2022 | Traffic

Pedestrian killed in North Bethesda crosswalk was a Montgomery College professor

County’s Vision Zero director says there’s ‘no silver bullet’ to eliminating traffic fatalities

share this

Photo from LinkedIn

Eric Grosse

On ratemyprofessors.com, Montgomery College professor Eric Grosse is described as “a great lecturer” who is “very organized and makes everyone engage in the class discussions and team exercises.”

That comment was posted April 28 – the same day that an SUV struck Grosse, 74, as he jogged across Tuckerman Lane around 10 a.m. near the Bethesda Trolley Trail in North Bethesda. Grosse was taken to a hospital where he later died of his injuries. He was in the crosswalk at the time he was struck, according to Montgomery County police.

His death marked the fourth fatal pedestrian crash in the county this year. An investigation is ongoing, although so far no charges have been filed.

Grosse, a part-time faculty member in the community college’s English and Reading department, was in the fifth week of a seven-week accelerated course on the school’s Rockville campus when he was killed, according to department chair Teri Hurst.

There have been four fatal pedestrian crashes and one fatal bicyclist crash in the county so far this year.

Hurst told Bethesda Beat that every student cried when she went into Grosse’s class Monday and told them the news.

“Nobody knew. I felt like they were all hit by a wall. You could physically see it when I told them today,” she said.

Though retired, Grosse had been working at the college part-time since 2015, Elizabeth Benton, the department’s interim dean, said Monday. She called him “a wonderful, hardworking colleague and peer” who always put students first.

“His candor, his integrity, his commitment to the classroom was just remarkable,” she said.

Benton said Grosse’s previous jobs had included serving as dean of academic affairs at DeVry University and dean of academic development at Strayer University. DeVry University, based in Illinois, has satellite campuses throughout the country. Strayer University, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has campuses throughout the country and offers online learning.

At Montgomery College, Grosse had been working on a committee focused on providing open education resources for students, making academic materials accessible online for remote students.

“It was a very sudden loss,” she said of his death.

Hurst, who met Grosse in 2018, said he was always meticulous and was someone whom people could count on.

“He had a great smile. He was so organized and competent that students felt very secure,” she said. “Especially students who come to community college [who] have a lot of anxiety, stress, depression, panic attacks, all of that. And he was so good with that because there was so much structure and support and knowledge that you felt like you were supported through everything with him.”

Hurst said Grosse was heavily involved with the college’s part-time faculty institute, and often led professional development trainings.

“He was a strong advocate for making sure part-time faculty felt included in everything,” she said.

Hurst said Grosse’s specialty area was reading, writing and research in the workplace, and some of the classes he taught were geared toward business majors.

Grosse was scheduled to lead a conference at the college last Saturday called ‘the love of teaching,’ but it was canceled after his death, Hurst said.

“Students know which teachers love their jobs and care about them, and which teachers really don’t,” she said. “And it must have just been so obvious to them that he was there for them. He was not there for himself or the paycheck or any of that stuff, because he was retired.”

‘No silver bullet’ to ending pedestrian fatalities

Hurst noted that Grosse would often run on the Bethesda Trolley Trail, which crosses Tuckerman at a crosswalk where there is a high-intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK) beacon. The beacon was installed after pedestrian Jennifer DiMauro, of North Bethesda, was hit and killed by a driver in 2019. DiMauro was also a frequent user of the trail, her friends told Bethesda Beat at the time.

On a warm, sunny afternoon Monday, 21 people including walkers and bicyclists crossed at the HAWK beacon in a 20-minute period. Most pressed the button to activate the beacon and then waited for the pedestrian signal; four did not.

Montgomery County started installing HAWK signals in 2017 as part of the county’s Vision Zero plan – an initiative to eliminate serious and fatal crashes on roads in the county by the end of 2030.

Since 2017, the signals have been installed:

  • On East West Highway near Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School
  • At the intersection of Muddy Branch and Harmony Hall roads in Gaithersburg
  • On Aspen Hill Road by the Northgate shopping center
  • On Tuckerman Lane by the Bethesda Trolley Trail
  • At Summit Avenue and Brookfield Drive in Kensington
  • On Democracy Boulevard by Davis Library in Bethesda
  • On Willard Avenue in Friendship Heights
  • On Democracy Boulevard near Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda
  • On Twinbrook Parkway in Rockville
  • On Rockledge Drive in Bethesda
  • At the intersection of Spring Street and First Avenue in Silver Spring
  • Near the Muddy Branch Square Shopping Center in Gaithersburg
  • In three locations on Bel Pre Road in the Aspen Hill area
  • In two locations on Fenton Street in Silver Spring
  • On Randolph Road near the Randolph Village Apartments in Wheaton

Wade Holland, the county’s Vision Zero coordinator, told Bethesda Beat on Monday that county transportation staff examine factors such as crash history and pedestrian traffic in determining where to place a HAWK signal, or other pedestrian safety improvements.

“With all of these fatalities we always do some review of the site to see if there are any changes that need to be made,” he said.

Other recent changes include the lowering of the speed limit on Whittier Boulevard in Bethesda from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour, Holland said. The change, which took effect in late February, came as the result of a traffic study, he said. The study determined that the close proximity of Walt Whitman High School, a church and several homes necessitated a lowering of the speed limit, the school’s newspaper The Black & White reported last month.

Holland said that lowering speed limits can force drivers to slow down.

Despite the improvements, Holland said fatal pedestrian crashes that have occurred in the county don’t share a common denominator, so county officials are taking a more comprehensive approach to achieving the Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths.

“There’s no silver bullet to make it all go away. So we look at things holistically in terms of speed, lighting, driver behavior… because all of those work together in concert to reach our Vision Zero goal,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com