Safety on Quincy & Kansas Ave: Who’s to blame?

Saturday morning, with the young child being carried off (unhurt, thankfully). Courtesy of Russ Breckenridge.

Accidents will happen, especially when you’re not prepared or forewarned. Otherwise they’d be called "on-purposes." But what happens when you — or in this case, DC agencies — are forewarned? Then it’s not really an accident, is it? 

Neighbors in Southwest Petworth who live around the intersection of Quincy St and Kansas Avenue NW have been emailing all day Saturday on a local listserv about an automobile collision that occurred in the morning that resulted in injuries, spurring renewed complaints about safety at that location. The accident on Saturday morning involved a father and his child in one of the cars. While the child was fine, the father had to be taken to the hospital while the child waited with police for a family member to pick him up.

Residents and ANC 4C commissioners have been requesting a stop sign be put in at that particular intersection for years. 

Courtesy of Russ Breckenridge.

Southwest Petworth resident Emily Price wrote about the collision on the local listserv: “We spoke to one of the officers who responded to this morning's accident and without prompting, he started telling us about the problems with the intersection: it's not a four-way stop, the visibility is bad, etc. I completely agree, and told him that we've been asking for a stop sign for years and DDOT is being steadfastly obstructionist. It is infuriating and unacceptable that DDOT is gambling with the property, safety, and lives of the residents of our neighborhood.”

The Department of Transportation (DDOT) conducted a study a few years ago at the request of ANC 4C and residents for the Quincy and Kansas intersection, as well as Quincy and 13th Street, to determine if stop signs are needed for increased pedestrian and vehicular safety. 

Courtesy of Google Maps

DDOT found Quincy and 13th Street needed a stop sign, but not Kansas Avenue. Instead, pedestrian crossing signs were installed on Kansas. The reason why 13th Street (half a short block away along Quincy) received a stop sign was, as resident Ellie Davis notes in an email today, that 13th Street presented “…a sufficient number of serious accidents, including a collision between a car and a motorcycle witnessed by many neighbors in which a man from the neighborhood was dragged half a block and suffered life-threatening injuries.”

“I would hate to think that our elected officials cannot justify an action as basic as installing a stop sign until AFTER one of their constituents has been injured or killed at an intersection that everyone agrees is dangerous and difficult to navigate safely,” Ellie wrote.

Area resident Isabel Tumblin also commented about this issue on the listserv: “It is infuriating to think that we need to witness another horrible accident… in order to get some action at this intersection. The image of the man being dragged down the street as I opened my front door, still haunts me!”

ANC 4C, via the efforts of Commissioners Zach Teutsch and Vann-Di Galloway, has been trying to get DDOT to put a traffic stop sign at this intersection for quite some time, even sending a letter of support to DDOT.

“DDOT and their traffic policies put DC citizens at risk to make it easy to zip in from Maryland,” said Commissioner Zach Teutsch. “They disrupt neighborhoods with highway-like traffic patterns. It's not good for our city, it's not safe, and it's not good policy. It needs to be changed. DDOT’s unwavering reliance on obsolete criteria just sent someone to the hospital. Hopefully they'll get it right before they send someone to the morgue.”

Then, as emails were still going around (including a few from Jackson Carnes, the Constituent Services Director for Councilmember Brandon Todd, who reached out to both MPD and DDOT today), a second collision occurred in the afternoon. It was also reported on the listserv by Russ Breckenridge, a Kansas Avenue resident. I stopped by soon after while the police and the participants were still there. 

Looking down Kansas Avenue NW at the corner of Quincy Street.

“This is one of the top concerns of our neighborhood," Russ said. "We've been asking for a stop sign for over two years yet DOT refuses to install. This is the only intersection on this stretch of Kansas without a stop sign. The vehicular accidents and near misses are bad enough, but pedestrians are nearly hit every day.” 

Russ has talked with Councilmember Brandon Todd and 4D Commander Wilfredo Manlapaz about this intersection before, most recently on the PSA 404 walk-through from last week. (Russ pointed me to a recent Greater Greater Washington article about this intersection, “Residents push for stop signs, not a wider road, at one Petworth intersection.” The article reiterates the same safety concerns of residents shared here.) 

