Public airs road safety concerns as county tries to eliminate fatalities

Public airs road safety concerns as county tries to eliminate fatalities

County Council hears about hazards for bicyclists, pedestrians

| Published:
Vision Zero photo

The Montgomery County Council on Sunday hosted a forum at Wheaton High School to hear public comments about traffic safety.

Photos by Andrew Schotz

Stories of roadway dangers were common Sunday during a Montgomery County Council forum on traffic, pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Many of the more than 100 people in the audience at Wheaton High School shared a personal story about how tough it can be to drive, ride or walk in the county without running into a hazard or potential injury.

The council hosted the forum as the county continues to work toward its Vision Zero goal of eliminating roadway fatalities and serious injuries by 2030.

The number of vehicle occupant fatalities decreased each year from 2014 to 2018, but rose last year. The latest fatality of someone in a vehicle happened after a crash in Germantown on Sunday, hours before the forum.

There have been three pedestrian deaths so far in 2020, compared to 13 for all of last year. One bicyclist and 17 motorists also were killed in 2019.

This year, it took just six days before the first pedestrian death was recorded in Montgomery County.

“Despite our efforts, we have a long way to go,” Council President Sidney Katz said during the forum.

Council Member Andrew Friedson said the problem is: How can the county remake roads that were designed for motor vehicles but that now must be safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, too?

“This has reached the level of a public health crisis in our community,” Council Member Gabe Albornoz said.

County Executive Marc Elrich has said there is about $266.6 million in his proposed capital improvements program budget for projects related to Vision Zero. The county has hired a Vision Zero coordinator and has worked on more public awareness of the issue.

The Maryland Department of Transportation said it had reduced speed limits, added some higher-visibility crosswalks and improved signals. It is studying several corridors.

Sunday’s session was a chance for the public to weigh in on what is wrong, what could be fixed and how.

Beryl Neurman, who lives in downtown Bethesda, said little thought is given to wheelchair users like her. She described the danger of trying to trek across six lanes of traffic on Wisconsin Avenue, with only a slim median as a safe ground in the middle.

She also said sidewalk access is often ignored.

Friedson said he has proposed a bill that mandates sidewalk access in construction zones when work lasts more than a few weeks. “A sidewalk has to be viewed like a lane of traffic,” he said.

Beryl Neurman

Beryl Neurman of Bethesda (with microphone) speaks during a traffic safety forum Sunday at Wheaton High School.

Martin Bergoffen said he rides his bike from his home near Twinbrook Elementary School to Wheaton High, where he teaches. He said he was hit by a car on Veirs Mill Road and sees dangerous driving every day. One bad spot is Twinbrook Parkway at Twinbrook Recreation Center, where a man was struck and killed two years ago, he said.

It’s precarious to use the bike lane going north on Veirs Mill Road because bikes are “squeezed out” by vehicles as the road goes uphill, Bergoffen said. He gave other examples of problematic spots and said the county does not appear to take biking seriously as safe, reliable transportation.

Judith Koenick of Chevy Chase said vehicles, including school buses, do not travel safely through the neighborhood near Rock Creek Forest Elementary School. She said she sees speeding and vehicles going through stop signs, yet drivers do not get tickets.

In response to another comment, Council Member Tom Hucker said the county needs to increase enforcement of existing laws. He said speed cameras save many lives; now it’s time for similar automatic enforcement of distracted driving.

Elise Lee, who is 9 and in third grade at Luxmanor Elementary School in North Bethesda, said her street, Marcliff Road, which runs between Tilden and Tuckerman lanes, needs a sidewalk.

Elise’s mother, Yunie Hong, said there is a long stretch nearby with no crosswalk, so her son, who goes to middle school, ends up running across the road.

Friedson noted that state Del. Jared Solomon, a Democrat from Chevy Chase, has drafted a bill in Annapolis that would require a pedestrian safety plan when there is school construction or renovation project.

When another girl said she has a difficult walk to and from school and asked “Why don’t kids get a say in all of this?,” Hucker offered to have someone with the county walk the route with her to figure out how to make it better for pedestrians.

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