LANGLEY PARK, Md. – The numbers tell the story of a persistent, deadly problem.
Last year, 81 cyclists and pedestrians were killed on road in the D.C. region. That’s up from the previous year when 75 people who were biking or walking died in collisions with vehicles region wide.
According to figures compiled by the D.C. Department of Transportation, the Maryland Highway Safety Office and Virginia’s Highway Safety Office, Prince George’s County had the highest number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities of the region’s 14 communities with 25 deaths last year. Montgomery County reported 11 pedestrian and cyclist deaths, and Fairfax County recorded 16 fatalities.
The numbers were released at a news conference held in Langley Park, where regional leaders and public safety advocates kicked off the Street Smart public safety campaign. From now through mid-May, police across the region will focus on road safety education and enforcement.
Michelle Adams, whose friend, 29-year-old David Narvaez was among the pedestrians killed last year, read from a statement. “David’s family will never stop missing him, and our hearts remain broken,” Adams said.
A number of factors contribute to the cause of the deadly collisions.
Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski urged pedestrians to wear high visibility clothing, advised cyclists to follow the rules of the road, and he singled out drivers.
“Please, put down the devices,” Stawinski said. “I cannot tell you how many times, as I am driving around our communities, I see people in vehicles looking at devices.”
Among the slogans in the public safety campaign: “Eyes Up Watch for Pedestrians.”
Jeff Dunckel, pedestrian safety coordinator for Montgomery County, said that although the county hasn’t seen fatal pedestrian numbers in the single digits since 2012, progress has been made. Last year, the county’s 11 deaths of pedestrians and cyclists was a drop from the county’s high of 17 in 2007.
Dunckel credits public safety campaigns like Street Smart for the change.
The public safety campaign, with its visuals of people with tire tracks on their faces, has been criticized in the past by some cycling and pedestrian advocates who say the effort engages in “victim blaming,” telling those on foot and on bikes to be more careful.
Dunckel said his department has heard that criticism.
“I have to tell you that we have very much focused on awareness of drivers.” And he said the county has engaged in “crosswalk stings,” where drivers are cited for failing to yield to police officers crossing the road.
“We know that in over half of the pedestrian crashes in Montgomery County, drivers are at fault. In fact, it’s almost over 60 percent of the time, drivers are at fault,” Dunckel said.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said education efforts have to be renewed as the population continues to grow in the county.
“Any death you have, any collision, is one too many,” Leggett said.
Leggett noted the need for regional cooperation in increasing safety. He recounted his own experience when he was involved in a car crash as he drove near his Burtonsville home in 2009.
“An ambulance from Howard County picked up the county executive of Montgomery County and took me to a hospital in Prince George’s County. But it all turned out well,” he told the crowd.
From now until May 14, police departments around the region will ticket drivers, cyclists and pedestrians in a stepped-up enforcement effort as part of the Street Smart campaign.