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Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Vision Zero plan criticized after 2 traffic-related deaths

October 11, 2018

Two traffic-related deaths in the past week have kindled anger and doubt over D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s “Vision Zero” plan to reduce traffic deaths.

Meanwhile, the mayor has asked the D.C. Council to consider increasing fines for traffic-camera tickets, which have steadily increased in number and revenue over the years even as city officials have claimed they are forcing motorists to drive more carefully.

“If these programs are changing behavior, why do people keep dying on D.C. roads?” asked Rachel Maisler, a member of the D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council. “Are these tickets even being paid?”

Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chair of the Transportation Committee, also questioned the mayor’s proposal.

“Tell me what the rationale is. Explain to me how you think this is the solution,” Ms. Cheh said Wednesday.

Miss Bowser has submitted a proposal to raise the fine for speeding more than 25 mph over the posted limit from $300 to $500. The proposal also would double the current $50 fines for “rolling through” a right turn on a red light without coming to a full stop and for cutting off pedestrians while turning right on red.

In addition, the Bowser proposal would hike the $65 fine for obstructing a bike lane to $150 and double the $25 fine for hitting a bicyclist with a car door.

Her proposal is part of an international campaign to reduce traffic fatalities, especially among pedestrians and cyclists. The Democratic mayor campaigned on a promise to end traffic fatalities in the District by 2024.

Yet the number of tickets being doled out by the city’s red-light and speeding camera programs have continually grown, as has the revenue they have generated.

More than 1 million tickets were issued in the District in fiscal 2017 a first for the city’s traffic-camera programs, according to records obtained by the automobile owners club AAA Mid-Atlantic. In fiscal 2015, the city issued 520,104 tickets, and in fiscal 2016, it issued 994,163.

Since 2007 drivers in the District have handed over $647 million in fines from speed cameras, according to the auto club.

“The District’s speed camera program appears to defy the law of inertia, which posits ‘what goes up, must come down,’” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend in a statement Tuesday.

But the District also has seen an uptick in pedestrian and cyclist traffic fatalities in recent years.

In 2017, police recorded 30 total traffic fatalities, the highest number since 2011. So far, 27 people have been killed in traffic accidents this year, compared to 24 by this time last year. Fourteen of this year’s traffic deaths have involved pedestrians or bicyclists.

“All that looks like to the average person is that we’re engaging in more revenue raising,” Ms. Cheh said Wednesday.

Miss Bowser did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The Bowser bill comes after renewed calls for change after Carlos Sanchez-Martin, a 20-year-old Silver Spring resident, was killed Friday when the driver of an SUV ran over him as he was riding an electric scooter in a Dupont Circle crosswalk. He was pinned underneath the vehicle, which dragged him for several yards.

On Monday, bicyclist Thomas H. Hollowell, 64, of Arlington, was hit and killed by a driver running a red light at Constitution Avenue and 12th Street NW. One Twitter user recorded a video of two taxi cabs running the same red light the next day.

“People need to stop dying on our roads,” Ms. Maisler said Wednesday as she prepared for an evening memorial for Mr. Sanchez-Martin.

Ms. Cheh will hold a public hearing Thursday afternoon in the Wilson Building about Vision Zero and traffic safety.

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