“Please Don’t Hit Me!” Making Cities Safer for Pedestrians & Bikers

March 25, 2024 by Alexis Gorfine

Bike lanes, low speed limits, sidewalks protected from drivers by parked cars and trees, and crosswalks improve safety and comfort for walking and biking in this D.C. neighborhood.

The healthiest and happiest communities are walkable, bikeable, and provide equitable transportation options for all. D.C. policymakers must put cars in their place and take steps to promote pedestrian safety. By slowing down drivers, improving infrastructure to promote pedestrian awareness, and encouraging mass transit alternatives, we can make our city more friendly to both the environment and its habitants, workers, and visitors.

Every morning, I have a 15-minute walking commute to my classes. I am grateful to live close to school, and I am grateful to be able to walk there, get fresh air, and move my body. However, every morning I also step tentatively into multiple crosswalks, looking both ways, trying to make eye contact with drivers to ensure they actually will meet their legal obligations and stop for me, and muttering “please don’t hit me!” under my breath as drivers wait until the last second to slow down. My commute passes a memorial for an avid biker and urbanist, Jim Pagels, who was killed by a driver while biking.[1]

In addition to fostering social and health benefits,[2] walkable and bikeable cities improve environmental outcomes.[3]Increasing walkability and reducing the use of personal vehicles, which comprise about 16.8% of the U.S’ greenhouse gas emissions, can have a significant impact on emissions.[4] The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has found that cities can reduce their transportation-related emissions by up to 25% by investing in city infrastructure.[5]

However, over the past decade, pedestrian deaths have risen. In 2022, more than 7,500 pedestrians—or about 20 people per day[6]— were killed by drivers, the highest number in almost half a century.[7] It doesn’t have to be this way; the U.S. is far behind comparable countries with respect to pedestrian safety.[8] Even for cities like D.C. that are largely walkable,[9] there is still much work to be done to ensure that local policies and laws consider equitable solutions to maximize safety for pedestrians, bikers, and all who utilize city infrastructure. Those who must rely on public infrastructure the most—disabled folks, older adults, individuals experiencing homelessness, low-income communities, and many communities of color—are often not included in conversations about public infrastructure.[10]

Infrastructure Policy

One of the first places to improve policy is in how we build and shape our streets. Diversifying the shapes and paths of roads encourages drivers to pay attention to their surroundings and slow down.[11] Pedestrian islands that divide and narrow streets, bike lanes, sharp corners instead of curves at the end of roads, and curb extensions that narrow the road at intersections are all important traffic calming measures that require drivers to pay more attention as they drive.[12]Narrowing driving lanes reduces speed, while wider lanes encourage speeding;[13] wider lanes make drivers feel subconsciously like they are able to speed safely, and this alone could cause up to 900 fatalities per year.[14] Think of the differences between Massachusetts Avenue and any block in Georgetown; when cars have less space, they have to slow down, pay attention to their surroundings, and be more careful.

Improving Driving Laws & Strengthening Enforcement for Reckless Drivers

Cities like D.C. can also further improve safety outcomes by cracking down on reckless driving through enforcement mechanisms like fines or license suspensions, particularly for serious repeat offenders.[15]

D.C.’s Distracted Driving Safety Act of 2004 prohibits any driving “that results in the unsafe operation of the vehicle” with enforcement penalties of up to $100.[16] For reckless driving, fines can reach $500.[17] However, repeat offenders often escape even financial consequences in D.C. Despite a robust camera and ticketing system,[18] many drivers ignore traffic ticket fines.[19] Over 2,000 vehicles have accumulated over 40 outstanding tickets each; at one point, one vehicle accounted for over 339 tickets and $189,000 in traffic fees.[20] Last month, D.C. proposed a policy to crack down on these repeat offenders through use of a point system against peoples’ licenses which could suspend licenses for reckless drivers, installation of speed governors on reckless drivers’ vehicles, and grant of authority under which the Attorney General may file civil lawsuits in D.C. Superior Court against D.C. and out-of-district drivers who reach a certain high threshold of outstanding traffic tickets and violations.[21] This bill also importantly considers equitable solutions for lower-level offenders by allowing any driver to replace up to $100-traffic tickets with an hour of safe driving education.[22] The bill was transmitted to Congress for approval on March 11.[23] If approved, it is a crucial start to improving road safety for drivers and pedestrians alike.

