Pedestrian safety concerns persist in Montgomery County

Ari Ashe,

WASHINGTON – Crossing some roads in Montgomery County has proved to be a dangerous task for pedestrians.

Officials have recently cracked down on pedestrian safety and have seen promising results. Montgomery County officials say that since 2009, serious accidents involving pedestrians have dropped by 21 percent. In 2012, six pedestrians died, as compared to 19 in 2008.

However, some residents say more needs to be done to ensure the safety of pedestrians.

Barbara McCann, founder of the National Complete Streets Coalition, says Montgomery County officials are not doing enough to fix the core problems, especially at wide intersections that take a long time for pedestrians to cross.

“It’s a little bit like saying the bailing is working. We’re bailing the boat and we’re not sinking,” McCann says. “But there’s still a great big hole at the bottom of the boat and that hole is the failure to think about pedestrians during the initial planning process.”

Last week, McCann spoke to the Action Committee for Transit in Germantown, a portion of upper Montgomery County where there are a number of potentially dangerous intersections for pedestrians. One of the intersections includes Germantown Road near Wisteria Drive, which has up to nine lanes of traffic for pedestrians to cross.

Pedro Antonio Gomez, 34, was critically hurt at the intersection on Jan. 7.

Captain Thomas Didone, director of the Traffic Division with Montgomery County Police, says the county got approval to lower the speed limit along that stretch of road from 50 to 40 mph. But McCann believes that will not have much of an effect.

Ben Ross, with the Action Committee for Transit, also points to Route 355 at Shady Grove Road in Gaithersburg, which he says takes eight and a half minutes to cross.

“People will run because they’re not going to wait eight and a half minutes,” McCann says. “They’re going to look for a break in traffic and go for it.”

Allowing more time for pedestrians to cross wide intersections is a catch-22 for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

When the Highway Administration widens the road to ease congestion, it takes longer to cross the road. When it takes longer to cross the road, engineers need to give pedestrians more time to do it. However, when pedestrians have more time, it means red lights will last longer and traffic backs up.

Jeff Dunckel, coordinator for Montgomery County Department of Transportation Pedestrian Safety, says that upper Montgomery County was not built for pedestrians, so changes to improve safety are coming slowing.

He encourages residents who are worried about dangerous intersections to attend the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee meetings every other month.

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