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Readers urge care, caution when `slugging'
by Steve Eldridge, The  Fairfax Journal

11 June 2001

A number of you wrote in after our recent column on "slug lines." It certainly is a popular way to get to work. Not surprisingly, many of you said that it's a good thing that the government isn't officially involved (other than in setting aside lots for slugs to park).

 

While many think it's just about the neatest thing since the fax machine, a number also have some reservations about putting themselves into someone else's hands.

 

Molly of Montclair writes: "I stopped slugging almost four years ago because it seemed like the drivers were getting more and more reckless. One man in particular made the decision easy.

 

"A co-worker and I were picked up at a slug line near Potomac Mills mall by a man who looked and sounded fine. But he turned into a different person on the highway - speeding, cutting in front of other cars and swearing at the other drivers - all the time listening to one of those `soothing jazz' radio stations.

 

"It was so bad by the time we got onto Interstate 395 that we asked him to slow down. He did for a little while and then started going crazy again when somebody changed lanes in front of us.

 

"Fortunately, we got to work in one piece. But my co-worker and I agreed to start a real car pool.

 

"My only advice for your readers is to be careful because you never know who you're getting a ride with."

 

Ron of Woodbridge writes: "I really enjoy slugging, although I've only been doing it for two years. I've met some really nice people and heard some interesting stories. The only thing I would suggest is people do a better job of cleaning their cars before they pick up passengers.

 

"A couple of weeks ago I got into a car heading toward L'Enfant Plaza. The ride went all right until I got out and realized that I had been sitting on a broken ink pen and the back of my pants was covered in blue ink.

 

"Of course, I realized this too late to say something to the driver, but he's probably now wondering why the front seat of his Topaz is covered in ink."

Pedestrian safety

One of things we are very concerned about is pedestrian safety. This isn't an issue about which only environmental activists are concerned. It's an issue that affects all of us. After all, during some part of every day, we're all pedestrians.

 

Think about it: How far do you walk from your car to the office? How far from the train or bus? Do you walk to the deli for lunch or cross the street to get a $5 cup of coffee? Most of us do at least once or twice a day. And that's why we should pay attention to issues that affect pedestrians.

 

For the first time in many years, the Washington, D.C., government has put together a report of all the collisions involving pedestrians and bicyclists in the city. They studied the period from 1997 through 1999 and found some interesting things.

 

In an average year, there are 1,650 collisions involving pedestrians. This represents about 4 percent of all traffic collisions that occur in the city. As a result of those collisions, 16 pedestrians will die in an average year.

 

The thing that surprised me in the report was that the number of bicyclists involved in collisions wasn't higher. The report says there was an average of 260 collisions involving bike riders in a typical year, with an average of one death.

 

Given the increasing number of bicycle couriers flying through the streets in the city, I thought those numbers would be higher.

 

The report says the intersection with the most collisions for bicycles is Connecticut and L streets Northwest (a lot of couriers here). The worst intersection for pedestrians is Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue Northeast.

 

Last year, I did a series of reports called "Mean Streets," in which I attempted to get a handle on what was being done to make our streets safer to walk. I talked to a number of people working to address the issue at the local and state level.

 

On the other side of the Potomac River, Montgomery County, Md., has put together a blue-ribbon panel to make recommendations to the county executive, who will then try to cobble the monies together to act on the recommendations. There is a real need because much of Montgomery County was built for cars and not for walking.

 

What they're finding in Montgomery County is that the cultural differences of an increasing Asian and Hispanic population are making the task more difficult. Many of these people come from towns and cities where you can walk to everything. That's not the case in most of the neighborhoods around Washington.

 

I also found that Arlington was far ahead of everyone else in taking an active role. They're using new technologies and some old, common-sense methods to make walking safer. Because many of their neighborhoods are older, they had to do a fair amount of retrofitting to make it work.

 

What do you think ought to be done to make our streets safer to walk? Have you had any bad, or good, experiences while walking in the region? Have you seen any ideas here or in other locations that work well? Let's share them with all of our readers.

 

Steve Eldridge is a veteran traffic reporter in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. For more Sprawl & Crawl, tune in daily to WTOP-FM 107.7, WTOP-AM 820 or 1500. Send questions or comments to Sprawl and Crawl, The Journal, 6408 Edsall Road, Alexandria, VA 22312; e-mail to steve@sprawlandcrawl.com; fax to (703) 846-8366.

 

 


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