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D.C. Campaign Aims To Protect Pedestrians, Cyclists

WASHINGTON (AP) -- About three times every day in the District, someone walking on a city street gets hit by a vehicle and an ambulance races to the scene. This year, four of those people have died.

Last year, the number of walkers and cyclists hit in Washington increased by almost 25 percent compared with the previous year.

"Even at a slow speed, when you get hit by a car, it is violent and jarring," said Neha Bhatt, a cyclist who needed months to recover after she was hit by a sport-utility vehicle last year on Benning Road northeast.

Some of the region's law enforcement and political figures gathered Tuesday outside a police station on New York Avenue northwest to warn people that walkers and bikers are getting hit — and often. In fact, six pedestrians were struck that very day across the city.

As part of the kickoff of the spring Street Smart campaign, which includes new ads featuring giant feet smashing cars, officials also warned that pedestrians, bikers and drivers who don't obey traffic laws will be targeted and ticketed by police.

Across the Washington region, which includes northern Virginia and suburban Maryland, 83 pedestrians and cyclists were killed on the road last year. That was up 9 percent from 2009.

Bhatt, 37, was almost one of them. It was actually the second time she has been hit on her commute from her home in Southeast Washington to her job downtown. Last summer's crash happened when the SUV didn't see her as it pulled out of a gas station.

"I was thrown from the sidewalk into oncoming traffic on Benning Road," said Bhatt, who ended up getting 17 X-rays and a CT scan that day. "It was frighteningly obvious how lucky I was."

But Bhatt still bikes to work.

"I am unwilling to give it up," she said.

Last year, there were 436 bike vs. vehicle crashes in the District that were serious enough for police to respond to the accident, according to city data.

Part of the reason for the increase in people being hit might be that there has been a 68 percent jump in cyclists in the city over the past three years, officials said.

The District has the highest number of pedestrians in the region, and the most hit by cars. Last year, ambulances responded to 1,299 calls for pedestrians struck, according to data from the D.C. fire department.

Also last year, 16 people — two-thirds of those who died in traffic accidents — were on a bike or on foot.

"I can't get used to these numbers," said D.C. Assistant Police Chief Alfred Durham. "I can't accept them."

Last year, about 216 pedestrians were hit per 100,000 population in the District, according to data from the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. In Baltimore, about 169 per 100,000 were hit, fire officials say. In Philadelphia, the rate was about 120, according to police.

In Montgomery County, the rate was about 45. In Prince George's, it was about 90, according to data the counties provided.

People are more likely to be hit in downtown areas because so many walkers and bikers are packed into a small space. But they have more chance of dying when they are hit outside the city because cars are often moving faster.

In Washington, the crashes occur most often when vehicles are turning at an intersection while pedestrians have a "walk" signal.

"Pedestrians confidently stride in the crosswalk with the right of way and the cars don't see them," said Karina Ricks, an associate director at the D.C. Department of Transportation. "There's not much reaction time for either party."

Because the streets are so busy, and intersections often are backed up with cars, there isn't time to allow walkers to have the right of way while cars are stopped, officials said.

But they are starting to time lights so pedestrians have a few seconds to cross while the cars are stopped, allowing them to make their way into the crosswalk and become more visible to turning cars.

Of the city's 1,600 intersections, about 60 have such lights.

The majority of the intersections where pedestrian crashes occurred between 2008 and last year are in Northwest.

But the single intersection where the most pedestrians were hit — 13 — is Howard Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue southeast, according to a report from the D.C. Department of Transportation. One of the people struck at that intersection was killed.

The next most dangerous crossing was New York Avenue and North Capitol Street, where 12 walkers were injured, followed by the intersections at H and North Capitol streets northwest, and Seventh and H streets northwest, where 11 people were injured.

Next was 14th and U streets northwest, where 10 people were hurt, followed by 12th Street and Massachusetts Avenue northwest, which had nine injuries.

On Tuesday, police released the name of a man in a wheelchair who was killed in a hit-and-run in the 5000 block of Benning Road southeast two weeks ago as he crossed in a crosswalk. Police are still looking for the car that struck Gary Green, 55, of southeast Washington on March 12.

Bhatt said she thinks of her two crashes every morning when she gets on her bike.

"As a survivor, I call for everyone who moves to please look out for each other," she said.

Information from: The Washington Post,
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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