As Metro continues its SafeTrack program, more and more of our residents have had to find alternative modes of transportation for their daily needs. While Metro is working to keep their riders safe, the city needs to ensure the safety of those who walk, bike, or drive in Southwest DC.
The intersection at 4th and M streets SW is a prime example of the city’s neglect when it comes to the safety of those using our sidewalks and streets. The issues seen at this intersection are mainly related to pedestrians and cyclists, and involve a multifaceted set of problems, which, if handled individually, would give the city a chance to make Southwest safer for all.
The first of these issues is the pothole in the middle of the crosswalk on the east side of the intersection. This pothole has existed for more than a year, creating problems for those crossing the street, as well as flooding during major rain storms. After returning from a community meeting one evening, I was walking with a group of people, when one of our neighbors fell quite hard into the hole. I immediately contacted Councilmember Charles Allen, alerting him to the issue and requesting that the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) address the problem quickly. Within 48 hours, DDOT had come out and placed the large metal plate that currently exists, as a temporary stopgap until the hole can be filled and grated. It is on the community members, as well as the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), to stay on DDOT to ensure that this temporary plate does not become their permanent solution.
Another issue right next to the pothole is the blocked bike lane for those traveling north/south on 4th Street. Often times there are parked or idled cars heeding the flow of bike traffic on this stretch of the road. This causes the cyclists to have to swing wider than normal in order to avoid the cars and re-enter the bike lane. This puts everyone at an increased risk of accidents, as the car also serves as a blind spot, blocking the cyclists from view until they are already in the lane of traffic. With the Capital Bikeshare station right at this intersection, as well as the larger dependence on bicycles as a main mode of transportation, an increased focus on bike safety should be a top priority for the city. Like the pothole, this also has a simple fix. If the Department of Public Works increased their patrols and focused ticketing and towing on ensuring that the bike lanes around Southwest, but especially at this location, were kept clear, there would be an increase in cyclist safety and a decreased risk of accidents for cyclists at this intersection. This would also serve as a sign of good faith for a neighborhood that has gotten used to an intersection that is both dangerous and neglected.
Even once the pothole is fixed, the intersection will still continue to be dangerous because of the illegal left-hand turns on red, which go unenforced and place law-abiding pedestrians at great risk. The violators include everybody from U.S. Postal Service delivery trucks, to commuters and visitors, and even to public servants. Although it seems harmless, pedestrians and cyclists going south on 4th Street cannot see the vehicles until they are already upon them. This problem should be the easiest to fix. A simple red light camera or a posted traffic officer would remediate this problem, as enforcement would discourage the current illegal and dangerous practice. The newly installed lane dividers (flexible pillions) are a welcomed first step, but more needs to be done. Residents should pressure the ANC, DDOT, Metropolitan Police Department, and our city council to ensure that the resources needed are included in the budget and are installed. By voicing our concerns, we will send a message that this is a dangerous intersection and needs to be addressed.
This intersection has continued to be a problem for as long as most of us can remember. It has been the subject of many news posts on local blogs, talk amongst neighbors, and most recently discussed during the joint Southwest Neighborhood Assembly and ANC transportation meeting this past July. However, no action has occurred to address the problems that this intersection poses. With the increase in population in the neighborhood, which will only continue to grow, along with the future developments of the Wharf and Buzzard Point that will draw staggering numbers of visitors to this area each year, the time to address this intersection is now. We cannot, and should not, wait for someone to be injured. There must be an urgency to addressing the safety of those who travel through this intersection.
By: Katelynd Mahoney
Katelynd Mahoney is an active board member of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, and candidate for ANC 6D05 SMD.