Pedestrians and bicyclists now make up a greater share of the number of traffic-related deaths in the region, according to a report presented by a regional planning body.
The problem isn't that more people are getting killed. The numbers of pedestrian and biker fatalities have remained relatively steady, even as the numbers of people walking and biking around the region has grown.
But the number of deaths overall has dropped, fueled by a major drop in vehicle fatalities, according to the Street Smart program of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Last year, 197 people died in local auto crashes compared with 351 people in 2001, the report shows.
Yet 77 pedestrians and nine bicyclists were killed out of 283 road-related fatalities last year. On average, another 2,600 bikers and walkers are injured in crashes each year.
The Street Smart campaign has been trying to raise awareness about the problem for the past decade. It is behind the recent ads featuring a giant high-heeled pair of feet crushing a car.
"The reasons we are doing this have not gone away," said Michael Farrell, COG's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.
He credits the drop in vehicular fatalities to the economy and high gasoline prices, which are causing people to drive less and drive slower.
"When gas prices go up, people slow down and that saves lives," Farrell said.
Newer vehicles also have more safety features that are helping save motorists' lives in a crash, he said. Money has been poured into police overtime budgets to step up drunken driving and seat belt enforcement as well, he added.
But pedestrians and bicyclists are inherently outmatched by vehicles during a collision.
Farrell said educating the public about the rules of the road is key to saving lives. But officials also need to enforce traffic laws for all parties, he said. In the latest Street Smart push, at least 4,220 citations and 3,785 warnings were issued to motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, the report said.
Regional leaders also need to improve roadways with engineering, he said, making it safer for pedestrians and cyclists with features such as raised islands between traffic lanes.