Additionally, D.C. has already moved to lower speed limits. During 2020, as part of D.C.’s Vision Zero campaign, Mayor Bowser reduced speed limits across the city to 20 mph unless otherwise posted,[24] as recommended internationally by public safety advocates.[25] While this is an excellent start, D.C. should further focus on lowering posted speed limits across the city, especially on D.C’s major diagonal roads such as Pennsylvania Avenue, New York Avenue, or Massachusetts Avenue, where four-plus-wide lane traffic encourages speeding. Contrary to popular belief, lowering speed limits in cities actually improves traffic congestion, improving the experience for pedestrians and drivers alike.[26]

Smaller Cars No Cars are Safer

Across the U.S., the rise in popularity of SUVs has further increased pedestrian fatalities.[27] This is due to the higher front end design of SUVs, which make it more likely that any contact with pedestrians will be in the chest.[28] In addition to the intuitive benefits of driving a smaller car in a city, D.C. should incentivize local drivers to choose smaller cars by offering more benefits for compact cars, such as preferential parking or reduced parking fees. D.C. should also continue to improve public transportation funding, frequency, and accessibility in cooperation with business initiatives such as metro subsidies to further reduce the number of cars on the road of any size.

Calls to Action

What can you do to contribute to making your community more walkable and safe? You can unite with others and advocate for policies and laws that support healthier and more robust communities. If you live in the DMV, consider joining email lists and keeping up with organizations like Greater Greater Washington, which keeps readers up to date with local policy and law issues affecting land use, transportation, and housing while advocating for equitable and inclusive solutions in the DMV. Podcasts like the War on Cars and Strong Towns can help educate about the importance of walkable cities, and ways you can improve yours. You can also attend public meetings and reach out to local politicians, such as D.C.’s Ward 6 Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment Charles Allen, to advocate for equitable and climate-friendly transportation and infrastructure policies. Finally, you can walk more, bike more, utilize public transit, and encourage others to join!

[1] Nick Minok, ‘He was only 29’: DC cycling enthusiast struck by a car, killed while biking in NW, ABC7 News (Apr. 12, 2021, 4:02 PM),

https://wjla.com/news/local/he-was-only-29-dc-cycling-enthusiast-struck-and-killed-by-a-car-while-biking-in-nw; Luz Lazo, Bicyclist killed in crash tweeted just hours earlier about the danger of riding in D.C., Washington Post (Apr. 12, 2021, 6:08 PM),


[2] Multiple studies have found that walkable cities improve an individual’s sense of community as well as their mental and physical health outcomes. See generally Jeff Speck, Walkable City 37-50 (2022); David Charron, Walkable neighborhoods provide health, environmental and financial benefits (Oct. 9, 2017, 9:00 AM),

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/where-we-live/wp/2017/10/09/walkable-neighborhoods-provide-health-environmental-and-financial-benefits/; Climate Reality Project, Walkable Cities Can Benefit the Environment, the Economy, and Your Health (Jul. 8, 2021), https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/walkable-cities-can-benefit-environment-economy-and-your-health; Abdulla Baobeid et. al, Walkability and Its Relationships With Health, Sustainability, and Livability: Elements of Physical Environment and Evaluation Frameworks, Frontiers in Built Environment (2021), https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fbuil.2021.721218/full.

[3] See Speck, supra note 2, at 52-58.

[4] EPA, Fast Facts on Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions,

https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/fast-facts-transportation-greenhouse-gas-emissions (last visited Mar. 23, 2024). See also id.

[5] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2022 Mitigation of Climate Change 98 (2022), https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGIII_FullReport.pdf.

[6] Juliana Kim, U.S. Pedestrian Deaths Reach a 40 Year High, NPR (June 26, 2023, 5:00 AM), https://www.npr.org/2023/06/26/1184034017/us-pedestrian-deaths-high-traffic-car. This number is not including Oklahoma which had a technical issue in gathering data.

[7] Amanda Holpuch, U.S. Pedestrian Deaths Are at Highest Level in 41 Years, Report Says, New York Times (Jun. 27, 2023),

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/27/us/pedestrian-deaths-2022.html; Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Fatality Facts 2021 Pedestrians(2021), https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/pedestrians.

[8] Holpuch, supra note 7.

[9] David Edmonson, DC region scores high on walkability. How could it do better?, Greater Greater Washington (Mar. 21, 2023), https://ggwash.org/view/88939/dc-region-scores-high-on-walkability-how-could-it-do-better.

