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State, Prince George’s Co. and UMd collaborate to improve Route 1 pedestrian safety

Family and friends of Carlos Pacanins gather at the corner of U.S. Route 1 and Knox Road in Columbia Park, Md., on April 14 to mourn his death. Pacanins and a second man were both killed at the intersection this year. Now the University of Maryland is calling for safety improvements and tougher enforcement . (WTOP File/Mike Murillo)

Jasmine Song, special to

WASHINGTON – Known for it’s bustling traffic and college night-life, U.S. Route 1 is no stranger to pedestrian accidents and officials are following through with some much-needed safety enhancements.

At a press conference last Monday, Maryland State Highway Administrator Melinda Peters met with University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, announcing a series of safety improvements and a public education campaign.

The pledges to improve the corridor’s safety and changes already completed come in the wake of three fatal collisions involving pedestrians since January along this busy stretch of road in College Park.

“SHA is making engineering changes along U.S. 1 to enhance pedestrian safety and the university and county police are aggressively enforcing jaywalking, drunk driving and traffic laws,” said Peters. “We remind drivers to be alert along U.S. 1, to follow the posted speed limit and stop for pedestrians.”

The highway administration already made improvements including, reducing pedestrian wait times at “Walk/Don’t Walk” signals and increasing how much time pedestrians have to cross the street. The state has also installed “Don’t Cross” markings along Route 1 sidewalks and installed “State Law – Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalks” signs between Paint Branch Parkway and Calvert Road.

According to university Police Chief David Mitchell, nearly 500 drunk drivers have been arrested within the past two years and police officials are continuing to monitor activity along the deadly stretch of road.

“SHA, Prince George’s County (Department of Public Works), Prince George’s County Police and University of Maryland personnel are working together on issues along U.S. 1 and have been doing so for decades,” said David Buck, spokesman for the highway administration.

Earlier this month, a drunk driver killed a woman in a hit-and-run collision along the route – the third fatality involving a pedestrian this year. Three other pedestrians suffered minor injuries in similar collisions with vehicles.

Now, College Park and University Police say they will strictly enforce the new speed limit and will conduct sobriety checkpoints to combat further accidents in the area.

“The improvements will make a dramatic impact on the safety of Route 1 next to the University of Maryland,” said Loh.

By August, the highway administration will reduce the speed limit on Route 1 from 30 mph to 25 mph. The changes will affect traffic from south of Guilford Road to Berwyn Road. The state also pledged to upgrade lights with brighter LED bulbs, install a fence between Knox and Hartwick roads, and upgrade pedestrian “Walk/Don’t Walk” signals to display the time remaining to cross.

According to the highway administration, an overhead pedestrian signal at the intersection of Route 1 and Hartwick Road will be installed by the end of October. The signal will flash yellow for Route 1 traffic and flash red to Hartwick Road traffic. When a pedestrian pushes the walk button, the signal will turn to solid red in all directions to allow pedestrians to safely cross the road.

“It is only through a collaborative team approach between all parties that U.S. 1 will be safer for all users of the road,” said Buck.

In addition to the engineering enhancements, the highway administration has worked with the university in a public education effort called “Walk Smart College Park.” Part of this effort includes outreach to students on campus and outreach to businesses, restaurants and taverns along Route 1.

Last Tuesday, the College Park City Council unanimously passed College Park Mayor Andrew Fellows’ proposal to enforce the new lower speed limit by expanding the times speed cameras operate to coincide with heavy periods of pedestrian traffic along Route 1 in downtown College Park.

“We’re making it physically, structurally safer,” said Loh. “However, that’s not enough. We need the cooperation of pedestrians and drivers. It is the responsibility of all of us. Be smart. Be safe.”

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