Traffic signal added to dangerous stretch of Georgia Avenue

Traffic signal added to dangerous stretch of Georgia Avenue

Safety advocates applaud new feature, call for more improvements

| Published:
Traffic signal

The Maryland State Highway Administration installed a new traffic signal and pedestrian crossing at May Street and Rippling Brook Drive where they intersect with Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

Photo courtesy of the Maryland State Highway Administration

Traffic advocates are applauding a new traffic signal on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, even as they call for a more systematic approach to pedestrian safety.

The stoplight was installed at May Street and Rippling Brook Drive where they intersect with Georgia Avenue. It became fully operational on Thursday after a mandatory three-day flash mode to familiarize drivers with the system, said Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

The stoplight, installed with a crosswalk and pedestrian signals, bisects a roughly mile-long stretch of Georgia Avenue between Hathaway Drive and Hewitt Avenue where there were previously no safe crossings, said Kristy Daphnis, the chair of the county’s Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee.

County data show there were more than a dozen crashes involving pedestrians along the stretch of road in 2019. Daphnis said there have also been at least three fatalities since 2009, including a crash that killed her day care provider in 2011.

“That really led me to think, ‘Hey, there needs to be a solution at this intersection,’” Daphnis said.

She said she urged the State Highway Administration — which oversees Georgia Avenue — to install a traffic signal and crosswalk in the area since the third pedestrian fatality in 2016, when a 64-year-old man was struck and killed by a Toyota Camry while crossing the street.

Police said the victim was not in a marked crosswalk when he was hit. But Daphnis said that’s because there were no crosswalks on that section of Georgia Avenue, despite several bus stops along the road.

The Montgomery County Planning Department recently completed a Vision Zero study that calls for several improvements between Georgia and Connecticut avenues — an area with “higher rates of severe and fatal crashes” than other parts of the county, according to planners.

The county’s Vision Zero plan calls for a drastic reduction or even elimination of traffic-related injuries and deaths by 2030. Georgia Avenue, like many other arterial roads, was originally designed to accommodate vehicular traffic, with little thought to mass transit, pedestrian or cycling access, according to the study.

That’s become an issue as surrounding areas, including Silver Spring and Aspen Hill, have increasingly urbanized. The Vision Zero plan recommends several fixes to improve safety, including lengthening pedestrian signals, installing speed cameras, and adding median islands at several intersections along Georgia Avenue.

“The problem is that Georgia Avenue is dangerous for everyone, whether you’re walking or taking the bus or in a car,” said Miriam Schoenbaum, a board member for the advocacy group Action Committee for Transit. “There are car crashes on Georgia constantly. And a lot of it is because these roads have been designed and operated on the assumption that vehicle delays are the worst thing.”

While the SHA has frequently received criticism for a perceived focus on vehicle traffic, Gischlar said the agency is putting greater emphasis on access for all users along state-operated roads.

Last spring, administrators reduced speed limits along Georgia Avenue based on concerns over pedestrian safety. Limits were reduced from 35 to 25 mph from Veirs Mill Road to Arcola Avenue in Wheaton, and from 45 to 25 mph between Glenallan Avenue and Connecticut Avenue in Silver Spring.

The agency installed another traffic signal and crosswalk at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Heathfield Road, the site of a Metrobus stop and the entrance to an apartment complex. Before, pedestrians were legally allowed to cross the road at the stop, but there were no marked crossings for them to use, according to the study.

At a meeting in November with SHA administrators, the Montgomery County Council also applauded the agency’s new embrace of “context-driven access,” a principle that calls for designing and updating state roadways based on location and usage. 

In practice, it means the agency regards roadways in urban and suburban areas differently than it does rural routes, Gischlar said. As a result, improvements are more tailored to pedestrian safety, including speed limit reductions and protected intersections.

“It’s a really big acknowledgement, and it’s something we haven’t had before,” Schoenbaum said. She and Daphnis said advocates are still urging both the state and the county to invest more funding to systematic improvements and making changes comprehensively instead of piece by piece.

“We’d really like them to put some serious money into making non-motorists safer,” Schoenbaum said. “Not just a traffic signal here or a crosswalk there. At that rate, it will take the next thousand years to see real improvements.”

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