DC, Maryland and Virginia launch the Street Smart Fall Campaign

Mike Chapman, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, speaking at the event

From my column at the Washington Times Communities

WASHINGTON, DC, November 16, 2012- Fall in the DC area is a beautiful time, but also a time for increased traffic-related cyclist and pedestrian injuries and fatalities.  As Daylight Savings changes to Standard Time, it is often dark by five p.m., just in time for the evening commute.  It often takes a while for drivers to adjust to commuting in the dark, which makes it more difficult to spot riders and pedestrians.  An additional risk is that as the weather turns colder, many riders and pedestrians wear coats–which are often dark in color–making them even more difficult to see.

According to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), in 2011 there were 76 pedestrian traffic-related fatalities and 6 cyclist fatalities in the DC metro region.   This accounted for 29% of all traffic related fatalities in the area.   Over 430 crashes involving pedestrians occurred in November and December of last year alone, making the fall months some of the most dangerous for pedestrians and riders alike.

Last Wednesday, DC, Maryland and Virginia officially launched the Street Smart fall public education campaign to raise cyclist, pedestrian, and motorists safety awareness.  Taking advantage of the change from Daylight Savings to Standard Time, when darkness falls on commuters one hour earlier, program officials want to highlight the added risks posed by decreased visibility and the need for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to be increasingly aware of each other, share the road, and obey all traffic laws and signals.

The official launch of the educational campaign took place in Loudon County, VA, at what has become one of the busiest and most dangerous intersections in the area. Participants at the event at the corner of Belmont Ridge Road (Route 659) and the W&OD Trail in Ashburn included Todd Turner from the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board; Ralph Buona from the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors; Jeff Dunkel form the Montgomery County, Maryland Department of Transportation; Steven Friedman from the Crash Victim/Montgomery County Pedestrian Traffic and Safety Advisory Committee; Mike Chapman from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office; Paul Gilbert from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority; and Cindy Engelhart from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

As the likelihood of cyclist and pedestrian injury rises, safety officials take time in the fall to remind area cyclists, motorist and pedestrians that the change to Standard Time means a more dangerous evening commute.  City officials and Street Smart advocates urge commuters to be watchful of other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists in an effort to reduce cyclist fatalities and injuries this season.

George Branyan, Pedestrian Program Coordinator at DC Department of Transportation, explains that the lower light in the evening makes it harder for drivers to see pedestrians and exacerbates common hazards, especially at signals and intersections.  The largest number of crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists in the District occur at intersections when cars are turning left or right.  The second largest number of accidents occurs when pedestrians and cyclists cross against the light at an intersection, jaywalk, or cross in the middle of the road.

Branyan urges drivers to pay special attention when turning at an intersection and cyclists to use bright lights.  Drivers need to be alert when exiting and entering driveways, looking for pedestrians on the sidewalk and cyclists on the road.  Drivers need to be watchful at intersections and take special care in low light conditions.

If you are a cyclist, here are some tips for riding in traffic.  Michael Farrell, from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) says that the biggest danger for cyclists and pedestrians this fall season is the same: they are not visible in the dark, “there are too many bicycles out there without lights or even reflectors.”  It is important that all bicycles are equipped with reflectors and that all cyclists have lights if they are planning to ride at night. Cyber Drive Illinois has a list of equipment necessary to make you as visible as possible while on the road.  The list includes:

  • Clear front reflector
  • Red rear reflector visible for at least 100 ft.
  • Wheel mounted side reflectors
  • Reflector pedals
  • Front light visible for at least 500 ft., if you plan to ride at night

A significant part of the campaign is a focused crackdown by area law enforcement, especially between November 14 and November 25.  Officers will be ticketing cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers who do not follow traffic safety laws.   Tickets and fines will range between $40 and $500 depending on the infraction.   Law enforcement, local, county, and state agencies will also be distributing handouts and tip cards to further commuter awareness.

Street Smart organizers and safety advocates urge drivers to be especially alert, take extra caution, and obey speed limits and traffic signals.  Cyclists and pedestrians are urged to do the same.   Street Smart has a helpful checklist for all commuters this fall season:


                   Street Smart Safety Tips


If you’re driving…

  • Look twice for people in crosswalks and yield to pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Be careful when passing stopped vehicles
  • Yield to pedestrians and cyclists at intersections when you’re turning
  • Allow three feet when passing bicyclists
  • Look for cyclists and cars before you open your door
  • Slow down and obey the speed limit
  • Avoid using your cell phone while driving

If you’re walking…

  • Cross the street at the corner and use marked crosswalks when they’re available
  • Wait for the “Walk” signal to cross the street
  • Before crossing look left, right, and left again
  • Be seen! If you’re walking after dark or in bad weather, make it easier for drivers to see you by wearing light clothing or something reflective
  • Don’t text while you’re crossing the street
  • If you’re on an off-street trail, obey all posted signage and approach intersections with caution

If you’re biking…

  • Obey all traffic signs and traffic lights
  • Ride in the direction of traffic, at least a car door width away from parked cars
  • Use hand signals so drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians know what you’re going to do
  • Always wear a helmet
  • Use lights if you’re riding at times of darkness
  • If you’re on an off-street trail, obey all posted signage and approach intersections with caution

Street Smart is a public awareness and enforcement campaign in its 11th year.  Sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), Street Smart aims at reducing cyclist and pedestrian injuries and deaths in the DC metropolitan area.
Read more: DC, Maryland and Virginia launch the Street Smart Fall Campaign | Washington Times Communities