DC Tenleytown Community Demands Safer Roads
A coalition of parents, local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and commuters is demanding safer streets in DC’s Tenleytown neighborhood. Tenleytown is a fast-growing mix of businesses, residential apartments, and two of this city’s largest public schools, Deal Middle School and Wilson Senior High. Unfortunately, the streetscape design has not changed much from the days when Tenleytown was a sleepy oasis on the edge of town. Tort law, the typical mechanism behind street safety improvements, doesn’t apply to cases of bad municipal design.
The activists are asking the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) to install new stop signs, improve and protect pedestrian crossings, and eliminate non-conforming design elements, like excessive curb-cuts. ANC 3E, which covers Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, has prepared a long list of specific recommendations. Van Ness Street, a busy crossing artery,
is a particular focus.
For years, DC has allowed outmoded design safety practices to continue, if they were “grandfathered in” – which means that they
were legal when first installed, but would be allowed under current regulations. Traffic safety activists argue that it’s time to end grandfathering. When design features create a clear and present danger, they have to be made conforming to current safety standards.
A city cannot be sued for bad design decisions under principles of tort law, even where it leads to injury or death, because design choices are a discretionary function. Activism is the only way to spur local government to bring modern and safe streetscape
design to our neighborhoods.