2014 tracking to be another deadly year for region’s pedestrians

WASHINGTON – A pedestrian is struck and killed in the D.C. metro region about once every week, according to the most recent data provided by area police.

By the end of 2014, the number of pedestrian fatalities is on pace to meet or beat last year’s 45 deaths in the D.C. metro area. Contributing to the deadly accidents are increasing numbers of people who incorporate walking into their daily commutes as well as distractions caused by smartphones for pedestrians and drivers alike.

On Monday evening, a 32-year-old man was hit by a vehicle on West Ox Road in Fairfax County. He later died after being taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital. Earlier this month, a mother of two was killed in Riverdale, Maryland, in a crosswalk on Route 410.

The two most recent accidents in the immediate Washington metro area brings the total number of pedestrian deaths so far this year to 38.

Data provided by police departments in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as the City of Alexandria and the District of Columbia was examined.

“Unfortunately, it’s not surprising news because we’re seeing a lot more risk- exposure to pedestrians. In other words, more people are walking,” says Jonathon Adkins with the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The data obtained by WTOP shows that roughly half of the deaths occurred on either interstates, federal highways, state highways or primary arterial streets where crosswalks are typically scarce or non-existent.

Click on a point on the below map to see more details about each pedestrian fatality.

More men died compared with women. Men, Adkins says, tend to be bigger “risk- takers.”

The ages of those who were killed ranges from a 1-year-old killed last year in Temple Hills to a 94-year-old woman, who was struck in Northwest D.C. The median age of those killed is 41 years. These numbers mirror national figures, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“We are seeing driver fatalities go down, so obviously we want everything to be going down consistently. We want people to be able to walk safely, particularly in areas such as Prince George’s County. In some parts of Montgomery County, there aren’t safe places to walk,” Adkins says.

The federal Department of Transportation recently announced a nationwide safety assessment of key pedestrian routes. The initiative addresses the number of pedestrian accidents through improvements in infrastructure and public outreach. It’s not just a local problem. Injuries and fatalities of pedestrians and bicyclists have steadily increased since 2009 at a rate outpacing the number of deaths caused in motor vehicle accidents nationally, the agency says.

Additionally, from 2011 to 2012, pedestrian deaths rose 6 percent and bicyclist fatalities went up almost 7 percent nationally.

Many local jurisdictions have taken steps to curb the recent trends and improve pedestrian safety over the years.

The District of Columbia has installed special pedestrian signals known as HAWK beacons at a few of the busiest crosswalks throughout the city. The name stands for High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacon and serves pedestrians and motorists alike by stopping cross-traffic with colorized signals only on an as-needed basis.

In 2007, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett provided a long-term plan that targets dangerous corridors, improves pedestrian networks and promotes public awareness.

Jeff Dunckel, Pedestrian Safety Coordinator for Montgomery County, says that the plan has led to a reduction in pedestrian collisions in areas that the county has targeted for safety improvements coupled with education and enforcement activities.

“The program has been very successful in reducing the number of serious collisions which have declined significantly in Montgomery County over the last several years,” Dunckel says.

One tier of the county’s strategy employs traffic calming measures such as providing wider pedestrian “refugee” islands on medians by narrowing a road’s travel lanes. For example, Jones Bridge Road in Chevy Chase was put on what Dunckel calls a “road diet” whereby its excess lanes were reduced in width and quantity to temper excessive speeds while making its crosswalks easier to traverse. Similar techniques have been used in other suburbs, such as on Lawyers Road in Reston, Virginia.

“Speed is hugely important in terms of the severity of collisions that occur, or whether collisions occur at all. If you’re hit at 40 miles an hour, you have an 85 percent chance of dying. If you’re hit at 25 miles per hour you have a 90 percent chance of surviving,” he says.

In College Park, where three college-aged persons have died this year alone on Route 1, a Jersey wall is being constructed to keep pedestrians from crossing the busy road illegally.

“Far too many pedestrians are walking and crossing [through] busy intersections looking at their phones, ear buds are in, they’re talking, they’re texting. They’re not paying attention,” Adkins says, also noting that the combination of a distracted pedestrian and a distracted driver is a scenario that doesn’t bode well for the pedestrian.

“As a pedestrian, it’s critically important to be really focused on walking, just as drivers need to focus on driving. Pedestrians cannot cross against the light, they’ve got to turn off that phone, and not make the false assumption that drivers are looking out for them, because in a lot of cases, unfortunately they’re not.”

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