What can we do about traffic safety?

This is by far the top question I’m asked. There’s a good chance you’ve landed on this page because you reached out to me about a block or intersection at which you and your family are constantly endangered, or you’ve just had a particulary bad encounter with a driver.

The short answer is that I’m doing everything I can. And I can use all the help from the community that I can get.

Why are things so bad?

There are a number of contributing factors to unsafe driver behavior:

  • Unsafe street design: roadways in our neighborhood are constructed to prioritize driving through the neighborhood at the expense of those in the neighborhood. This is the result of aggregate decisions and neglect over decades.
  • Lack of enforcement: we’ve recently undergone fundamental changes in policing and our general vehicle registration/insurance/licensing regime, which in turn has created a lack of accountability; while Automated Traffic Enforcement (such as speed and red light cameras) can fill some of this gap, they rely on the legitimacy of vehicle license plates and follow-through on paying dlinquent fines, which we have yet to properly spin up
  • Cultural problems: drivers, especially those unaccustomed to other forms of transportation or driving in car-first environments, are unaware of acceptable behavior when driving around pedestrians and other road users; the advent of smartphones has also created vast new ways for drivers to get distracted

Why should we focus on road design?

While all three of these problems do need to be tackled, I’ll mostly focus on street design here. Street design has the highest impact, as it:

  • operates 24/7 and does not rely on intermittent enforcement resources
  • carries fewer equity concerns as it does not involve levying fines on anyone or risking face-to-face escalation
  • is effective regardless of the cause of poor driver behavior, including distraction, drowsiness, intoxication, medical distress, or wanton criminality

How do we improve road design?

Maintenanace and improvement of our roadways falls on the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) under the direction of its Director, the Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure (DMOI), and ultimately the Mayor. Councilmember and Commissioners hold political sway, but ultimately all decisions must be made by DDOT.

DDOT has a number of programs dedicated to retooling roadways to improve safety, broadly:

  • traffic safety investigations (TSIs): focused on lower-volume intersections, this program studies 200 intersections (and the adjacent roadway blocks) from a pool of public requests every quarter and attempts to evaluate various safety mitigations, including speedhumps, curb extensions, and new all-way stops, among others.
  • corridor safety projects: usually focused on arterial (large, high-volume) roadways, these projects can perform more significant retooling of roadways along an entire corridor, sometimes including installation of bike lanes or bus lanes or other significant reallocation of roadway crosswidth; corridor projects also generally include consistent application of mitigations similar to the ones applied ot individual locations by the TSI program
  • school action plans: DDOT’s Safe Routes to School program evaluates and delivers safety improvements for individual school zones, though sometimes recommendations are run through the TSI program rather than directly delivered; the TSI program also prioritizes entries around schools absent action plans
  • post-fatal crash responses: After a fatal crash, the Vision Zero team, which operates separately under DDOT, makes recommendations that might have prevented the fatality; while DDOT has until recently shown little follow-through on mitigations in response to these, they’ve recently become more proactive, though those mitigations may or may not still have to run through the TSI system for delivery

Note all of the above are related to engineering new solutions; they are separate processes from replacing, repairing, and repainting existing roadway features.

TSI process

There is a long lifecycle to landing a mitigation as a result of the Traffic Safety Input/Investigation process.


Many of us have been advocating for safety improvements for some time, so it’s important to keep in mind that the process has changed quite significantly in the past few years. The upshot is that historical denial of a sought-after mitigation may well have only been due to SMD Commissioner action, and not actual study, and might be worth pursuing again.

time period process identifying  
before Nov 2021 Traffic Safety Investigation requests required individual SMD Commissioner sign-off A TSI SR opened during this time would be summarily closed without sign-off; an SR from this time period closed within a few weeks likely failed to get timely ANC sign-off  
Nov 2021 until summer/fall 2022 Traffic Safety Investigation requests were all queued for investigation upon entry During this time period, ANC sign-off was not required, although installs themselves could be stalled by an ANC request to issue a stop work order. Generally, a well-formed TSI SR from this time period went through to some form of investigation, though a closing date of around Jan 6, 2023 generally indicated being “pooled” for the later process, with the blending of fates around mid-September 2022 (during the All4Allie campaign)
summer/fall 2022 to Jan 6, 2023 Traffic Safety Investigations that opened during the prior process, but were ultimately pooled for the next process These can generally be identified by a closing date of Jan 6, 2023, although some were left open and closed a bit later.  
Jan 6, 2023 to present The era of quantitative prioritization, or “TSI 2.0” wherein TSI SRs are quickly closed in the 311 system and enter a “pool” from which DDOT’s algorithm selects 200 locations (and any SRs associated with the 200 locations as the closest intersection) for quarterly study. These SRs are immediately closed, because the 311 action is simply adding them to DDOT’s dataset for later selection.  

Current TSI process

Every step in the TSI process has pitfalls. Successfully landing a mitigation likely requires keen understanding of the steps and persistent pestering of DDOT from many angles.

stage action tips
input Somebody (usually a member of the public) submits a TSI SR through the 311 system. A good TSI request includes a picture, a clear description of the problem, and a clear ask to evaluate particular solutions. eg: “speeding on the 2000 block of Evarts St NE is a major problem; requesting speedhumps on this block.” When selecting the location for the request, it’s important to be specific, especially as the 311 app and online system will try to push you towards an exact street address, which isn’t always helpful. If the mitigation is being requested at a specific intersection, try to use the cross streets (eg “20th St NE and Hamlin St NE”); if on a block, try to reference the block (eg “2000 block of Hamlin St NE”).<p/><p/>Adding some color on top of this about the impact on the community or the safety endangerment you’ve witness can be helpful for later quoting/advocacy.<p/><p/>It’s best to avoid opening TSI SRs for a location where any already cover your ask, especially if the location is already in process, as it can consume a slot in the next investigation cycle before the prior work has even completed (this is a big problem with DDOT’s prioritization process).<p/><p/>Once your 311 request is closed, check the TSI dashboard’s TSIs for Future Consideration tab to find your TSI in the “pool.”
investigation Check back quarterly to see if your request has been selected; consider some gentle email advocacy. Check back, email DDOT and CC Commissioners/CM’s office, be persistent about the ask that this location receive priority.
study/evaluation specific mitigations are evaluated based on the ask and possibly some expert input  
recommendation eventually, evaluations yield a go or no-go to install a mitigation  
Notice of Intent if DDOT deems the change sufficiently significant, it issues notice and opens a comment period  
design at this point, further work needs to be done to deal with the logistics of the installation  
work order production the mitigation is sent for procurement; there might be back and forth  
install order executed the work is in construction queue  
construction/installation the work is done  
inspection the work is quality-controlled advocacy is critical at this step to make sure the work is not considered complete if not done well.