DCision 2014: DC’s Candidates for At-Large Councilmember on Walking and Pedestrian Safety Issues

All Walks DC surveyed candidates for mayor, council, and attorney general. We will use candidate’s responses to compile scorecards on candidates’ perspectives on walking issues.

Today, let’s take a look at how the candidates for at-large councilmember stack up. We received responses from nine candidates: Anita Bonds, Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brian Hart, Michael Brown, Kishan Putta, Khalid Pitts, Calvin Gurley, and Graylan Hagler.

1. As a councilmember, would you support adequate resources and funding for traffic enforcement by Metropolitan Police Department officers?

Anita Bonds: Yes

Elissa Silverman: Absolutely. This is a tremendous issue across the city, as we add density to neighborhoods and encourage our residents to walk, bike, and get out of cars. In my neighborhood of Northeast Capitol Hill, fellow residents worked with DDOT and MPD to create a better traffic pattern at 7th Street NE and Maryland Avenue NE, where there have been many pedestrian incidents. Because of those efforts, it is now a safer intersection for all–including drivers. My understanding is that MPD is supposed to have a traffic enforcement division in every police district. I will ask Chief Lanier whether there is adequate funding for this in the budget. I am a strong supporter of adequate resources for public safety, which is one of the reasons I have earned the support of the Fraternal Order of Police D.C. Police Union.

Robert White: Yes.

Brian Hart: Yes, our police officers should have the necessary funding and resources for traffic enforcement.

Michael Brown: Yes

Kishan Putta: Yes. I believe the MPD is generally understaffed and facing the very real threat of a shrinking force, with a potential wave of retirements on the near horizon, all the while our city’s population continues to grow. As the population and the number of pedestrians and cyclists continue to grow, it is imperative that everyone is kept safe on our streets. Ensuring strict enforcement of parking and moving violations has proven to be effective, and we must give the MPD the adequate resources and training it needs to carry out this enforcement. In particular, I believe we should seriously consider funding a separate division within the MPD to focus exclusively on traffic enforcement.

Kahlid Pitts: Yes.

Calvin Gurley: Not to be difficult, is adequacy based upon the amount of annual revenue collected or that the number of “reported” traffic and pedisterian accidents have decreased in number? Our MPD Officers need a “signed” negotiated City Government Contract and an increase in pay.

Graylan Hagler: Yes, it’s outrageous that the MPD traffic unit has been disbanded.


2. Do you support the continued use of traffic cameras to enforce existing traffic laws?

Anita Bonds: Yes, I support the existing traffic cameras but I do not think installing additional cameras will yield a significantly different result.

Elissa Silverman: While oversight is needed to ensure that our traffic cameras are being deployed effectively and accurately to increase public safety, traffic cameras have been successful in changing behavior and increasing safety, not only for pedestrians but for drivers and cyclists as well. I am concerned that we are overly reliant on revenue from the cameras to fund our needs — if they are working well, then they should change behavior and we should see a decline in revenue because people are driving slower and obeying our traffic laws. And that is exactly what we are seeing.

Robert White: Yes.

Brian Hart: Yes, traffic cameras are effective tools in enforcing traffic laws, as long as they are used in a transparent, appropriate, and moderate manner.

Michael Brown: Yes

Kishan Putta: Yes. While traffic cameras are not perfect, and the bugs in them need to be addressed to ensure that the technology is accurate and drivers are treated fairly, ultimately traffic cameras serve as an effective deterrent and make our city safer. Despite the population of the city continuing to grow, the number of fatal accidents in the city is rapidly decreasing due to the use of traffic cameras. The safety of everyone utilizing our streets and sidewalks has to be the primary concern of everyone working on traffic policy. But I do feel that we do not need to charge such high fees to have effective deterrence and safety benefits.

Kahlid Pitts: Yes.

Calvin Gurley: Yes.

Graylan Hagler: Traffic cameras may help with safety but they raise serious issues regarding the propriety of mass surveillance in a society that pretends to be democratic.  In addition, many District officials, including  some councilmembers, see the cameras as providing revenue rather than safety, while wealthy drivers may see them as a license to speed.  Thus we should move back to human rather than mechanical enforcement of traffic laws.


