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Regional Safety Officials Gather in Downtown Silver Spring Thursday To Promote Pedestrian, Bicyclist Safety

Event came hours after MoCo recorded first bicyclist-vehicle fatality of 2018

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A walker reads a handout about pedestrian safety distributed by county police in Silver Spring Thursday morning.

Caitlynn Peetz

Fewer than 24 hours after Montgomery County recorded its first bicyclist fatality of 2018, officials gathered in downtown Silver Spring to promote pedestrian safety.

On Wednesday night, a 47-year-old man was killed near the intersection of Randolph and Goodhill roads in Silver Spring when the bicycle he was riding collided with a vehicle traveling on the same street.

“It’s not like we needed another reminder that there’s life and death consequences here, but we got one and it’s tragic,” Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer said. “Frankly, I think the most dangerous place to be in Montgomery County is entering a crosswalk on a high capacity road … It turns my stomach every day.”

Thursday’s Street Smart event was organized by Montgomery County police, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and other area transportation and police departments.

Street Smart, a campaign spearheaded by the groups, focuses on traffic enforcement, and motorist and pedestrian education to prevent pedestrian-involved crashes around Daylight Savings Time.

Historically, in the last three months of the year, the number of pedestrians injured or killed during the evening commute increases, according to MDOT Highway Safety Office Deputy Chief Kelly Melhem.

County police distribute information about pedestrian and bicyclist safety Thursday morning in downtown Silver Spring

Following a brief presentation, the approximately 40 people in attendance were able to participate in a virtual reality experience designed to raise awareness of common situations in which pedestrians are injured.

Participants sat behind the wheel of a bright yellow convertible and put on a pair of goggles that immersed them in a 360-degree virtual reality video of traffic scenarios. The technology captured their ability to spot pedestrians and bicyclists.

And while the simulation was enlightening, event coordinators said, there needs to be more of an education-focused initiative to make both drivers and pedestrians aware of how to stay safe.

After the event, Montgomery County police posted at three downtown Silver Spring intersections — Georgia Avenue and Fenwick Lane, Colesville Road and East West Highway and Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street — and stopped walkers and drivers who were engaging in dangerous behavior, such as attempting to cross an intersection without the “walk” signal lit or a vehicle stopping in the middle of a crosswalk, rather than behind the painted white line.

Montgomery County Police Capt. Thomas Didone speaks at Thursday’s Street Smart event.

When officers saw such actions, they handed out informational flyers and engaged in conversations about the rules of the road.

At the Georgia Avenue intersection, an officer in street clothes correctly crossed the intersection and if vehicles failed to stop, the drivers were pulled over and fined $50. The goal was to remind drivers of the dire consequences of distracted, aggressive and lackadaisical driving.

The reality, Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski said, is any of those three mindsets could kill somebody.

“We collaborate, we educate and then we enforce,” Stawinski said. “The reality is, it can happen to you so we all need to work hard to ensure it doesn’t.”

Riemer also highlighted the importance of education, but added there are some situations in which the right actions should be obvious.

“When a car is stopped, it’s stopped because there’s a pedestrian getting into that intersection,” an impassioned Riemer told the crowd. “That person’s not just sitting there, it’s stopped for a reason and it’s probably because a pedestrian is coming into the road and you don’t want to kill that pedestrian, so stop. Stop driving.”
But the burden isn’t all on the public, Riemer said.

Riemer said many state-owned roads in Montgomery County were built decades ago and are designed to promote fast driving. But now, those roads sit in residential areas, posing an increased threat to nearby residents.

“There’s no question people want access to a safe pedestrian experience, but we’ve got a lot to do before we can, I think, really, genuinely say we’re acting in a manner that’s consistent with our mission to reduce and eliminate pedestrian and bicyclists injuries and deaths.”

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