Montgomery County transportation and police officials on Wednesday detailed the pedestrian safety efforts they said have led to a 12 percent decline in pedestrian collisions since 2009 and a 20 percent drop in serious collisions in 2012 compared to 2011.
Montgomery County Department of Transportation Pedestrian Safety Coordinator Jeff Dunckel, MCDOT engineer Will Haynes and Montgomery County Police Capt. Tom Didone all said the county’s Pedestrian Safety Initiative is working, during a webinar hosted by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.
After a series of high profile pedestrian collisions this year, including one involving a baby stroller in a crosswalk near Bethesda Elementary School, some Bethesda residents have argued that Initiative isn’t working as well as county officials claim. The Safe Walk to School group offered 10 steps it wants the county to take to improve pedestrian safety on roads in school zones.
Since 2005, over 160 schools have undergone comprehensive school zone traffic safety assessments and improvements. An analysis of schools with three years of post-improvement data showed the collision rate within a quarter-mile radius of those schools declined from 1.45 to .21 incidents per year — an 85 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions.
“People are starting to notice,” Didone said during the webinar.
Montgomery County Police have taken an agressive approach, using sting operations to nab drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. But in High Incidence Areas, targeted enforcement has resulted in 1,851 citations for pedestrians making midblock crossings or crossing against the signal and just 90 driver citations.
“Up until last year, I would say we never conducted enforcement specifically for pedestrian violations,” said Didone, when asked why the numbers were so far apart. “They had always been given warnings.”
An analysis from Montgomery’s CountyStat found that police are increasingly finding drivers at fault in pedestrian collisions. In 2012, drivers were found at fault 59 percent of the time while pedestrians were found at fault 35 percent of the time. In six percent of collisions, fault was undetermined or both the driver and pedestrian were found at fault.
The ratio historically has shown an equal amount of driver-at-fault and pedestrian-at-fault incidents.
Didone said police will continue to use sting operations in problem crosswalks and saturation enforcement in the HIA’s through 2013. HIA’s in Bethesda include Wisconsin Avenue between Montgomery Avenue and Leland Avenue and Old Georgetown Road between Fairmont Avenue and Edgemoor Lane.
“Nobody argues with us when we stop them to give them the citation,” Didone said. “They know they’ve done wrong.”
Haynes said he could see Montgomery moving toward installing leading pedestrian intervals, or crosswalks that give pedestrians an exclusive window to cross in all directions, in the coming years. It was one of the 10 recommendations from the Safe Walk to School group.
“That’s something we’ve been looking at for at least a year,” Haynes said. “The industry itself is going in that direction. D.C. has them. Alexandria has them. That’s something that we’ve looked into and hopefully we’ll get that sooner than later.”
Despite the decline in some numbers, Dunckel admitted the county must deal with some alarming recent numbers. There have been eight pedestrian deaths so far in the county in 2013, more than the six in 2012. The most recent happened as a result of a collision Sunday in the parking lot of a Potomac grocery store.
“So clearly, there’s more work to be done,” Dunckel said.