“I worry that often the needs of commuters are given more weight than local pedestrians who live in the neighborhood,” Russ said. “This is the busiest pedestrian street in the neighborhood as it leads directly to the Petworth metro, a grade school, Raymond Rec Center, and Safeway. It’s located between two of the most dense retail strips in Petworth: Georgia Avenue and 14th Street.”

DDOT’s position is that adding a stop sign isn’t warranted based upon their research showing a lack of accidents at Kansas Avenue. That could be considered a valid reason to not interrupt the flow of traffic, except for one thing: based upon what I found out today, it sounds like police reports on collisions at that intersection may not be filed by MPD as often as they should be. 

At the scene of the collision this afternoon, Russ and I talked to the officers and one of the people involved in the collision. The incident involved two vehicles, one was a Mazda going southbound on Kansas (no stop sign) and the other was a minivan going eastbound on Quincy (with a stop sign). Allegedly, the van on Quincy pulled out in front of or almost alongside the Mazda as the smaller car crossed Kansas. 

Sarah, who lives in Columbia Heights, was the passenger in the Mazda going southbound on Kansas Avenue that was struck by the vehicle coming out from Quincy. "I saw him slowly inching out into the intersection, but thought he wasn't going to actually pull out. Next thing I know he's right on us and hit us."

Damage to the Mazda that was traveling southbound on Kansas Avenue NW.

I found out that the police did not issue any tickets. They told Sarah they could not determine fault, so it was considered "property damage." More concerning, the police also did not file a report on the collision. From the conversation that Russ and I had at the scene, it appears, circumstantially, that MPD’s policy is to not file a report when there was no injury and a tow truck was not required. It's considered just property damage to the vehicles.

Sarah said that the officers told her and her boyfriend that a police report wasn’t needed, which really concerned them. “We quickly called our insurance company to find out if we needed a police report, especially since the other driver told us it was his fault,” Sarah said. “The insurance said they didn’t think we did in order to file the claim. Do you think it’s too late for us to get the report filed?” she worriedly asked me.

Russ said to me afterward, “How can we have accurate crash data if a report is not filed in some cases? In denying previous attempts to obtain a stop sign, DDOT claimed that we did not have enough accidents at the intersection to warrant a sign. This, despite the fact that those of us that live in the area have witnessed numerous accidents. Our numbers did not match those of DDOT. Now we know why.” 

“This calls into question all of the accident data surrounding this intersection,” Russ continued. “How many accidents have not had an official report filed due to this policy? I also find it odd that even when asked to file a report by the victim, she was denied. This doesn't seem right to me.” 

Coincidentally, at an unrelated meeting this morning with MPD representatives, I was explicitly told that MPD should be filing reports on issues like accidents and minor incidents, and that not filing a report was only an option if the citizen said it wasn’t needed. 

If DDOT is claiming that a stop sign isn’t appropriate for this intersection because there aren’t enough police reports about collisions, and MPD allegedly isn’t filing reports, then it appears that the disconnect in this case is between MPD and DDOT. A disconnect that may be contributing to an unsafe intersection.

So what’s the story? Who’s to blame, and what’s the resolution?

I spoke with Councilmember Brandon Todd about the intersection and resident concerns. He told me that he had just gotten off the phone with with DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo talking about the intersection and the need for increased safety measures.

“I spoke with the Director this afternoon and asked him to revisit their decision to put stop sign [at Quincy and Kansas]. This is definitely a priority,” he said. “The government is obviously closed this weekend, but I got DDOT and the City Administrator on the phone today to discuss this. I will give them some time on Monday, but I expect a substantive response.” he said. 

We talked about resident frustration with safety at this intersection, and the efforts by ANC4C  commissioners to get DDOT to respond.

“I’m all over it,” Brandon said.

Courtesy of Russ Breckenridge.

I have a feeling we’ll see the issues at this intersection fixed. If not, MPD and DDOT might have some explaining to do.

You can follow resident's comment on Twitter using hashtag #saferkansas. Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts.

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.

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