Montgomery County council addresses pedestrian safety one day after fatal accident -- Gazette.Net


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The Montgomery County Council addressed pedestrian safety Thursday afternoon one day after a high school student in Germantown was fatally injured while walking to school.

Christina Morris-Ward, 15, was struck by a car while crossing the northbound lanes of Germantown Road near Wisteria Drive apparently on her way to school, according to Montgomery County police. She was taken to a local hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries.

“It is a tragic reminder of the additional work necessary in that area,” said Council Chair Phil Andrews at a meeting of the county’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment/Public Safety Committee on Thursday.

Emil Wolanin, chief of the county Division of Traffic Engineering and Operation, presented traffic data at the meeting. In 2011, the county had its lowest reported number of pedestrian collisions and fatalities, 399, which reached a high of 453 in 2009. Data has been collected since 2005.

“Serious crashes ... are seeing a good decreasing or declining trend,” Wolanin said.

Those collisions involve at least one driver and at least one pedestrian. As for crashes where bikes are involved, Wolanin said, the number has increased.

“We realize we need to start positioning ourselves to try to reverse that trend,” he said.

It is not yet clear whether the increase in collisions is proportional to the number of bikes on the road, said Glenn Orlin, deputy staff director of the county council.

The county is addressing several pedestrian and driver issues as part of its “Safe Route to School” program. Among the program’s missions are the establishment of safe walking routes and the improvement of traffic flow through pickup and dropoff points on school grounds.

The county plans to evaluate foot and vehicle traffic in all Montgomery County public schools, Wolanin said.

In intersections on and off school grounds, transportation officials are making progress on an effort to re-time traffic signals, giving pedestrians more time to cross streets. The program has about five to six years to go before it is completed, he said.

In a few of the county’s “high-incidence areas,” accidents continue to occur, according to the report. Wolanin said there are different needs at each location. On Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda between Montgomery Avenue and Leland Avenue, county data from May 2012 state that most crashes involved turning vehicles, with drivers being at fault. On Georgia Avenue between Spring Street and Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring, the same report said that both drivers and pedestrians fail to obey traffic rules. Other high incidence areas include Piney Branch Road at Flower Avenue, Rockville Pike between Halpine Road and Hubbard Drive and the intersection of Colesville Road and University Boulevard.

Some high incidence areas have pedestrians crossing mid-block, Wolanin said.

“This is something we’ve been worrying about for a long time,” said Nancy Floreen, a member of the committee. “Pedestrians are going to go where they need to go.”

Floreen said the county regularly hears concerns from the community about pedestrian safety. She suggested moving bus stops closer to intersections that have crosswalks.

Al Roshdieh, director of the county Department of Transportation, said a few stops have been moved, but “mid-block crossing is a problem.”

It is difficult to craft a policy that works across the board, and moving bus stops is not always the right solution to every high-incidence area, Wolanin said.

“That’s the difficulty with saying, ‘Ye shall always do this,’” he said.

Councilman Phil Andrews noted that pedestrian accidents tend to increase later in the year, especially in early November.

“We are entering the most dangerous time for pedestrians as clocks get set back,” he said. “Particularly November, December are the times when we have the most pedestrian collisions.”

Since there is less daylight, Andrews said the council “needs to get the word out” that pedestrians and drivers should practice caution on the roads.

scarignan@gazette.net