Each afternoon when Edward Rothblum of Clarksburg walks his daughter Alexandra, 5, home from Clarksburg Elementary School, he makes sure that he has a firm hold on her hand.
“My grip on her tightens when we cross that road,” he said. “It’s just scary.”
Rothblum, along with other parents and students who live in the Gateway Commons development in Clarksburg, use an unmarked and unofficial crosswalk at the intersection of Observation and Stringtown roads to take their children to and from school each day. Crossing the four-lane highway is the quickest way for students to get to school from the development, but because of the speed of drivers and the amount of traffic, parents have requested that the county improve safety at the crosswalk to protect students.
The speed limit on the road is 35 mph, but parents say many cars go over the posted limit.
About 15 elementary school students and their parents cross the road twice a day, Rothblum said. At times of heavy traffic, children and parents can get stuck on the median for up to three minutes, he said.
“We feel that the children should be more protected,” said Rothblum, who also is the president of the development’s homeowners’ association. “You really have to hold onto your kid for dear life. ... It’s an accident waiting to happen.”
While there have been no accidents reported, Rothblum said there have been a few close calls.
In October, Rothblum requested that the crosswalk, which includes a median and connects to a path leading to the elementary school, be marked. However, after evaluating the area, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation denied the request, saying that a marked crosswalk could reduce pedestrian safety and increase crashes.
In an email to Rothblum Oct. 22, Emil Wolanin, chief of DOT’s Division of Traffic Engineering and Operations, said that based on Federal Highway Administration guidelines, installing a crosswalk at the intersection may provide pedestrians a false sense of security and also train drivers not to slow down.
“... Installing marked crosswalks at locations with very low pedestrian volumes diminished their overall effectiveness,” the email said. “When motorists cross them rarely if ever seeing a pedestrian they are ‘trained’ to not expect someone to be using them.”
Esther Bowring, a county spokeswoman, said the county encourages residents to cross either where Stringtown Road intersects with Gateway Center Drive or Frederick Road. Each of the intersections is about 500 feet from the unmarked crosswalk and has a traffic signal.
“This is a very high-speed, busy, divided highway,” she said. “The county is sympathetic that residents want to walk across with their kids, and pedestrian safety is a priority of the county; that is why we don’t want to put a crosswalk there because it will make it more dangerous for pedestrians to cross.”
Montgomery County Public Schools provides busing for students living at Gateway Commons, but parents say that option is impractical when it takes less than five minutes for them to walk.
“[The bus] drives really far,” said Janice Allen, the mother of a 9-year-old enrolled at the school. “My [son] would have to take the bus 40 minutes before his schedule now. ... It makes no sense that they would ride south 10 miles down just to be brought back down [here].”
Clarksburg Elementary students living in the development are assigned bus route No. 2608, which arrives at the intersection of Frederick and Woodport roads at 8:37 a.m., according to the school system’s website. The route runs along Ivy Leaf Court, West Old Baltimore Drive and other roads before arriving at the school at 9:10 a.m. School begins at 9:15 a.m.
Todd Watkins, director of transportation for the school system, said that placing a crossing guard at the crosswalk is unlikely. Because the highway is divided, Watkins said, two crossing guards would have to be stationed on each side of the road, which would cost more than busing students to school.
“The safest way is to have [the students] bused to school,” he said.