I’ve been perusing the Mt. Pleasant Transportation Study for a couple of weeks now, trying to summarize the almost 90 page report into something cogent to write about.  Never did I think that a tragedy would illustrate the importance of discussion about one particular section of the study: pedestrian and bicycle safety.

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, 22-year-old Mt. Pleasant resident Alice Swanson was killed while biking to work Tuesday morning.  In the aftermath of such an untimely death, it is impossible not to think about the pedestrian and bicycle conditions in the city, to consider what could have happened differently to prevent Alice’s death, and to determine what can be done to make our streets safer in the future.

Mt. Pleasant, especially the 16th Street corridor, is a high traffic area for both cyclists and pedestrians.  According to the study, more than 600 pedestrians an hour traverse Irving Street during peak times and an average of 30-50 bicyclists an hour cruise down 16th Steet.  This kind of traffic certainly makes The Mount a high risk area for pedestrian/bicycle crashes. 

According to this illustration provided by the study, 15 crashes occured between pedestrians/cyclists and cars between 2004 and 2006.  That number doesn’t seem terribly high, but the study points out that this data takes into account only those crashes that were reported, so generally minor ones aren’t included.  This data also fails to take into account “conflicts” defined by the study as a “pedestrian, bicyclist, or driver taking evasive action to avoid a collision.”  In other words, there are certainly numerous near-misses that are unaccounted for.

The study does offer some solutions.  The fact that 14th Street has a bicycle lane north of Newton Street and 16th Steet does not, despite the significantly higher cycling traffic on 16th Street, is discussed in detail.  The report suggests that either the city add a bike lane to 16th Street or that bikers utilize the 14th Street lane for increased safety.  The Washington Area Bicyclist Association agrees.  It is one of the association’s top priorities to greatly increase the number of bike lanes throughout the city and they provide bike-safe routes to destinations across the region.

The city, by collecting data like the Mt. Pleasant Transportation Study, seems to understand the gravity of the problem and is taking steps to fix problem areas.  Until then, be safe.  Use the 14th Street bike lane if at all possible; it’s just two blocks out of your way.  Of course, wear your helmet and keep your eyes open to potential problem spots so that we can avoid losing another Mt. Pleasant resident in another horrible accident.