Government failure

It Took Good Samaritans 2 Hours and $150 To Paint a Crosswalk That D.C. Ignored for 6 Months

Yet another example of private citizens taking it upon themselves to do what the government is incapable of.


Two hundred seventy days. That's how long the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) of Washington, D.C., said it might take to get around to painting a single crosswalk.

They weren't kidding. Ronald Thompson of Anacostia told WTTG he made a formal request for the crosswalk to be painted back in October. For months, nothing happened. Then, on Easter Sunday, a pedestrian, 31-year-old Abdul Seck, was hit and killed by a car at an intersection just blocks away.

So Thompson decided he didn't want to wait anymore. At a vigil for Seck, Thompson met Michael Kaercher, who agreed that road safety was a big issue. "These kids I see, these parents, these grandparents walking their kids to school, they do not have a safe accommodation here," Thompson told WTTG. This past Sunday, the two men took it upon themselves to do what DDOT wouldn't, city approval be damned

Kaercher was the one who did the actual painting. "It was such an obvious project that I could do safely, without posing any significant risk to myself and no risk at all to other parties," he told WTOP. And it's not like the job required painting expertise or a significant commitment of time and resources. "The most painting I've ever done before was my dining room wall," Kaercher added.

All told, it took about two hours and required $150 worth of supplies.

Amazingly, Kaercher may have been breaking the law. Around the country, it's generally illegal for residents to paint crosswalks or install traffic signage on public roads. It's not clear whether DDOT will take action, as the agency declined to answer WTTG's questions regarding the legality of Thompson and Kaercher's actions.

"Of all the things to possibly get arrested or fined for, helping to make people's lives a little bit safer and a little bit less stressful? I'm fine with that," Kaercher told WTTG.

Now, DDOT did have an explanation for why they hadn't painted the crosswalk in the months since Thompson made his request. Per a statement provided to WTTG:

The general pavement marking service level agreement is 270 days for turnaround due to marking installation being very weather dependent. The conditions for installation generally only occur from March to November. The agency often installs markings well before the 270 day turn-around time and we are evaluating whether the SLA should be changed. Mr. Thompson's service request came in at the end of the 2018 pavement marking season. DDOT has his request in cue and expects it to be installed shortly. DDOT has received 417 service requests for pavement markings in 2019 and closed 141 of them. Our safety team will be investigating the location to see if additional markings, signage and speed humps are needed in the area.

This is yet another example of private citizens taking it upon themselves to do what the government is incapable of. It's not always the government's fault. As a resident of the D.C. metro area, I know firsthand that the weather can get nasty, and I assume painting a crosswalk in the dead of winter isn't exactly fun.

The problem is that we expect the government to fix these problems in the first place. Yet time and again, private citizens have shown they're much more adept at this type of thing. Consider the masked anarchists who took to the streets of Portland in 2017 to patch up potholes. (Amazingly, a transportation bureau spokesperson suggested they might be breaking the law.) And in 2018, Domino's answered the age-old question: Who builds roads in a libertarian society? The pizza chain helped fix roads in numerous states around the country. It was the perfect solution, as Reason's Christian Britschgi noted at the time:

Roads exist to service people's transportation needs, whether that's getting to and from work, schlepping freight between cities, or, yes, delivering freshly cooked pizza. Aligning the funding of roads with the purposes they're used for would make infrastructure more responsive to the end user.

Just last month, I wrote about Monte Scott, a 12-year-old Michigan boy who used a garbage can full of dirt to fill at least 15 potholes near his family's home last week. Scott told the Muskegon Times he'd wanted to fill potholes for months, and finally did so following a half-day at school. "People complain and complain, and the city never fills them up," he said. "And I feel horrible because they never do it. They should fix the streets."

If there's one takeaway from these stories, it's that while local governments may struggle to ensure the roads are safe, private citizens are getting real results.

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  1. Anyone want to give me the odds that the government arrests those who painted the lines and/or removes the lines due to some arbitrary violation?

    1. The scofflaws painted lines that are only 6.9 inches wide instead of the required 7.2 inches wide, so naturally an emergency crew needs to be dispatched to grind off the paint for public safety.

