March-April 2020

Cross at your own risk

With the number of collisions between pedestrians and motor vehicles on the rise, can Montgomery County make streets safer for everyone?

Photo by Michael Ventura

Jennifer DiMauro loved to compete, whether it was against her husband in their version of the TV cooking show Chopped or in a step-counting challenge with colleagues at Washington DC VA Medical Center, where she was a postdoctoral fellow.

Last summer, the petite 31-year-old had amped up her regular walking routine on the Bethesda Trolley Trail near her North Bethesda home in order to log more steps for the competition at work. On the morning of July 20, DiMauro was in a crosswalk on Tuckerman Lane at Kings Riding Way and had just walked past a car that had stopped for her when she was struck by a 2015 Chevrolet Spark. Before the collision, DiMauro, who was passionate about helping sexual assault survivors and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, had been planning to move to Boston with her husband for her dream job at a Veterans Affairs Hospital. She never regained consciousness and died three days later. The driver later pled guilty to passing a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian in a crosswalk; two other charges, including negligent driving and failure to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, were pending at the time of publication.

After DiMauro’s death, local residents and Montgomery County Councilmember Andrew Friedson, who represents Bethesda/Chevy Chase-based District 1, stepped up pressure on county transportation officials to improve traffic safety at the popular crossing for pedestrians and cyclists. Five months later, the county’s transportation department installed a pedestrian-activated crosswalk beacon at the intersection, replacing a flashing yellow signal. The high-intensity activated crosswalk, or HAWK, beacon is more effective than the flashing signal, traffic advocates say, because it is similar to a traffic light, blinking yellow when a pedestrian pushes a button, then changing to solid yellow and finally to red, resulting in drivers coming to a complete stop before a “walk” signal flashes.

The beacon, one of several in the county, was installed above an existing street sign that warns drivers to stop for pedestrians at the busy intersection. On the sign pole hangs a white plaque with DiMauro’s name printed in black marker along with a pair of white “ghost” shoes, a roadside memorial placed there by the Action Committee for Transit (ACT), a local advocacy organization, to raise public awareness about the dangerous intersection.

“She was kind of in the prime of her life, just got her dream job,” says Johanna Folk, a close friend. “There was so much promise there for what she was going to continue contributing to the world, and that was just taken away.”