- (Photo: NewsTalk)
Pedestrian safety is an evolving concept in our modern cities. Washington, D.C. has attempted to prioritize the pedestrian, and two years ago, formed the Pedestrian Advisory Council, which meets regularly on these issues of walking and safety and testifies before the D.C. Council and engages the community on how to make the District a more walkable place. Our city has hundreds upon hundreds of pedestrian crashes a year, with several deaths, and we're still sorting out all the causes and solutions. In some parts of D.C., about half of all households lack any personal automobiles and instead rely on alternative modes — first and foremost each member's own two feet.
Neha Bhatt serves as chair of the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council, and I've watched her speak many times before the D.C. Council on how we should be approaching these crucial questions. Bhatt's insight covers how D.C. uses street cameras, our changing population, its pedestrian-friendly design and engineering, and myriad other transportation topics worth watching. Here's her thoughts on where the city is and where it needs to move next.
- (Photo: flickr/foxymoron)
TBD On Foot: People often emphasize the importance of "livable, walkable" cities. To what extent would you say D.C. fits the bill?
Neha Bhatt: D.C. is a jewel. It’s no coincidence one-third of our households do not own cars (D.C. DMV) and 12% of our residents walk to their jobs (U.S. Census). We’ve been recognized in the top-10 list of most walkable U.S. cities (Walkscore.org), and we’ve become national leaders in bicycling infrastructure and car-sharing. This is all possible because D.C. built a diverse transportation network and has been smart about putting jobs, shopping, and schools together in walkable neighborhoods. All of these destinations are part of our neighborhood — not the case in so many other cities. No doubt, we have plenty of work to do and mistakes to correct, especially in our underserved neighborhoods; but the fact remains D.C. is highly attractive even in these difficult economic times to employers, businesses, and new residents.
On Foot: Tell me a bit about your work with the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council. How and when did you get involved and how would you describe your responsibilities?
Bhatt: The Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC) serves as the advisory body to the mayor and Council of the District of Columbia on pedestrian safety and accessibility issues. I joined in spring of 2010, when the PAC first launched. I live east of the Anacostia River where transportation options are fewer and walking all the more important. Even when amenities are limited, walkability increases access, choices, and the overall neighborhood experience. A walkable street unlocks all sorts of potential — safety, reduced crime, business opportunity, community building. We want more of these things for all D.C. neighborhoods, and especially in our underserved neighborhoods. I saw the PAC as a chance to get involved in a productive way.
Over the past two years, the PAC has focused on building relationships with the police department to tackle the difficult issue of increasing enforcement of our traffic safety laws. We testify regularly at oversight and budget hearings and offer policy recommendations, and we’ve mapped pedestrian crashes and prepared an analysis of the deadliest D.C. intersections (to be released this summer). Monitoring implementation of the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan is another important activity. We have many more ideas; however, we must prioritize as most of the 13 councilmember-appointed PAC members work full time and are civically active otherwise. Anyone is welcome to join us and help move the ball forward. We usually meet monthly at 6:00 p.m. every second Monday at 441 4th Street NW (Judiciary Square Metro).
On Foot: Who are the biggest advocates for pedestrians out there now in the D.C. region?
Bhatt: Many names come to mind. On the D.C. Council, Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh are consistently good on the policy side. They are not only receptive on pedestrian issues, they lead. Within government, there are some very dedicated individuals such as Chris Shaheen in the Office of Planning and George Branyan (D.C. Pedestrian Manager) and the entire DDOT active transportation team. Lisa Sutter and Lt. Breul from MPD continue to be strong partners in the effort to make the city safer for pedestrians. Groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and neighborhood and regional blogs such as Greater Greater Washington have played key roles in raising awareness and prioritizing walkability in public decision-making. Civic leaders doggedly fighting to make their neighborhoods safer are the unsung and most critical advocates. People like Carolyn Ward (Ward 8) and Marlene Berlin (Ward 3) inspire me because they are very active locally, and they recognize the role of safe streets in their neighborhoods. They could easily retire from civic activities and be proud of what they’ve already accomplished, yet they continue to stay involved and lead. Both currently serve on the PAC.
(Continue reading the Q&A with Neha Bhatt after the jump)