It was a special day at Kensington Parkwood Elementary, where a throng of students gathered three blocks from the school before a coordinated walk to mark International Walk to School Day.
Principal Barbara Liess wishes it was a bit more ordinary. School buses and parents driving their kids in the morning often cause traffic issues in the immediate vicinity of the Saul Road school.
“Let’s do this more often, and not just today, when we do this on purpose,” Leiss said.
A number of schools across the county held similar events. Walk to School Day is meant to highlight the benefits of walking to school.
County Executive Isiah Leggett, Councilmember Roger Berliner and other officials spoke about walking to school as a health and environmental issue.
Near Bethesda Elementary, at the intersection of Arlington Road and Edgemoor Lane, the focus was squarely on safety.
In February, a three-month old child in a stroller was dragged from a crosswalk on Arlington Road by a motorist. The child was uninjured.
Since that incident, a group of Bethesda Elementary parents and the Action Committee for Transit have been urging the county to make traffic-calming adjustments to the road, including reducing speed limits, making no right-turn on red signs and installing leading interval intersections that would mean exclusive windows for pedestrians to cross.
“When we got to the other side, we heard this, ‘Oh my baby. Oh my baby.’ There was this woman running after this SUV,” said Jane Hodges, a Bethesda Elementary School staff member who witnessed the incident. “I called 9-1-1. The car finally stopped about a quarter of the way down that block. I couldn’t look because I could see there was a baby buggy underneath the car. I couldn’t look. I just couldn’t look.”
The infant was strapped in and covered because it had been lightly raining that day. Hodges said the driver seemed to be in shock and the baby, who wasn’t hurt, had been sleeping.
Action Committee for Transit members held up signs at the intersection on Wednesday. The group says it has yet to receive a response from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation about its suggested traffic-calming measures.
“The county is spending thousands of dollars to bus children a few blocks because the streets are so unsafe,” said Bethesda Elementary parent Wendy Leibowitz, who has been leading the effort. “The steps to safer streets around our school are clear and inexpensive. If the county made a few of those changes, there would be less need for buses, and we’d have healthier children who can walk to school and back.”
The county has conducted visible police enforcement of the intersection and installed new 25 mph speed limit signs in the school zone. The county has also repainted many of the “ladder crosswalks” in downtown Bethesda to ensure visibility.