Despite signage, DC drivers don’t slow down in school zones, study says – The Washington Post | Gmx Pharm


According to a new study that offers a snapshot of driving, DC drivers driving through school zones where signage instructs them to slow down and be more aware of children don’t reduce their speed and get into crashes at the same rate as at other streets conduct around the school.

The presence of traffic and school zone signs also doesn’t slow drivers significantly, particularly near schools with lower-income students, according to the report by traffic analysis firm INRIX, which reviewed traffic data from 27 schools in the city’s four quadrants.

The data shows that accidents in school zones were marginally less severe, although speeds and accident rates remained similar, according to the study.

The district recorded its highest road death toll in 14 years last year, drawing increasing attention to the number of injuries and deaths on the city’s roads. The report supports anecdotal evidence gathered by attorneys and parents about driver disregard Traffic rules and follows several collisions with school children that alerted the city leadership last fall.

According to INRIX, About 20 percent of drivers drive at least 10 mph over the 15 mph speed limit in school zones. Speeders are more common in schools in southeast and southwest Washington, as well as areas with the highest concentrations of low-income students.

“Things like reducing speed limits alone don’t do much to lower speeds,” said Bob Pishue, an INRIX transportation analyst who led the study. “It’s something that can be done relatively quickly and it’s a blanket approach, but as a society we need to dig deeper. We need to figure out what we can do, especially in high-fatality, high-injury and low-income areas where speeding is rampant, likely due to under-investment over the years.”

The district has pushed policies to improve road safety in areas with many children walking. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) in November announced plans to increase DC police presences near some schools so officers can stop drivers who speed or run red lights and stop signs near schools . The mayor’s budget this year included an increase in the city’s border patrol program and the rollout of traffic cameras to improve automated enforcement across the city.

Bowser promises safer roads through transportation budget

Some residents have asked for infrastructure like speed bumps and electronic signs, or for a faster process to alert the city when an intersection or road requires safety improvements. The DC Council is expected to vote on a bill introduced by Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) that would require a traffic signal or stop through, raised crosswalks and curb extensions at every intersection next to a school, and so on increase traffic enforcement in school zones.

“Clearly just hoping that drivers will slow down around schools won’t work,” Lewis George said. “We need more road safety infrastructure like raised crosswalks, curb extensions and speed bumps that actually improve safety. And we need to start with schools in vulnerable communities, because that’s where this problem is worst.”

The district’s Department of Transportation, which is tasked with the city’s road safety, said in a statement that it was reviewing the INRIX report. The agency said it uses accident data to identify high-risk locations and seek improvements, while working with schools to respond to requests for safety improvements.

“DDOT is committed and focused on improving the safety of all road users, especially our city’s children,” DDOT said in a statement.

The INRIX analysis was conducted using a new tool that the company says can help cities analyze accidents, vehicle traffic and US census data to set priorities and measure their effectiveness road safety programs.

Avery Ash, head of global public policy at INRIX, said the next step in cities like the District — which recently lowered speed limits and increased signage in school zones — is to use data to analyze the impact of policies.

“This is an evolving process where none of these policy changes or mitigation techniques are going to be a silver bullet,” Ash said. “But what we can [with this tool] is providing that real-time feedback to really start generating that loop of constant improvement for these types of security-focused programs.”

According to Pishue, INRIX examined traffic data from the first quarter of 2022 between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. when children arrive at schools. He mapped DC accident data and surveyed road infrastructure within a quarter-mile radius Schools.

He found that the speed and number of accidents varied little between school zones and non-school zones, and that the number of accidents in school zones was slightly overrepresented based on vehicle kilometers traveled. INRIX said about 33 percent occurred in school zones, while only 30 percent of traffic occurs in those areas.

Researchers found that inconsistencies in city school zone signage and policies can confuse drivers and create difficult conditions for enforcement.

In some areas, signs indicate a 15mph speed limit applicable during an eight-hour period of the school day, while other areas have restrictions in place when lights are flashing or when children are present. Some school zones only have signs on one side of the street, while some intersections have restrictions on north-south streets but not west-east streets.

“It can cause confusion for drivers,” Pishue said.

One positive finding, he said, is that accidents are marginally less serious when school zone markings are in place. This could be attributed to overall lower speeds near schools compared to main corridors with higher speed limits. Many of the city’s fatalities occur on major thoroughfares. An analysis by The Washington Post earlier this year found that traffic fatalities hit low-income communities harder.

DC road deaths at 14-year high, with low-income areas hit hardest

The INRIX analysis found that speeding is more common near schools in southeast and southwest Washington. For example, 22 percent of drivers travel at least 10 miles per hour over the school zone speed limit in the Southeast, compared to 14 percent in the Northeast.

Speeding is also a bigger problem in schools with a higher proportion of low-income students. About 24 percent of drivers Travel faster than 25 miles per hour near lower-income schools 15-mph zones, compared to 17 percent in higher-income schools, according to the report.

Near Stanton Elementary School in the Southeast, where a high proportion of students are economically disadvantaged, the analysis found that on average more than 30 percent of vehicles on Naylor Road SE travel faster than 40 km/h in the morning hours when the students walk to school.

On a stretch of Naylor Road a long block south of the school — between Denver Street SE and 28th Street SE — 55 percent of drivers are driving faster than 25 mph, the analysis found. The increase in speed, INRIX found, was partly due to confusing signage.

The data, Pishue said, provides an argument for the district to direct more resources near schools that serve lower-income students.

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