      1. They also amassed a record number of overtime hours correcting such a grievous and dangerous error. True heroes each and every one.

      2. Not to mention that the lines were not painted wit the DOT approved water soluble paint which will vanish within a specified time, necessitating remaining at regular intervals and insuring continued employment for government stooges.

    2. I’m not taking that bet.

  2. and I assume painting a crosswalk in the dead of winter isn’t exactly fun.

    I’d hate to think the DOT isn’t having fun.

    1. It’s probably more about ambient temperature than anything else. Paint usually needs to be applied well above freezing. Or maybe the local union has rules about not working… ever.

      1. Painting over ice just gets you painted ice. Most paint also doesn’t dry in freezing conditions.

        1. They also use some pretty heavy duty paint that bonds well with asphalt and is retroreflective so it’s visible at night. So this probably won’t hold up too well. But I still applaud the effort and the message.

          1. By an odd coincidence, I was looking into just that kind of paint for a project at a local non-profit recently. Most paint supply stores can order that special paint for you. It costs about $70 a gallon. Given the price of the project from the article ($150 in supplies) and the estimated coverage based on the picture, I’ll guess that they bought the good stuff. In which case, it should hold up just fine.

  3. I recall a few years back during a heat wave pavement buckling at an intersection. A four inch high ridge running the width of a four lane arterial road. 20,000 cars if not more go through this intersection every day so its a pretty major surface street.

    A week goes by. Nothing. Not even orange signs warning of the bump.

    Then one morning someone put up a plywood sandwich board sign.
    “Warning: Huge bump city won’t fix”

    When I came back through in the afternoon they finally decided to fix it.

    1. Shame is an underrated motivator, even when it comes to government.

  4. Statist: “Who would build the roads if not government?”

    An-Cap: “Literally anyone else.”

  5. Don’t crosswalks in DC just give pedestrians a false sense of security?

    1. False? The law requires a driver to stop at the crosswalk when pedestrians are present. What could provide more security than the rule of law?

      1. Exactly! Making schools, churches, etc. gun-free zones works so well.

  6. OK, so he submits a request and then, a few months later, someone is killed at a different location. After which, he gets a guy to spend two hours in the middle of the intersection painting the markings who says: “It was such an obvious project that I could do safely, without posing any significant risk to myself and no risk at all to other parties,”.
    Sounds like a crosswalk at this location would have been a complete waste of taxpayer dollars!

    1. I enjoyed that build-up and punchline immensely.

    2. I had the same thought when I read that line. He kind of undermined his argument here. Also, to the best of my knowledge, there is still an active debate about whether or not crosswalks help. The basic argument is that the more signs, crosswalks, flashing lights, etc. you put up at an intersection, the more pedestrians feel comfortable and become complacent. So they rely on these items to tell them when to cross instead of using their own observations. On the other hand, uncontrolled intersections (which have no signage at all) often have low accident rates, because everyone, drivers and pedestrians approach with caution and collectively work out a safe solution, on the spot. I have many such intersections in my community and they seem to work quite well.

    3. Exactly. Apparently this was not actually the most important or urgent use of taxpayer dollars.

      Is reason advocating for larger government?

    4. Not only that, but the guy killed in a different location was, according to the linked WaPo story, killed when “a man speeding in a 2002 Chevrolet Cruze struck another vehicle near the intersection of V and 16th streets SE, pushing it into the pedestrian.”

      Here’s the police report:

      The intersection at 16th and V doesn’t just have a crosswalk; it has actual traffic lights, so I’m not sure how that particular incident serves as an example of what goes wrong when the city is slow to install a pedestrian crosswalk. Clearly, if the type of asshole who drives like a maniac on city streets is not slowed by traffic lights, he’s also unlikely to be deterred by some painted marks on the road.

      More generally, while I understand that there are a whole raft of problems with DC government, I wonder how far we should take the argument made in this article. Should anyone be able to paint a crosswalk on the street in front of their house? How about maybe a disable parking zone? Perhaps we can all start installing our own street signs as well, with whatever speed limit we decide on for our particular stretch of the street?

