Photograph by Flickr user Mike Miley.
Is the city trying to scare us, warn us, or simply make us more educated pedestrians and Metro riders? The Department of Transportation and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority have released a slew of statistics in the past several days about danger and crime in the streets and at Metro stations. Violent crime (aggravated assault, forcible rape, homicide, robbery) and property crime (arson, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft), are down 16 percent, according to WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel. He adds that crime on buses and in Metro station parking lots are at five-year lows.
Violent and property crime are classified as Part I crimes in official reports. The Deanwood Metro station topped the list for most Part I crimes, with 67 last year. Stations rounding out the top five were Anacostia (64), L’Enfant Plaza (63), Suitland (60), and College Park (55).
The arrest rate at these stations, however, seems relatively paltry. There were 6 arrests for the 67 crimes at the Deanwood station, 14 in Anacostia, 27 at L’Enfant Plaza, 4 at Suitland, and 4 at College Park. The report was prepared by WMATA’s Safety and Security Committee and was presented to the agency’s board this morning. An attempt to interview WMATA’s CEO, Richard Sarles, was unsuccessful.
The most common crimes overall reported by Metro police—accounting for all modes of transportation in the system—were robbery (871 incidents) and larceny (791). The third highest reported crime was aggravated assault (108). Only one homicide was reported by Metro police in all of 2011. By far, the most Part I crimes are committed on Metrorail. Overall, Metro police made nearly 2,000 arrests last year and issued more than 7,000 citations or summonses.
Another report, by the Department of Transportation, referred ominously to “the most dangerous intersections for pedestrian crashes” in DC, but it also had encouraging news: Last year, in which ten pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles, saw the lowest casualty number since 2004. Twenty-four intersections were cited as dangerous. Most of them are in Northwest. The top five are Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Howard Road, Southeast; H Street and North Capitol Street; 14th and U streets, Northwest; 15th and K streets, Northwest; and Benning Road and East Capitol Street.
Ward 1 council member Jim Graham, who sits on the Transportation Committee, says the city’s dangerous intersections can be remedied with “restructuring,” which can include physical reshaping of curbs and streets, the addition of “crossing islands” for pedestrians, and changing the intervals on traffic lights. But, Graham cautions, “There’s no substitute for proper police monitoring” of intersections.
Neha Bhatt, chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Council—which is not a government agency but was created by the City Council to review and recommend actions—says, “We can make intersections safer. It’s not rocket science.” Her group is preparing its own report with recommendations for the ten most dangerous intersections. She advocates redesign and agrees with Graham on the issue of increased police monitoring. Bhatt cites 7th and H streets, Northwest, as an intersection where the city changed traffic and pedestrian patterns with a positive result. “We have good traffic laws in this city,” she says, “but a lot of people don’t know the laws. I’m always surprised how many drivers don’t know the pedestrian laws.”
George Branyan, the pedestrian program coordinator at the Department of Transportation, cites the intersection of East Capitol Street and Benning Road as an example of restructuring. “I’m leading a preliminary design study to really try to tighten up that intersection, make it less distance from curb to curb, so we can narrow the distance pedestrians have to cross the street, giving them more time,” he says. His next target is the number one intersection on the list of most dangerous—Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Howard Road. “There are five legs to that intersection, plus a good number of pedestrians from a new housing development on Sheridan, and Metro. What we call that is a lot of exposure.”
Graham pointed to some intersection redesign success stories, in particular 18th Street and Florida Avenue, Northwest, which Branyan calls “a complex little intersection.” There, the city reduced crossing distances, “channelized” automobile traffic, or forced it into certain lanes, and added crossing islands. Graham says there were many fatalities at that intersection. “We’ve restructured it, and this has made a big difference.”
See WMATA’s report here.