[10] See Ron Thompson, Transportation advocacy in DC is getting a new voice dedicated to equity, Greater Greater Washington (Oct. 26, 2020), https://ggwash.org/view/79386/transportation-advocacy-in-dc-is-getting-a-new-voice-dedicated-to-equity; Nandi L. Taylor et al., Structural Racism and Pedestrian Safety: Measuring the Association Between Historical Redlining and Contemporary Pedestrian Fatalities Across the United States, 2010‒2019, American Journal of Public Health (Apr. 2023), https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2022.307192; David Leonhardt, The Rise in U.S. Traffic Deaths, New York Times (Dec. 11, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/11/briefing/us-traffic-deaths.html#:~:text=The%20continued%20growth%20of%20the,problems%20are%20difficult%20to%20solve.

[11] Speck, supra note 2, at 176; Kim, supra note 6.

[12] See Speck, supra note 2, at 172-75;Federal Highway Administration, Traffic Calming,https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/saferjourney1/Library/countermeasures/23.htm (last visited March 22, 2024).

[13] See Speck, supra note 2, at 170.

[14] Id, at 171.

[15] Holpuch, supra note 7.

[16] D.C. Code Ann. § 50-1731.02 (West).

[17] Id. at § 50-2201.04.

[18] Eric Wemple, Pull over the bad drivers, Washington Post (March 19, 2024, 3:36 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/03/19/crime-spike-dc-2023-shooting-traffic-juvenile-safety/. See generally Speck, supra note 2, at 314-318 (explaining that traffic cameras should be placed evenly throughout all communities to prevent biased policing and advocating for all minor traffic violations to receive tickets by mail only and for only the most egregious and dangerous of violations to include law enforcement contact).

[19] Luz Lazo and Emily Davies, D.C. Struggles to Rein in Risky Drivers, Washington Post (May 2, 2023, 6:00 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2023/05/02/dc-traffic-tickets-driving-penalties/.

[20] Id.

[21] Council of the District of Columbia, B25-0425 – Strengthening Traffic Enforcement, Education, and Responsibility (“STEER”) Amendment Act of 2023, https://lims.dccouncil.gov/Legislation/B25-0425;  Danny Nguyen, D.C. passed a bill to crack down on speeding. Here’s how it will work., Washington Post ( Feb. 6, 2024, 3:20 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2024/02/06/dc-speed-cameras-penalties/; Erik Salmi, FINAL VOTE: DC COUNCIL APPROVES TRAFFIC SAFETY BILL ADDING TEETH TO AUTOMATED CAMERAS, GETTING DANGEROUS DRIVERS OFF THE STREET, Charles Allen DC Council (Feb. 6, 2024), https://www.charlesallenward6.com/final_vote_dc_council_approves_traffic_safety_bill_adding_teeth_to_automated_cameras_getting_dangerous_drivers_off_the_street#:~:text=The%20Strengthening%20Traffic%20Enforcement%2C%20Education,prioritized%20for%20booting%20and%20towing; Amiah Taylor, Four Ways the New DC Speeding Crackdown Bill Will Impact Drivers, Washingtonian (Feb. 7, 2024), https://www.washingtonian.com/2024/02/07/four-ways-the-new-dc-speeding-crackdown-bill-will-impact-drivers/.

[22] See Nguyen, supra note 21.

[23] See Council of the District of Columbia, supra note 21.

[24] District Department of Transportation, Twenty MPH 20 MPH Default Speed Limit Frequently Asked Questions,

https://ddot.dc.gov/page/twenty-mph-20-mph-default-speed-limit-frequently-asked-questions#:~:text=If%20there%20is%20no%20other,speed%20limit%20based%20on%20signs (last visited March 22, 2024).

[25] See 20’s Plenty for Us, https://www.20splenty.org/ (last visited March 23, 2024); See Speck, supra note 2, at 172.

[26] See 20’s Plenty for Us, 20MPH limits save time and improve traffic flow, https://www.20splenty.org/20mph_limits_save_time_and_improve_traffic_flow (last visited March 23, 2024).

[27] Laurel Wamsley, Fatal Pedestrian Crashes Increasingly Involve SUVs, Study Finds, NPR (May 14, 2018, 6:01 PM), https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/14/611116451/fatal-pedestrian-crashes-increasingly-involve-suvs-study-finds.

[28] Id.