By Derek Kravitz and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 3, 2008; B04
Officials announced a pedestrian safety campaign at a Montgomery County intersection yesterday as the very people they hoped to protect jaywalked in the background, apparently heedless of what was going on.
"We didn't orchestrate it, but it happened," said a spokesman for County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who announced the program at University Boulevard and Piney Branch Road.
On one hand the jaywalking "was distracting," said Patrick Lacefield, Leggett's spokesman. "On the other it was illustrative" of the county's pedestrian safety problem.
At the news conference, Leggett said a section of Piney Branch Road will become the first of a series of "High Incidence Areas," where officials will make vigorous efforts to reduce injuries and enhance safety.
Describing the area as "very diverse," with a large immigrant population, Lacefield said many people there are "just not obeying the rules of the road."
During the 40-minute news conference, witnesses told of seeing jaywalkers dart across the roadway, stepping in and out of crosswalks as they dodged traffic.
In recent years, the county has averaged about 14 pedestrian deaths and more than 400 injuries annually. Auto accidents involving pedestrians have been identified as a major traffic safety problem in Montgomery and throughout the Washington region.
Other jurisdictions have also begun programs to protect people trying to cross the area's busy streets and roads.
Authorities in Montgomery have devised a three-pronged strategy of engineering, enforcement and education, Lacefield said. Yesterday's events, he said, illustrated in particular the importance of enforcement and education.
Lacefield said the corner where the announcement was made was not selected because it was likely to provide a backdrop of pedestrians ignoring safe practices. He said it was chosen because of the number of pedestrians struck in the area.
One study found that University Boulevard, which runs through Montgomery and Prince George's counties, was the area's deadliest street for pedestrians. From 1995 to 2005, 29 pedestrian fatalities were recorded there, according to the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
"We're trying to go in and figure out everything we need to do," Lacefield said, including "lights, engineering, education . . . the whole nine yards."
Released in December, Leggett's Pedestrian Safety Initiative offers seven strategies for improving walkability and pedestrian safety.
The first strategy targets so-called high-incidence areas. The county and state are to begin the process this month by carrying out a pedestrian safety audit along Piney Branch between Flower Avenue and the county's eastern boundary. The audit is to be followed by engineering improvements.
Arthur Holmes Jr., the county's transportation director, called that stretch "the worst."
County Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), who represents the area, said she was not surprised to hear of the jaywalking yesterday.
"That's part of the problem," she said, "educating a lot of these folks about traffic laws."
Capt. Donald M. Johnson, who heads the local county police district, said he did not see the jaywalking. But he said, "I don't doubt it happened."
Lacefield said he was told that police officers "went over" to some of the jaywalkers "to talk to them about it."
More than 75 pedestrians are killed each year on the region's roads, and more than 1,000 are injured.