3. Do you support the bill introduced by Councilmembers Grosso, Wells, and Cheh to replace the contributory negligence statute as it applies to pedestrians and bicyclists with comparative negligence?

Anita Bonds: Yes, I do support this measure, however it is my understanding that the bill will have a few changes once it goes through the mark-up process in committee.

Elissa Silverman: Yes. A move to comparative negligence would modernize D.C. law, bringing us into line with the vast majority of jurisdictions. The current system makes it unduly difficult for cyclists to recover from insurance companies when they are injured in a crash.

Robert White: Yes.

Brian Hart: Yes, comparative negligence allows for more reasonable outcomes in which a pedestrian or bicyclist, for example, would not be completely barred from recovering a remedy in the event that he or she contributed to an accident.

Michael Brown: Yes

Kishan Putta: Yes, absolutely. As a simple matter of fairness the comparative negligence standard makes sense and I fully support the bill. It is a far more equitable legal doctrine for apportioning fault and distributing damages than our current contributory negligence statute. An overwhelming majority of the States as well as the federal courts have adopted the comparative negligence standard and it currently applies to railroad workers in the District, so I see no compelling reason why we should not extend it to pedestrians and bicyclists as well.

Kahlid Pitts: Yes.

Calvin Gurley: More study and review is needed in this draft legislation.

Graylan Hagler: Under a contributory negligence system, a plaintiff may be denied damages even if they are only one percent at fault.  Comparative negligence, which allocates damages on the basis of the percentage at fault, is much fairer.


4. Do you support funding for the MoveDC plan, including its proposed transit and pedestrian improvements?

Anita Bonds: Yes, I have been briefed on the plan and support its initiatives.

Elissa Silverman: Yes, I support funding for the MoveDC plan.

Robert White: Yes.

Brian Hart: Overall, yes, MoveDC is an important plan that will transform the city’s transportation network into a world-class system that can meet the city’s rapidly growing population and expansion.

Michael Brown: Yes

Kishan Putta: Yes, wholeheartedly. Moving people around DC is a crucial issue, as transportation access is directly related to job access. But it will take strong leaders with experience to prioritize and push DDOT to follow-through.

I am the only candidate in my race with a record of achieving significant improvements in transportation citywide. I have worked extensively over the last two years with both DDOT as well as WMATA to improve public transportation in the city – meeting, testifying, emailing, and calling weekly until I got results for residents:

  • More buses and bigger buses on heavily utilized routes (such as 16th Street NW and Georgia Ave)
  • Repaving the most popular bike lane in DC (15th Street Cycle Track)
  • Pushing the agencies to create dedicated bus lanes and improve/enhance traffic signal technology. I have met with both Councilmembers Catania and Bowser about bus lanes and am proud they both chose to mention this proposal in their mayoral platforms. But I will make sure that the next administration makes it a priority.
  • Most recently, I pushed for more bus service in underserved areas of Wards 7 and 8 (connecting the to each other and to cross the river quicker). WMATA has subsequently proposed to implement such improvements and I will make sure they do.

NOTE: If elected, I would push for more coordination between WMATA and DDOT. One reason this does not happen enough is that their oversight at the Wilson Building has been split between two committees. I have seen how this leads to delays and inaction and would push for consolidating oversight into one committee in order to foster coordination as well as greater accountability and responsiveness.

Kahlid Pitts: Yes.

Calvin Gurley: (No answer)

Graylan Hagler: Congestion is a huge problem in the District, and the MoveDC Plan is a major step in attempting to deal with it.  Congestion pricing for cars entering downtown is a no-brainer: it works in London and It should work here.  The result should be increased revenue as well as less traffic on streets outside of as well as in the downtown area.  This should free up space for bicycle and bus lanes, which could then be added.   New Metro and streetcar lines involve substantial costs, which, in the absence of major Federal subsidies, would have to compete in the District budget with other priorities.


5. The main principle behind Vision Zero – initially implemented in Sweden and recently adopted in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco – is that no loss of life or serious injury is acceptable within a given area’s transportation system. DC has adopted the similar concept of “Toward Zero Deaths.” Do you support changes in enforcement, speed limits, traffic calming investments, and policy that would be necessary to achieve Vision Zero in our city?

