While at a community event this evening, I met and spoke with DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo about some resident concerns that I've heard recently, as well as the issue of how DDOT conducts traffic safety analyses.
You may not know this, but Leif Dormjso is new to the job. He's been the Director of the DC Department of Transportation for only six months and already has a full schedule of work and changes identified. "There's a lot to do to fix the department and make it more effective than it has been," he said. "I think it's a 2-year process for DDOT to improve."
I brought up the concern outlined in my article that DDOT may not be using the most complete set of traffic collision data possible. Mr Dormjso told me he read the article, "I agree with you," he said. "I don't think we're getting all the information we should be. It's something that I'm working to fix."
From what I've learned about change in government, I don't think that is going to be an easy fix (and I'm not being snarky). DDOT will have to change how they review data automatically supplied by the TARAS (Traffic Accident Analysis and Research System) and CAD (computer aided dispatch) systems and move to a more human-provided approach. This means changes to how the Metropolitan Police Department handles collisions, even property damage only incidents, to ensure crash reports that provide full data are available and used for analysis and studies. (Here's an idea: maybe insurance companies should be the ones to provide the data. They do an assessment after a crash and prepare their own reports. Those reports could be sent to DDOT and used to analyze traffic issues at intersections or along main corridors.)
Mr Dormsjo and I talked about resident frustration with requests for traffic calming and safety measures, like 5th St and Farragut NW and speed bumps along Taylor Street, and why residents felt like they weren't getting a response from DDOT. He acknowledged that responses to resident concerns was something he was looking to address.
"Thing is, everyone wants a stop sign," he said. "I get it. But if we put stop signs on every corner that we get a request for, it would end up causing more problems than it solves. We use our analysis and computer models to get a good analysis from which to make a decision, but if we left it all to the computer algorithm, we'd never make the kind of changes that make people happy and keep people safe while driving. That's why we end up sending a team to do a field assessment to really understand what is needed."
Resources and personnel are two of the biggest issues DDOT faces, according to Mr. Dormsjo, who explained, "We need the right people in the right positions." He went on to say they have too many employees doing too many tasks, and in some cases, not doing a good job on those tasks. "We need people to focus on one or two things, not five. Do what they're good at and not give them tasks they're not prepared to do."
He said understaffing and not having the right people in the right jobs is what helped cause a five year backlog of safety assessments. "We have the same people who do our safety assessment responsible for our snow mitigation efforts," he said. "That means we can't do real assessments during the winter. There's a better way to do this."
I mentioned that residents want to know they're being heard and responded to, even if the answer isn't one they'd like.
"That's one of the things I've worked to change," Mr. Dormsjo said. "I've made sure that when we respond to requests, we spend the time explaining the reasoning behind our decision, and that the letter is signed by a real person. Residents deserve to know that their request has been studied, and isn't being reviewed by computer algorithm."
"Do you know we used to send out letters signed by the DDOT Clearinghouse?" he said, shaking his head. "I know I'd be angry if I got an uninformative letter signed by a clearinghouse. So yeah, I fixed that right away. It's not a lot, but sometimes it helps to start with the little things," he said.
If you have a request for DDOT to add a traffic safety measure like a stop sign or speed bumps, my suggestion is to go to your ANC commissioner and work with her or him on submitting a request. Certain measures will require a study and may also require 51% of your neighbors to agree with you via a petition. First step is your ANC.
I look forward to seeing what changes Mr. Dormjso brings to DDOT.