Red lights going up at 2 Md. pedestrian crossings

WASHINGTON — It came after two deaths and months of lobbying by cyclists’ groups and Montgomery County lawmakers.

A new signal is going up where the Matthew Henson Trail cuts across Maryland Route 586 (Veirs Mill Road) at Turkey Branch Parkway in Rockville.

The new signal will feature flashing yellow lights that will turn to solid red when a cyclist or pedestrian pushes a button, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration announced Tuesday.

The previous design, with a flashing yellow light, meant drivers had to proceed with caution. The solid red light will make it clear that a stop is required.

After 19-year-old Frank Towers of Rockville was killed while trying to cross Veirs Mill in December 2015, the SHA had installed the signs that featured overhead flashing yellow lights that could be activated by trail users. But those lights didn’t require drivers to stop.

Months later, in July 2016, 31-year-old Oscar Mauricio Gutierrez Osorio was killed at the same crossing. That led to increased pressure from pedestrian and cycling activists — as well as state and local lawmakers — to further improve safety at the crossing.

A new signal is going up where the Matthew Henson Trail cuts across Maryland Route 586 (Veirs Mill Road) at Turkey Branch Parkway in Rockville. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Advocates with the cycling group Bike Maryland celebrated the news Tuesday.

“Ninety-nine percent of drivers adhere to these red lights, and about 77 percent of pedestrians understand how to use them,” said Kim Lamphier, advocacy director for Bike Maryland. “So it’s really a win-win for drivers and pedestrians.”

The Veirs Mill signal isn’t the only new light to be installed at a crossing that raised safety concerns: A new “full-color” traffic signal will be installed at Maryland Route 214 (Central Avenue) and the Addison Road Metrorail intersection in Prince George’s County.

SHA officials said the two locations were chosen to get the new lights based on traffic volume and increased foot and bike traffic around both intersections.

“Pedestrians and bicyclists make up one-fifth of the 500 traffic fatalities in Maryland every year, which is disproportionate when compared to how much we drive,” said SHA Administrator Gregory Slater.

“Safety ambassadors” will be stationed at both crossings to educate people on how the signals work. The signs should be up and running by mid-spring for the MD-214 intersection and by mid-summer for MD-586.

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