Parents trying to find their way through safety issues

  DPW Parking Enforcement vehicle

DPW Parking Enforcement vehicle

Fears for student safety, vehicles getting side-swiped and a lack of crossing guards at key intersections has many Petworth parents on edge and looking to DDOT for answers.

With two children hit in front of Powell Elementary in 2015 (one in June, one in December), (both ok, btw), attention on pedestrian safety by the DC Departments of Transportation (DDOT) and Public Works (DPW) has increased. Residents who live around schools and the parents who are dropping off and picking up their children are frustrated by both safety concerns and a desire to reduce vehicle collisions. Problems with crossing guards -- and the lack of guards along some heavily traveled crosswalks -- has many parents upset. 

At a meeting at Powell back in December, representatives from DDOT, DPW, MPD, the Mayor's office and Councilmember Todd, along with school officials, met with a very small group of parents to discuss ways to improve safety along Upshur Street by the school. In a nutshell, the response is to paint new lines on the road, install a crosswalk and put up new signage. They held a follow-up meeting on January 7th, but this wasn't publicized very well, if at all. I'm not sure how many residents who live around the school, or Powell parents, knew to attend. 

The result of those two meetings was evident this week as DPW started to aggressively ticket cars that were parked immediately in front of Powell Elementary, enforcing year-and-a-half old signs that disallow leaving a car unattended by the driver. According to Powell principal O'Kiyyah Lyons-Lucas, the space in front of Powell is being reserved for a future "Kiss & Go" drop-off/pick-up program. The details of that program haven't been developed.

"Drivers must remain in vehicle"... or face a $25 ticket.

"The enforcement of the signage is the beginning phase of the implementation of the Kiss and Go program," Ms. Lyons-Lucas wrote to me. "An official timetable will be established and disseminated following another traffic review by DDOT. We are working to schedule one more meeting to discuss Kiss and Go logistics only."

The hope is that freeing up the curb in front of Powell will eliminate the "need" for cars to double-park. It's that double-parking that is causing a majority of the problems, as other drivers try to go around and squeeze past, risking side-swiping cars or worse, not being able to see a child running out into the street. Anecdotally, it looks like the aggressive ticketing by DPW parking enforcement at Powell is opening up the street -- some of the time. 

Not a spot open in front of Powell at afternoon pick-up. Either tickets weren't a deterrent or parents didn't know about the new enforcement. 

Unfortunately, DPW and DDOT didn't give parents prior notice that enforcement was going to begin. With so many Spanish-speaking parents at Powell, some residents are concerned these parents may not know they weren't allowed to park along that section of the street. They think the tickets may be coming as a surprise, and believe handing out bilingual flyers notifying parents of the enforcement would go a long way to helping resolve some of these issues.

The issue of crossing guards is still open for many Petworth-area parents. Parents are concerned about the lack of guards at Kansas and Georgia Avenue, as well as Farragut and Georgia. Both intersections are main thoroughfares for students headed to Powell, McFarland and West, among others. The issue of crossing guards came up at the December 17th meeting at Powell, and DDOT promised quick action on poor performing staff (mostly at 13th Street), but cited a lack of resources as a limitation. 

West Elementary parents are frustrated by the lack of DDOT response to their concerns about Farragut and Georgia Avenue. West parent Erica Mongelli shared this story with me about a recent incident, and almost being struck by an impatient driver:

"Cars had stopped for us at the crosswalk, so we proceeded to cross Georgia Ave. at Farragut St. Unfortunately, when we were half-way through the intersection a black pick-up truck a few cars back in the line decided it no longer needed to wait and pulled out into the oncoming side of traffic and floored it through the intersection coming within feet of hitting my young daughters and me. I was screaming at the truck to stop. I believe "There are children in the crosswalk!" were my exact words, as I rushed them across. Instead of stopping, the driver leaned out of his window and yelled at us to "get the f#%k out of the crosswalk!" My eldest daughter was crying and asked why that man yelled at us and didn't stop; she has continued to ask about the incident weeks later and I do my best to reassure. It was a terrifying experience for all of us."

West parents contacted DDOT in October with a request for a crossing guard, but were told none were available. DDOT's reply said they would place the school "on our waiting list and you will be contacted when we can assign a crossing guard to your area." Now in January, the parents haven't heard anything else. They approached Councilmember Brandon Todd, who sent DDOT Director Lief Dormsjo a letter asking for status of the West request, wondering if the delay was "a funding issue or a personnel issue?"  

In the letter, Todd writes, "I realize that DDOT has a master plan and that these resources need to be deployed according to that plan. I am asking that you prioritize the needs at our schools in your resource planning, and request additional funding where appropriate. I look forward to securing a crossing guard at West Elementary School by the new semester, and will remain vigilant." (Ed note: the letter was from this past December but is mistakenly dated 2014.)

I reached out to CM Todd's office to see if DDOT had replied, but haven't received status.

Funding seems to be the issue, as well as having staff on-hand. According to DDOT representatives from the December 17th meeting at Powell, crossing guards are part-time positions, and turn-over is high. But so is demand. 

My hope is that DDOT continues to keep vigilant on the entire Petworth area and not only react to individual incidents, but ensure they are looking at the needs of all streets and all residents. People are frustrated.

As Erica said to me, "Getting our children to school safely should be a top priority for the community."

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