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Looking south on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE . (Courtesy Photo Wikimedia Commons)

On March 9, District Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced a $5 million investment for the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X avenues, S.E. in Ward 8’s Congress Heights’ neighborhood. She was joined in the announcement of the District’s Vision Zero initiative, which is a local response to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s effort to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, by D.C. Director of Planning Eric Shaw, District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Leif Dormsjo and his deputy, Greer Gillis.

“We need a fresh start to the way we make our roads safer,” Bowser said. “The goal of Vision Zero is simple: reduce serious injuries and fatalities on our streets to zero by 2024. By adopting a comprehensive approach to transportation safety – from behavior to road design – we will make our city a safer place to live and visit.”

Bowser continued, “The improvements we’re making near our intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X Avenues are an important step to realizing the goals of Vision Zero.”

Community and business leaders in the popular section of Southeast Washington are generally happy that the mayor wants to invest in improving the safety of a heavily-utilized intersection. However, some argue more is needed to improve the economic vitality of the area. The thoroughfares, named after the two Black 1960s icons, have seen over 90 crashes and nearly 40 crash-related injuries in the past three years. In a few months, DDOT will install pavement markings and pedestrian countdowns on the traffic signals and the two-year plan includes road realignment, new medians, road reconstruction, new sidewalks and crosswalks, streetlight improvements, green infrastructure, and new bike facilities.

The targeted intersection includes a shuttered Popeye’s Chicken restaurant, small retailers, and land owned by the National Park Service that is generally populated with people socializing at picnic tables. Kevin Davis, owner of Pro Cut Family Barber Shop located near the intersection, discussed Bowser’s plan. “Safety and transportation improvements are always welcome,” Davis said.

Monica Ray, resident of the Congress Heights Community Association and a leader of the Congress Heights Community Development Corporation, said, “I am excited to hear about some attention being paid to our community. Projects like this one become the catalyst to quality of life improvements in neighborhoods. We need only look at streetscape projects across the city as evidence of its effectiveness in changing the landscape.”

Ayana Bias, the community relations coordinator for the United Planning Organization’s office located on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue., S.E., admits she has not studied Bowser’s plan in depth, but views it as well-intentioned but lacking. “There needs to be more than improvements for bicycle and pedestrian safety,” Bias said. “I will say that what the mayor is proposing is a start point.”

Ray thinks that Bowser is on the right track. “Seeing the Congress Heights neighborhoods become safer for pedestrians, cyclist, and vehicles is of utmost importance to my organizations to help us realize our vision of a revitalized neighborhood,” Ray said. “I look forward to working with the mayor’s office to see this very important project to fruition.”