Updated at 10:30 a.m. Friday: Vision Zero, Montgomery County’s pedestrian safety program, has now been in place for a year, yet a recent spate of collisions shows the county appears to have made little progress toward the goal of eliminating pedestrian fatalities by 2030.
County Executive Ike Leggett released a two-year action plan titled Vision Zero in November 2017 that is designed to reduce traffic deaths, an extension of the county’s 2008 Pedestrian Safety Initiative. Since the declaration, there have been 15 reported fatal pedestrian crashes and the 2018 total has already exceeded that of 2017.
Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Pete Piringer reported two pedestrian collisions Friday morning, one around 9 a.m. on Mayfield Drive and Lone Oak Drive in Bethesda and another at roughly 9:30 a.m. on Georgia Avenue and Norbeck Road in Rockville. Neither victim suffered life-threatening injuries, though the person struck in Bethesda was transported to a local hospital. These two collisions come just days after Montgomery County police investigated six pedestrian-related incidents Monday night in the span of a few hours, one resulting in life-threatening injuries. Officials said each crash happened after sunset when visibility was limited.
The slew of collisions occurred just over a month after four Montgomery County public high school students were injured in a crash on Georgia Avenue in Aspen Hill when two cars collided and one was forced onto a sidewalk where it struck the students while they waited for a bus. Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Slater delivered a presentation to the County Council regarding pedestrian safety on Tuesday in response to the event.
The council also sent a letter urging Gov. Larry Hogan and Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn to lower the speed limit in the area of the Georgia Avenue incident.
In addition to the government action, a new coalition of civic associations, businesses and individuals called No More Dead Pedestrians recently formed to advocate for continued implementation of Vision Zero principles, targeting state highways in Wheaton, Glenmont and Aspen Hill.
Of the 15 fatal crashes since the beginning of November 2017, all but one occurred between 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. Only two are listed in the Montgomery County database as happening in daylight, the rest occurring at dusk or in the presence of active street lights. Nighttime conditions contributed to Monday’s incidents, officials said.
“The crashes the other night were directly attributed to the weather,” said Capt. Tom Didone, director of the Montgomery County police department’s traffic division. “We get those eerie, extra dark nights about a couple times a year and a frequent occurrence of pedestrian-related crashes generally results.”
There have been 321 pedestrian collisions this year through October, the lowest total during that stretch since 2011. A total of 54 of those collisions were classified as serious, a 2 percent bump from last year’s rate, according to Montgomery County police data.
Didone narrowed collision prevention to four main variables routinely preached by the department: pedestrian alertness, visibility, obeying crosswalks and signage and driver defensiveness. He said pedestrians should work to make eye contact with drivers and not assume they will be seen, in addition to crossing at crosswalks and wearing bright, easy-to-see clothing or reflectors at night. Drivers in turn must be prepared for pedestrians who fail to follow traffic laws or make themselves visible—instead of solely focusing on reaching their destinations as soon as possible.
“Drivers have the equal responsibility to look out for pedestrians,” Didone said. “We can’t drive so offensively and worrying about who has right of way that we aren’t looking out for each other.”
Vision Zero was developed in Sweden in 1997 and made its debut in the United States when Washington state adopted its principles in 2000. As of October 2017, 31 jurisdictions across the country have adopted the program, according to Leggett’s report. Vision Zero targets the systems in place as a means of creating a safer environment, which means focusing on roadway designs and setting adequate speed limits instead of targeting pedestrian or driver error.
The county’s Vision Zero plan prioritized state and county roadways with five or more severe or fatal collisions and one or more collisions per mile per year, amounting to 10 for each type of road and 20 in total. This included Georgia Avenue, a state road where four fatal collisions have occurred in addition to the collision involving the high school students since the institution of Vision Zero. The plan cited these corridors as “the first areas scrutinized for potential engineering improvements.”
However, a review of pedestrian-related collisions shows that more often than not, it appears people may be more at fault than roadway design. Of the fatality cases since November 2017, more than half of those involved a pedestrian in the roadway and not at a crosswalk, according to the county database. Nine victims were wearing dark or mixed clothing. Didone said such incidents highlight the importance of educating drivers and pedestrians to look out for one another as the county works to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2030.
“Once we can start changing the culture and getting people more on board, I think it’ll be easier to get to that number because there will be fewer mishaps,” Didone said. “If we can change that, that people are genuinely looking out for each other like they do in many other countries, then I think we can start working towards that and making that a realistic goal.”