Greg Slater, the administrator of the Maryland State Highway Administration, says he had a visceral gut reaction when he heard that four students from John F. Kennedy High School had been struck by a car on Georgia Avenue, or MD Route 97, in Aspen Hill last week, critically injuring 15-year-old Devin Garcia.
Now more than ever is the time to improve pedestrian safety along Georgia Avenue, he says.
“It’s horrible. I have children in high school. I read every single one of these reports. It’s really important that we get better with every single one,” he said.
Slater said in an Wednesday that he will meet with the Montgomery County Council in a couple of weeks, following a letter that all nine members signed Tuesday that calls for a reduction of the 45 mph speed limit on the Aspen Hill portion of Georgia Avenue. Asked whether that solution would be on the table, Slater said yes.
“Absolutely. We’re open to any and all ideas to improve pedestrian safety,” he said.
The letter from the council noted pedestrian deaths in the county had risen from eight in 2016 to 11 so far this year. Slater said those numbers mirror statewide pedestrian fatality deaths, which have accounted for about 20 percent of overall statewide highway fatalities in the last 10 years.
Slater attributes the high numbers of fatalities to speed.
“When a pedestrian is hit at 40 miles per hour, there’s an 85 percent chance of death. But at 20 miles per hour it goes down to 5 percent,” he said, citing data from the Federal Highway Administration.
Slater said he recognizes that speed limits can only be lowered so far on major thoroughfares, but other steps can be taken, such as reducing the width of traffic lanes, which will force drivers to slow down. He said one immediate step the state highway administration plans to take is to resurface Georgia Avenue between University Boulevard in Wheaton and White Oak Drive. Road work began in August but has been delayed by rain. Most of the work, he said, will take place next spring. The project will involve narrowing the width of the lanes to 10 feet, except for curb lanes, which will remain at 12 feet.
Slater said that stretch of Georgia Avenue has become increasingly popular with pedestrians who patronize businesses there.
“If you look at the use of that roadway and how much has changed with the number of businesses, you have people actively walking and biking,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org