- Transportation secretary Ray LaHood talking at Yards Park today. (TBD)
[Correction: Hosinski and Weichbrod were struck on Rockville Pike on Sunday.]
U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood and D.C. transportation director Gabe Klein called a presser today at Yards Park in Southeast D.C. to draw attention to the recent string of pedestrian deaths on Washington-area roads.
In explaining why they'd gathered today, Klein rattled off a litany of high-profile crashes in recent days and weeks that left people maimed or killed. Among those victims:
• Adam J. Hosinski and Rory J. Weichbrod, the two 26-year-old men struck and killed by a driver who was held for DUI on Rockville Pike early Sunday morning.
• Kiela Ryan, the 24-year-old woman who was struck and killed in a hit and run near Dupont Circle early Thursday morning.
• Natasha Pettigrew, the Green Party candidate who was killed while riding her bike in Maryland three weeks ago.
• The woman, as yet unidentified, who was killed along I-270 this morning when she was hit by a Cadillac and a bus.
"I’m not saying all this to scare people, but in one sense we sort of need to," Klein said. "As we become more urbanized, whether it’s here or whether it’s in Gaithersburg, there’s more tension between cars, particularly distracted drivers, and the pedestrians and cyclists. So my message is really that everyone needs to slow down."
So far this year the District has seen 20 traffic fatalities, 11 of them involving pedestrians. According to D.C. police assistant chief Pat Burke, who spoke at the press conference, those are some of the lowest figures the city has seen in decades. "But these are not accidents," Burke said. "They're preventable incidents."
Burke, in trying to put a "human face" on the crashes, told of how he'd visited the hospital after an alleged drunk driver hit 26-year-old Julia Bachleitner, who later died of her injuries. Burke met Bachleitner's twin sister there. "That's a heart-wrenching thing," he said. The other day he also met with John Ryan, the father of Kiela Ryan. "Imagine your heartbreak if this happened to your husband or wife," Burke said.
LaHood said that after one DOT worker was killed and another injured in pedestrian crashes near headquarters this year, he asked D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier for stepped-up enforcement near New Jersey Avenue and M Streets SE, an intersection that LaHood calls "a terrible safety hazard." With increased ticketing of drivers and pedestrians, "We're beginning to get people's attention," LaHood said.
LaHood, who's done quite a bit to draw attention to the dangers of distracted driving, blamed cell-phone use for a lot of the deadly crashes these days. "Please do not text and drive; please do not talk on your cell phone and drive," he said. "It's too dangerous. And when you're trying to cross a busy street it might be easier if you hung up your phone."
LaHood also had a message for all DOT supervisors, many of whom were in attendance. "Do not be texting your employees when you know they're driving to and from work. Don’t tempt them."
To that, a lone employee, most likely an underling, applauded enthusiastically.
Also: DOT and DDOT brought in a contractor to put on a crash-test show with a car and a dummy pedestrian named Bobby. More on that (with video) later. As you might imagine, things didn't go well for Bobby.