Crashes were slightly less severe in school zones, the data showed, although speed and crash rates remained similar, the study found.
Last year, the district recorded its highest number of road deaths in 14 years, drawing increasing attention to the number of injuries and deaths on city streets. The report supports the anecdotal evidence raised by advocates and parents that drivers disregard traffic rules and follows several collisions involving school childrenwhich raised alarm bells among city leaders last fall.
According to INRIX, about 20% of drivers drive at least 10 mph over the 15 mph speed limit in school zones. Speeders are more prevalent around schools in Southeast and Southwest Washington, as well as areas with the highest concentration of low-income students.
“Things like lowering speed limits alone don’t do much to reduce speeds,” said Bob Pishue, an INRIX transportation analyst who led the study. “It’s something that can be done relatively quickly and it’s a holistic approach, but as a society we need to dig deeper. We need to figure out what we can do, especially in areas with high death, injury and income numbers, where speeding is prevalent, likely due to underinvestment over the years.
The district has policies in place to improve street safety in areas where large numbers of children walk. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced plans in November to increase DC police presence around some schools so officers can arrest drivers who are speeding or running through red lights and stop signs close to schools. This year’s mayor’s budget included a boost to the city’s crossing guard program and the addition of traffic cameras to increase automated enforcement across the city.
Some residents have asked for infrastructure, such as speed bumps and electronic traffic signs, or a faster process to alert the city when an intersection or road needs safety upgrades. DC Council is expected to vote on a bill introduced by Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) that would require an all-way traffic light or stop, raised crosswalks and curb extensions at every intersection adjacent to a school, and which strengthen traffic control in school zones.
The INRIX analysis was done with a new tool the company says it can help cities analyze crashes, vehicular traffic, and U.S. Census data to prioritize and measure the effectiveness of road safety programs.
Avery Ash, head of global public policy at INRIX, said in cities like the district — which recently reduced speed limits and increased signage around school zones — the next step is to analyze the effects of policies with data.
“This is an evolving process where none of these policy changes or mitigation techniques will be a silver bullet,” Ash said. “What we are able to do, however, [with this tool] is to provide that real-time feedback to really start generating that loop of constant improvements to these kinds of safety-focused programs.
Pishue said INRIX studied traffic data for the first quarter of 2022 between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., when children arrive at schools. He mapped DC crash data and studied road infrastructure a quarter mile around schools.
He found that speeding and crash counts varied little between school and non-school zones, and crash counts were slightly overrepresented in school zones based on vehicle-kilometres travelled. INRIX said about 33% happens in school zones, while only 30% of the traffic happens in those zones.
Inconsistencies in signage and school zone policies across the city, researchers say, can make things confusing for drivers and create difficult conditions for enforcement.
In some areas, signs indicate a 15mph speed limit in effect for an eight-hour period of the school day, while in other areas restrictions apply when lights are flashing or when children are present . Some school zones have signs on only one side of the road, while at some intersections north-south roads have restrictions, but west-east roads do not.
“It can lead to driver confusion,” Pishue said.
A positive finding, he said, is that crashes were slightly less severe where school zone designations were present. This could be attributed to the overall lower speeds around schools compared to major corridors where speed limits are higher. Many of the city’s deaths occur on major thoroughfares. A Washington Post analysis earlier this year, road deaths hit low-income communities the hardest.
The INRIX analysis found that speeding is most prevalent around schools in southeast and southwest Washington. For example, 22% of drivers travel at least 10 mph above the school zone speed limit in the southeast, compared to 14% in the northeast.
Speed is also a bigger issue around schools with a higher proportion of low-income students. About 24% of drivers near low-income schools move more than 25 mph in the 15 mph zones, compared to 17% in high-income schools, according to the report.
Near Stanton Elementary School in the Southeast, where a high proportion of students are economically disadvantaged, the analysis found that on average more than 30% of vehicles on Naylor Road SE are traveling over 25 mph in the morning when students walk to school. .
On a section of Naylor Road, a long block south of the school — between Denver Street SE and 28th Street SE — 55% of drivers are going over 25 mph, according to the analysis. The increase in speed, according to INRIX, was partly due to confusing signage.
The data, Pishue said, presents a case for the district to direct more resources near schools that serve low-income students.