About 30 county residents and Montgomery County officials on Tuesday morning stood on the side of Massachusetts Avenue in Bethesda holding signs that asked drivers to slow down, pay attention and get off their phones.
One of them was Bill Wydro, who on Oct. 21 arrived at the nearby intersection of River Road and Springfield Drive to find his mother, 95-year-old Marge Wydro, dead after she was hit by a driver while crossing the street to attend her weekly bowling league.
Montgomery County police have yet to say who was at fault in the crash and haven’t charged the driver, 30-year-old Kenneth Samuel Bravman of Washington, D.C., but Bill Wydro’s message for the day was clear. He held a sign that read: “A distracted driver killed my mom. Stay Alert.”
The event, labeled a “Day of Action” by County Council member Roger Berliner, was meant to get the attention of drivers who may not be paying enough attention as they drive on area roads. But it was also meant to get the attention of the State Highway Administration (SHA), which makes all design decisions on River Road and Massachusetts Avenue.
People held up signs and shared their concerns about traffic on Massachusetts Avenue with an SHA engineer at a crosswalk with no traffic signal that leads to the Little Falls Library and Westland Middle School.
Many in the neighborhoods near Massachusetts Avenue would like to see the SHA lower the speed limit, install traffic signals, put up blinking lights or take a more innovative approach, by placing LED lights in the roadway to alert drivers that they must stop if someone is crossing.
Berliner said those residents asked him at a recent town hall what they could do now to push for changes. His response was to “take to the streets.” After Marge Wydro’s death, his office moved to set up Tuesday’s event.
An SHA engineer told those at the event that two recent traffic studies on Massachusetts Avenue, including one done after bicyclist Tim Holden was killed by a driver on the road in August, show most don’t drive fast enough on the road to merit the installation of speed cameras.
Bill Wydro's mom was killed in a crash while crossing River Road on Oct. 21. Police have not said whether the driver who hit her was driving distracted and he has not been charged. Credit: Aaron Kraut
County council member Roger Berliner speaks to SHA spokesman Chris Bishop at the "Day of Action" on Tuesday. Credit: Aaron Kraut
The SHA also doesn’t currently install LED lights in crosswalks or flashing yellow pedestrian signs sometimes used in Washington, D.C.
“That’s not part of Maryland’s manual and if it’s not in their manual, they can’t do it,” Berliner said. “So we’re trying to change the way they think about these roads.”
Brian Herberger lives nearby and has two kids who walk to school, one who walks to Westland Middle School and one who walks to Westbrook Elementary School.
“We want to change the way people drive on these roads,” said Herberger, who held a sign asking drivers not to text while driving.
In the roughly 30 minutes Herberger stood on the side of Massachusetts Avenue with dozens of other people, he said he observed plenty of drivers looking at their phones.
A few drivers didn’t even yield for county police Capt. David Falcinelli, the commander of the Bethesda-based 2nd District, as he crossed the crosswalk in full uniform to take part in the event.
“It comes down to education like this event to get people aware to put their cell phones down, to put their selfish needs secondary to safety on our roadways,” said Capt. Tom Didone, who runs the county police department’s Traffic Division.
Christopher Bishop, a spokesman for the SHA, said the agency will repaint the non-signalized crosswalks on Massachusetts Avenue to make them more visible. He also tried to give those at the event a list of safety tips for pedestrians and drivers.
But residents continued explaining their concerns and suggestions for improving the pedestrian crosswalks on the road.
Eventually, Berliner stepped in, telling the residents it was unlikely they would get the answers they wanted Tuesday, but that he hoped the SHA officials would take the concerns they heard back to their bosses.
“You have community members here who have lost dearly,” Berliner said. “I don’t know what more we can do to call attention to this and to create a context in which we can make some progress.”