      1. CORRECTION – I was wrong about one thing.

        Actually, 16th and V in Southeast DC does NOT have a traffic light. 16th and V in Northwest has a traffic light.

        Still, 16th and V in Southeast DOES have a pedestrian crosswalk and stop signs on V, so it’s still not a very good example of what happens when there’s no crosswalk.

    5. Sounds like he should have put a crosswalk where the guy got killed.

  7. So, using the most conservative definition of “March Through November” to mean the off-season is November 2 through March 30, that’s only 149 days. HTF is the “acceptable” turnaround 81% more than that?

    1. If they receive a request during the off-season that doesn’t warrant completion during the upcoming cycle.

  8. This crosswalk was done quickly, efficiently and with low cost when done by private citizens.
    Please make sure none of the politicians or bureaucrats see this article, or they might start crying, pooping their diapers and throw their infantile tantrums.

  9. Good for them for cutting government out and getting things done. I’m surprised they weren’t arrested for vandalism and trespassing!
    This article really resonated with me. I’ve lived in the “freedom-loving conservative” South since 1990. In that time, I’ve learned that like everywhere, ALL governments are essentially racketeers. Inefficient buraeucratic kickback-driven racketeers, but racketeers nonetheless!

    Warning, crotchety ‘old man’ rant follows: in my hilly, sharply curved residential area, the speed limit is 25. For whatever reason, some reprobates treat our street as a drag racing strip, instead. Many horribly mangled/dead pets and a few horribly mangled/almost dead kids later, we decided to do something about it: speed bumps – not the soft humps, but the curb-shaped bastards that tear your transmission out if you’re not careful.

    So, I call up the county government who tells me I need to call the county police, who tell me I need to call the courthouse. I do, and they tell me I must drive an hour to the courthouse, pay to request hearings before both the zoning board AND the utilities department, through which I MAY be “granted” a petition, which I must then take to ALL my 1000 or so neighbors to have duly signed by each and every one (and of course, duly notarized, too!) One holdout, and nothing happens. They of course then referred me to my city government which could better explain ‘local impedimen…oops, ‘regulations.’

    I call local government and wait another week to hear back. They tell me that, in addition to satisfying county regulations, I must also commission a traffic survey (several thousand dollars and several months’ time) through their contractor and then, they send that data back to the county who then issue more ‘approval.’ The best part? I get to pay (directly to their contractor, of course) thousands MORE dollars to have the friggin’ speed bumps installed!

    The streets rightfully belong to the government, so our kids of course have no legitimate expectation to be allowed to safely walk them. Yet, report the neighbor for smoking a joint and the SWAT team shows up a minute later! Nuts!

    1. Open a private street thru your lot.

      1. Like that guy with his temporary turnpike to get around that landslide in England.

  10. private citizens taking it upon themselves to do what the government is incapable of

    Awesome! Do the military next! No, no — the courts!

    JUDGE: “You’re out of order!”

    VIGILANTE: “No, you’re out of order!

  11. Here’s another example of just getting it done, from 2015. In this case there was no freeway sign pointing the correct way to go to one of the interstates. Someone made and installed the sign, and did it with great care.

  12. “That’s a nice crosswalk you’ve got there. Be a shame if something were to happen to it.”
    – DDOT employee, probably.

  13. DDOT will show up today with a crew to sandblast the illegal crosswalk away.

  14. […] remember the good Samaritans in Washington, D.C., who spent all of two hours and $150 last month to paint a crosswalk that the city hadn’t done anything about for six months. Or […]

  15. […] remember the good Samaritans in Washington, D.C., who spent all of two hours and $150 last month to paint a crosswalk that the city hadn’t done anything about for six months. Or […]

  16. […] remember the good Samaritans in Washington, D.C., who spent all of two hours and $150 last month to paint a crosswalk that the city hadn’t done anything about for six months. Or […]

  17. […] remember the good Samaritans in Washington, D.C., who spent all of two hours and $150 last month to paint a crosswalk that the city hadn’t done anything about for six months. Or […]

  18. […] remember the good Samaritans in Washington, D.C., who spent all of two hours and $150 last month to paint a crosswalk that the city hadn’t done anything about for six months. Or […]

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