In Montgomery County, which is striving to eliminate traffic deaths and severe injuries by 2030, it took six days in the new year before the first pedestrian was killed.
It happened on Monday, when an Olney man was fatally struck by a 2008 Honda Civic traveling north on Georgia Avenue in Aspen Hill. Police said Jose Renan Guillen, 75, was trying to cross Georgia Avenue.
Monday’s fatality follows a hazardous 2019 for pedestrians. Preliminary data from the Montgomery County show 496 pedestrian crashes last year, compared with 457 in 2018.
The 2019 figure was higher than the county’s average of 481 crashes involving a pedestrian for 2015 to 2018.
Pedestrian fatalities remained at about the same level the last few years. There were 13 in 2019 and 14 in 2018, slightly above annual average of 12 for 2015 to 2018.
Vehicle crashes involving bicycles remained roughly the same, with 119 occurring last year and 120 in 2018. One bicyclist was killed each year.
Wade Holland, a performance and data analyst, said the statistics don’t include data from the Maryland State Police or Maryland Transit Authority Police. He added that the final crash statistics won’t be in until the spring.
The county developed its 41-point Vision Zero plan more than two years ago to reduce all pedestrian deaths by 2030. But at a town hall meeting last month, County Council Member Hans Riemer acknowledged that the county was “not on track” with its goal.
Among those killed in 2019:
- 17-year-old Jacob Cassell, who fell off his bike in July on the sidewalk of Old Georgetown Road and was fatally struck by a passing vehicle
- Pedestrian Jennifer DiMauro, 31, who was killed after being struck the same month at the intersection of Tuckerman Lane and Kings Riding Way in North Bethesda.
- A 9-year-old girl from Bradley Hills Elementary School, whose name has not been released, died last month after she was hit by her school bus while running back toward the bus.
County and state officials have taken steps to reduce crashes, such as new pedestrian traffic signals in dangerous places for pedestrians, including at a North Bethesda intersection where DiMauro was killed.
Eleven Vision Zero items are either not funded, not started or behind schedule, including establishing a fatal crash review team. The county has not yet hired a Vision Zero coordinator, which had originally been scheduled for 2018.
Council Member Andrew Friedson said in an interview Thursday afternoon that the county needs to move faster in pursuing its Vision Zero goals.
“Certainly, the past month was difficult but the important reality that is we’re not moving as fast as we need to in making pedestrian safety improvements that we need to,” he said. “It’s been a very difficult year and past several weeks, and I think it highlights the urgency that is required to fulfill the commitments that we’ve made in Vision Zero and the expectations that our residents have that they can walk and bike in ways that doesn’t put them in incredibly vulnerable situations.”
Friedson said he is pleased with many changes state officials have made, including the State Highway Administration’s commitment to consider land use and context as factors in designing roads. Administrator Greg Slater, who is nominated to become the next transportation secretary, “deserves a lot of credit” for these efforts, Friedson said.
“I’ve met personally with him and have really seen his commitment to moving this forward. The reality is we need to make a lot of improvements at the county level,” he said.
Friedson said pedestrian safety must take into account the assumption that drivers will often travel too fast.
“People will make mistakes. They’ll go to fast. They’ll be distracted. The question is, when somebody makes a mistake, what is the consequence? The consequence shouldn’t be life and death,” he said.
Council Member Evan Glass said hiring a Vision Zero coordinator is his “number one priority” in 2020. He said applications were open through last month and he hopes someone will be hired soon.
“This is a critically important role, because we need our department of transportation working with our police department, our schools and many other agencies to make our streets safe for everybody,” he said.
Asked whether individual drivers play a role in making roads safer, Glass said they must be part of an “’all hands on deck’ strategy.”
“We need drivers to slow down. We need engineers to rethink our street construction so that they are more friendly to non-motor vehicles, and we need residents across the board to understand that they need to share our road,” he said.
Miriam Schoenbaum, a Boyds woman and an officer in the advocacy group Action Committee for Transit (ACT), said last week that the numbers of pedestrian crashes and deaths are still “far too high,” but overall policy is moving in the right direction.
“There’s more attention being paid to the issue. There’s a much greater commitment to reduce crashes,” she said.
Schoenbaum said she thinks drivers’ habits will “respond” to better engineering.
“It just requires a commitment to reengineering and redesigning the roads,” she said.
ACT started putting up memorials for pedestrians and bicyclists who were killed by motorists after DiMauro’s and Cassell’s deaths this summer. Schoenbaum said the memorials are meant to highlight the urgent need for safer roads.
“We started doing the memorials because attention needs to be paid. It’s the same as with the transit challenge. When you’re the one seeing the conditions that they’re dealing with … it’s a more personal level of engagement,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.email@example.com