2015 | News

Elected Officials Call on State to Make Immediate Improvements Near Sites of Pedestrian, Bicyclist Deaths

Requested safety improvements come after Bethesda residents were killed by cars on Massachusetts Avenue and River Road

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Bethesda residents ask SHA officials about pedestrian safety issues on Massachusetts Avenue during the "Day of Action" event Nov. 3

Aaron Kraut

County Council member Roger Berliner and all four District 16 state legislators this week called on state transportation officials to make immediate improvements near the sites where two Bethesda residents were recently killed after being hit by cars.

A letter from Berliner, state Sen. Susan Lee and Dels. Bill Frick, Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman asks Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn to make a series of pedestrian and bicyclist safety improvements that can be implemented immediately and in the short term to sections of River Road and Massachusetts Avenue, roads that the state controls.

Tim Holden, a Bethesda resident and retired Navy SEAL, was killed Aug. 28 when a driver struck him from behind as he was riding his bicycle on Massachusetts Avenue near Osceola Road.

Marge Wydro, a 95-year-old Bethesda resident on the way to her weekly bowling league, was killed Oct. 21 when a driver struck her as she was walking across River Road at Springfield Drive.

The letter said the five requests for immediate improvements, four requests for improvements in the short term and three requests for “longer-term policy changes” were an outgrowth of the “Day of Action” on Nov. 3, during which Berliner, state legislators, county officials, residents, county police officers and others gathered near the sites of the two deaths.

“Along with our County’s Department of Transportation, Police, and Planning leadership, scores of community members participated, entreating drivers to be aware of both speed and distractions, and making suggestions for improvements,” the letter read.

Also in attendance were State Highway Administration (SHA) employees Christopher Bishop and Anyesha Mookherjee. Berliner said the SHA has committed to repaint crosswalks along Massachusetts Avenue to allow for better visibility, one of the immediate solutions suggested in the letter.

The elected officials would also like to see the sidewalk extended at the southeast corner of the Springfield Drive and River Road intersection, the installation of new traffic signals with pedestrian push buttons at the intersection, a traffic signal at River Road and Ogden Road because of difficult sightlines and more “advance pedestrian warning signs” along both roads.

As for short-term solutions, the elected officials want the state to adopt and install three concepts that aren’t currently in the state’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices but are in use other places.

The first is Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs), which are flashing LED lights installed on a crosswalk that can be activated when a pedestrian pushes a button before crossing. Another is Lead Pedestrian Intervals—time when only pedestrians are given the signal to cross an intersection. The third is HAWK signals, which bring vehicle traffic to a red light stop when pedestrians activate the light via a button.

“All of these tools have been implemented successfully by the District of Columbia and many other locations throughout the nation,” the letter read. “Sites on Massachusetts and River, as well as areas near schools, high incident areas, and bicycle-pedestrian priority areas, should serve as pilots for use of these tools that are now approved by [the Federal Highway Administration] and have demonstrated their value in reducing collisions in many other jurisdictions.

In terms of broader policy goals, the elected officials asked the state to consider lowering speed limits on roads in urban or residential areas and adopting Vision Zero, an initiative in which participating jurisdictions have committed to the goal of no traffic deaths by a date determined by that jurisdiction.