Anita Bonds: Yes, pedestrian safety and the use of multiple modes of safety precautions are very important to me. DC’s goal is to build world-class communities of diverse populations with innovative applications while maintaining the connectivity of neighborhoods with opportunities for all that wish to make the District their home and travel using it’s transportation system. That being said, I believe we can achieve zero deaths within the District’s transportation system and we should strive to meet that goal.

Elissa Silverman: I support Toward Zero Deaths. The radical improvement in automobile safety in the United States over the last 50 years is one of the great public health achievements of our time, but there is more to be done. Transportation-related fatalities are preventable, and Toward Zero Deaths recognizes that every life matters, and we should not accept these deaths as inevitable.

Robert White: Yes.

Brian Hart: Absolutely. It’s a bold and ambitious vision, and certainly worth striving for. Public safety should be the number one priority of our transportation system. We must ensure that, as much as possible, people will be able to travel safely in their daily lives without risk of serious injury or loss of life.

Michael Brown: Absolutely

Kishan Putta: I fully support the Vision Zero goal. Achieving this goal will require resources, and as a Councilmember I would propose hearings with transportation officials to gather technical advice, and support funding for making the required investments and implementing the required changes to enforcement and policy. We should employ all of the various tools necessary to make it safe and accessible to drive, walk and bike across the city, including using traffic cameras to deter speeding and creating more raised and visible crosswalks as well as protected bike lanes.

Kahlid Pitts: Yes.
Calvin Gurley: (No answer)
Graylan Hagler: Clearly human life should take priority over the other objectives of District government. The most effective application of Vision Zero has been in Sweden, where there was a 13 percent decline in traffic fatalities between 1997 and 2007.  In the District, by contrast, there was a 14 percent decline over the same period and a whopping 54 percent decline between 1997 and 2013, to a 2013 total of 29 traffic fatalities.  Thus the District is doing well in meeting the goals of Vision Zero and new efforts will have do compete with efforts to reduce premature deaths from infant mortality, homicide, and the simple lack of adequate health care.

6. Currently, it can be difficult for the public to learn about the causes and effects of traffic crashes because comprehensive and complete data are not maintained by a single DC government source. In addition, the limited data that are published may not be published for more than a year after the crash occurred. Data transparency is an important aspect of ensuring an effective and safe transportation system. Do you support the regular and full release of data about traffic crashes, including information about locations and causes of pedestrian crashes and the injuries and fatalities that result?

Anita Bonds: Yes, I support efforts to maintain better transparency in the recording of traffic accidents. This data is important in obtaining more comprehensive information about the district’s safety.

Elissa Silverman: Absolutely! I am a strong proponent of data integrity and transparency in all D.C. government operations. It is crucial that legislators, law enforcement, advocates, and all citizens have access to the data they need to make good decisions about public policy. And this data should be available in an open format that makes data analysis and the development of data tools as easy as possible. There are many committed citizens in D.C. with the skills to dig deeply into this kind of data, and I look forward to working with them on the Council to make D.C. government decisions more data-driven.

Robert White: Yes.

Brian Hart: Yes, I believe deeply in transparency in government. Transparency, among other advantages, establishes trust and credibility with the public, enables constituents to engage and contribute to government, and prevents corruption and abuse of power. In this instance, data transparency would serve the public good by allowing review and analysis of data to inform transportation and public safety policy.

Michael Brown: Yes

Kishan Putta: Yes, to the extent feasible. I am a firm believer in greater disclosure and transparency and would support efforts to encourage cross-agency coordination to make a reality the regular, timely release of accident data that is readily accessible and searchable for the general public.

Kahlid Pitts: Yes – however no personal data on the person such as names and addresses. I believe in protecting all residents privacy.

Calvin Gurley: Yes. However, the resources you have mentioned in question 1# will be needed here in order for the MPD Police to add more workload activities to their daily operations.

Graylan Hagler: Yes we should release the data more promptly, even if it must be released in a raw but redacted form for others to compile and analyze.

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