Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Unsafe intersections marked for upgrades - Gazette

County launches six-year, $32 million project to improve pedestrian safety

by Amber Parcher | Staff Writer |

The county and State Highway Administration are working together to improve dangerous intersections in the county as a way to lower pedestrian-related collisions and fatalities.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), police officers and state highway officials met Tuesday at the intersection of Piney Branch Road and University Boulevard in the Long Branch area of Silver Spring to launch a pedestrian-safety initiative aimed at areas with a high number of incidents involving pedestrians, such as the Piney Branch/University intersection.

Over the next six years, the $32 million county-funded project will consider ideas such as pedestrian countdown signals for crosswalks, sidewalk improvements, increased lighting, pedestrian buffers and multilingual education about road safety. The funding will be used to study pedestrian-safety issues and construct safer intersections.

Since the beginning of the year, 12 pedestrians have been killed in Montgomery County, Leggett said, compared with 17 deaths last year.

"There are far too many in Montgomery County," Leggett said.

Jeffrey Wentz, the State Highway Administration assistant district engineer for traffic in Montgomery County, said engineers have already started studying the Piney Branch/University Boulevard intersection.

The project under design includes adding another right lane on Piney Branch Road leading to University Boulevard, removing the small islands at each corner of the intersection, and widening the corners of the intersection to make a shorter walking distance across each street.

Wentz said the project, which also will add accessible countdown signals at each corner, will start construction as soon as the SHA can obtain funding for it. He said he couldn't cite a start date or specific costs at this time.

Leggett's report on pedestrian safety said auditing and improving each problem intersection will cost about $300,000. The report also indicates education and outreach about pedestrian safety and conducting safety evaluations will cost a combined $200,000 a year over six years.

Herminia Servat, a resident of Flower Branch apartments on Piney Branch Road, said she would like to see pedestrian and traffic safety signs in Spanish at the intersection.

"Many people speak Spanish," she said in Spanish. "We don't know when to stop, when to wait."

Servat said she is pleased to see the county and state are finally taking action to make the area safer, especially with a high number of incidents at the intersection over the past two years.

"Sometimes we don't know ... when we leave for work in the morning … if we're going to return in the afternoon," she said of the dangers of the intersection behind her.

The high number of collisions at the Piney Branch Road/University Boulevard intersection is exactly why state and county officials launched their pedestrian safety initiative in Long Branch, said Sgt. Tom Harmon with the county traffic safety patrol.

Harmon said there have been 22 accidents near the intersection since 2005.

Harmon and Capt. Donald Johnson, commander the county police department's Third District station, said the area has the most collisions — both car and pedestrian — in the county because of the high volume of cars and people. Harmon said his safety patrol troops are going to increase their monitoring of the area over the next month as part of a plan to target high-traffic areas.

"People are going to know the cops are gonna be there," he said.

Johnson said police issued almost 4,000 citations for traffic violations at the intersection last year. He said pedestrian safety is a priority for police, who will work with Takoma Park police and citizens to make the area safer.

Leggett will hold four more events at dangerous intersections over the next two weeks to target pedestrian safety. The county's pedestrian initiative plan can be found at

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