Three years after committing to a Vision Zero effort to end road deaths, Montgomery County is sharpening its focus. The county is working on a new 10-year plan, hoping to reduce and end serious and fatal crashes by 2030.
Last week, the county started gathering community feedback and letters on what people would like to see included in the 10-year plan, such as lower speed limits, new bike lanes or sidewalks, and more speed and red light cameras. The survey closes Aug. 9.
There have been eight fatal crashes this year in the county. The most recent was when a construction worker, Michael O’Connor, was killed on the job.
He died after there was a vehicle crash on June 1 near the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard. O’Connor was working on a construction site with the county’s transportation department.
“Overall, the county usually averages about one per month across a year,” Wade Holland, the county’s Vision Zero coordinator, said Thursday during a presentation. “So any average year, between 10 and 15 pedestrians are struck and killed.”
There were six fatal crashes in January and February alone, according to Holland.
The county’s launch follows the hiring of Holland in January. Holland, the interim coordinator for two years, was chosen after the county was nearly a year behind schedule in hiring its coordinator.
Under the new launch, the county’s Vision Zero program is in its first of three phases:
Phase 1: Fact finding (June to August 2020)
● Community feedback through survey, letters, meetings
● Targeted outreach
● Updated data analysis and leading practices research
● County government surveys and interviews
● End result: creation of background packets for work groups
Phase 2: Work groups (September 2020 to January 2021)
● Three work groups will meet five times to develop objectives, strategies, action items, and performance measures
● Co-chairs will be supported by contractors to build on progress each meeting
● End result: working draft of 10-year strategy and two-year action plan
Phase 3: Community review (February to May 2021)
● Facilitated reviews
● Continued outreach to traditionally underrepresented communities
● Creation of iterative drafts
● End result: final draft of 10-year strategy and two-year action plan
Some projects on schedule in high-injury areas include designs of protecting bike lanes on Middlebrook Road and data analysis and design alternatives of Crabbs Branch Way and Sam Eig Highway.
Two projects for Randolph Road and Shady Grove Road have been delayed for field observations and collection of traffic volumes because of COVID-19.
For the fiscal year 2021, the council approved an operating budget of roughly $54.8 million and a capital budget of about $46.7 million to support Vision Zero.
For the full six years of the capital improvement program, $320.4 million is dedicated for Vision Zero-related projects. That includes about $225.3 million for building new pedestrian and bike facilities and $9.7 million for street lighting and streetlight upgrades. It also includes $3.4 million to improve trail crossings.
County Executive Marc Elrich said Thursday that the county is struggling with money for capital projects in the next fiscal years’ budget.
“We’ve struggled with capital for a while in this county. We’ve been reducing the total amount of capital available for spending through bonds,” he said. “Without adequate substitutes for bonds, we’re in a crunch and [have] increased competition between schools and other needed capital projects in the county.”
Elrich said he hopes that by the end of this fall, county officials have a “different” discussion to look at how to grow the county’s tax base “in a way that would enable us to make greater investments in our infrastructure.”
County Council Vice President Tom Hucker, who chairs the county’s transportation and environment committee, said Thursday that every decision the county makes about transportation infrastructure is “potentially a life-or-death issue.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the renewed calls for racial justice make a very strong case for Vision Zero and the principle that our roads need to be safe for everyone, particularly for those who can’t afford a car or choose not to drive,” he said.
People have been driving less and walking and exercising more along streets, he said. The county has closed several roads during periods of the weekend, including parts of Sligo Creek Parkway and Beach Drive, to allow bikers and pedestrians to use the roads safely during the pandemic.
Residents have called for the road closures to continue after the health crisis ends, Hucker said.
Closing streets for restaurants to expand outdoor dining, such as the Bethesda Streetery, have also been well received by the community.
“They want us to expand it and extend it. Not one person has asked me to open those streets again,” Hucker said. “We need them to be as safe as possible.”
Elrich said he hopes community feedback for the survey is diverse.
“We need to hear from a lot of voices to make this work. We have to make sure that all communities are part of these discussions — that we’re aware of the conditions that people experience when they’re trying to get to a bus, or walking to work, or trying to bicycle,” he said. “Everything is not what you see in the urban areas.”
Lower-income communities, senior citizens, and Black and brown residents suffer the most from poor public transportation and infrastructure, Hucker said.
“Those residents disproportionately rely on safe pedestrian infrastructure, as well as safe public transit,” he said.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.