and booting vehicles with outstanding violations will help keep dangerous drivers off our roads,” Pinto said. Referencing the city’s pledge to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024, she added, “I know that this may be one small part of moving towards Vision Zero, but every action that we take collectively makes a difference.”

Bowser has emphasized investments made in recent years to address safety concerns, including $5 million last year to upgrade the city’s automated traffic enforcement system, and adding more speed and red-light cameras to target bad road behaviors.

Here are some of the initiatives in her proposed budget, some of which would stretch over multiple years:

  • $200 million over six years for longer-term streetscape projects to redesign dangerous roads and intersections.
  • $36 million over six years to add 10 new miles of protected bike lanes per year to the District’s growing bike lane network.
  • $334,000 to add dedicated data analysis and communications capacity to DDOT’s Vision Zero office.
  • $57 million toward completing the K Street Transitway, anticipating that construction would begin next year. The project, which Bowser announced three years ago, would provide protected bus and bike lanes through downtown. Under the plan, K Street would be redesigned between Ninth and 21st streets NW, with two dedicated bus lanes — one in each direction — running down the middle and separated from traffic by raised medians that would have room for passenger waiting areas.
  • $102 million over six years toward bus projects, including adding more bus-only lanes and improvements to 50 priority corridors. Officials said the investments would make bus transit easier and faster.
  • $15 million over six years to continue the expansion of Capital Bikeshare. The funding would be used to add 80 new stations and 1,000 more e-bikes. The District is expected to begin expanding its e-bike fleet starting this summer through funding approved last year. Under the plan, every D.C. resident will live within a quarter-mile of a bike station, officials said. The plan also supports a new program of adaptive bikes for people with disabilities.
  • $125 million over six years for new and improved trails, including the Suitland Parkway and Shepherd Branch trails in Ward 8, to improve connectivity to the regional trail network.

The city is also preparing to receive about $3 billion in federal infrastructure funding, which will be used on road infrastructure, transit, energy, environmental and broadband projects. Bowser recently announced a new task force that will help the city select projects, while prioritizing equity and economic opportunity.

The federal funding includes $1.3 billion for roads and bridges, city officials said. About $85 million will go to improving traffic safety and supporting the Vision Zero program. Another $17 million will go to building a network of electric vehicle charging stations.