Less than 24 hours after six pedestrians were hit by vehicles on a rainy Monday evening, members of the Montgomery County Council were grilling a top Maryland transportation department official on what more could be done to prevent so many tragedies.
“This has to stop,” council member Roger Berliner declared to Greg Slater, administrator of the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration.
The council had scheduled the public hearing with Slater and other county transportation officials several weeks ago, following an Oct. 9 incident in which four students walking to a bus stop were hit by a car on Georgia Avenue in Aspen Hill. On Monday night, six pedestrians were hit by vehicles on county roads within a matter of hours, with one woman transported to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries after she was struck while crossing Beall Avenue in Rockville. Two more pedestrians were struck Wednesday morning, bringing the week’s total to eight.
Council member Craig Rice said he was particularly concerned about the vulnerability of children who must regularly use crosswalks at busy intersections to get to school. He said students who attend Kingsview Middle School in Germantown must regularly pass through the intersection of Clopper and Germantown roads, both of which are state highways. Two pedestrians were hit there in 2014.
Rice asked Slater to ensure SHA performs a comprehensive study of all intersections in Montgomery County that are frequently used by students.
“These are kids that are being forced into dangerous situations because we’re not taking those next steps,” Rice said.
Slater outlined several steps his department has been taking to try to reduce pedestrian collisions, including reducing speed limits, reducing the width of travel lanes to 10 feet and installing flashing beacons in dimly lit intersections. He said SHA was planning on improving the crosswalks at several intersections along Georgia Avenue, including the intersection with Heathfield Road and the intersection with May Street, which are both in Aspen Hill.
“We can’t do them [intersections] all overnight, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a plan,” he said.
Slater also said that in central business districts in Montgomery County, the speed limit was typically 30 miles per hour. There is a 77 percent chance of a pedestrian collision occurring when a car is traveling more than 40 miles per hour, but under 30 miles per hour, he said, that probability drops sharply.
Council member Marc Elrich, who was elected as the next county executive in the Nov. 6 general election, said he would like to see the speed limit lowered to 25 miles per hour in central business districts.
“My fear is that if I set the speed limit at 30, they [drivers] might cheat and do above 30. If I set it at 25, they might cheat and do above 25, but that might keep them closer to 30,” he said.
Later in the discussion, Rice asked Slater whether pedestrians who stand in the median were truly safe. After a long pause, Slater replied, “probably not.” Rice then reminded Slater that not only do panhandlers stand in the median, but others who are attempting to raise money for charity. Rice asked Slater to devise a solution to improving safety for pedestrians who stand in the median.
Berliner added that the solution to making medians safer must also account for jaywalkers.
“And I’m one of these people who says [to others], ‘Oh my god, why are you jaywalking?’ and then I jaywalk,” he said.
Council member Tom Hucker asked Slater about how his department was addressing poor lighting on state roads, to which Slater replied that it is conducting an audit of lighting systems. Slater asked the public to provide input.
“The biggest role that the public can play is to say, ‘I’m traveling in this particular area and the lighting is really bad,’ ” he said.
While most of Tuesday’s discussion was between Slater and the council, Kristy Daphnis, chair of the county’s Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee, emphasized that road improvements are often made at the request of council members and citizens groups. Daphnis said 88 percent of her Wheaton neighborhood is composed of low-income families who may not know how to request improvements.
“Those are not the people you’re gonna hear from at this council meeting,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org