Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pedestrian Safety Efforts Move Along in Montgomery - Washington Post

Sunday, September 14, 2008; C02

Montgomery County this month highlighted initiatives that are part of its long- term program to improve pedestrian safety. On the way to one of those announcements, County Executive Isiah Leggett said, he witnessed the aftermath of the county's latest pedestrian injury. So far this year, 13 pedestrians have been killed in Montgomery. Last year, 17 died.

In December 2007, Leggett launched the pedestrian safety initiative and pledged that Montgomery would become a "truly walkable community."

· Theory: The program, which involves $4.8 million in new spending annually, takes seven approaches to achieving that goal. The county will identify "high incidence areas" (zones with the most frequent pedestrian collisions) and give them special attention; assess the county's network of sidewalks and crossings and improve it; generally increase attention to pedestrians and bicyclists in the county's planning process; identify sites that need intersection modifications and traffic calming programs; upgrade pedestrian signals; enhance street lighting; and use both education and enforcement to improve the behavior of pedestrians and drivers.

· Practice: The set of announcements this month advances some of the engineering, education and enforcement strategies.

Besides spotlighting programs on Arcola Avenue and Piney Branch Road, Leggett announced that starting in July, he would fully fund the pedestrian safety initiative with revenue from the county's speed camera enforcement program.

The county also launched an education effort aimed at reducing pedestrian injuries and deaths among immigrants who don't speak English well, one of the groups at highest risk of injury. A safety video called "Walk Safe" will be distributed to English-as-a-second-language teachers at Montgomery College and in public schools as well as to nonprofit groups, churches and employers that provide English language instruction.

· Measures of Success: These are a few things the county says people should see. Once the improvements are made at high-incidence areas, pedestrian collisions should decline by 20 percent and average speeds should decline. There should be at least 10.5 miles of new sidewalks each year. The timing of pedestrian signals should be reviewed and updated at a rate of 250 a year. (Timing is being adjusted to accommodate slower walking speeds.)

Piney Branch Road

· Location: A section of the road between Flower Avenue and the Montgomery-Prince George's line. It's a congested portion of Silver Spring that includes the crowded intersection with University Boulevard.

· Problem: With 22 pedestrian collisions from 2005 through 2007, this area had the highest concentration of such incidents in Montgomery. Piney Branch and University are busy commuter routes. Drivers move fast, and there's lots of turning traffic. There's also plenty of jaywalking.

· Plan: The county designated this section a high-incidence area for pedestrian accidents and will concentrate resources there. Using a strategy similar to what the District is doing with its high-priority safety corridors, the county government will apply engineering, education and enforcement to improve safety. The state government will help, particularly at the University-Piney Branch intersection.

The county and the state will select a team of experts to develop safety measures appropriate for Piney Branch, while county police target both motorists and pedestrians who behave unsafely.

The engineering improvements could include new countdown signals, sidewalk improvements, better lighting, new signs and pavement markings, bump-outs (concrete bulges from the curb) and refuge islands. Some of that would look similar to what the county did on upper Connecticut Avenue and on Arcola Avenue.

Arcola Avenue

· Location: A section of the avenue between Kemp Mill Road and Hoyt Street in the Kemp Mill neighborhood in eastern Montgomery. Schools and religious institutions are nearby in this largely residential community.

· Problem: The avenue has long been a shortcut for drivers trying to avoid the congested intersection of University Boulevard and Georgia Avenue. Traffic is very heavy during peak periods, and most drivers were speeding when they could. The county recorded 101 crashes from 2001 to 2005. In 2006, a 14-year-old boy was killed crossing the road.

· Plan: The county has rebuilt that portion of the avenue, putting it on what engineers call a "road diet." Arcola was narrowed from four lanes to two. Concrete pedestrian refuge islands were installed in the middle of the roadway to slow traffic and reduce crossing distance for pedestrians.

Bump-outs were installed to give pedestrians a shorter crossing distance. Some bus stops were moved to safer positions. Many highly visible signs warn drivers to stop for pedestrians. The county will monitor the effect on safety, speed and congestion. Upper Connecticut Avenue received a similar treatment last year, and other streets could be targeted.

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