This story was updated at 8 a.m. March 23.
Just as they did on every other school day morning, Matt Bowsher set out to cross River Road with his 9-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter and their dog, Nala, on their walk to Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda.
But Dec. 11, 2012, was different. This time, a car turning left from Willard Avenue struck them, hitting the boy in his leg and striking their Bernese mountain dog.
No one was seriously injured, but the boy suffered abrasions, bruising and a sprain, said his mother, Marina Bowsher.
“He was unable to walk immediately after getting hit; my husband had to carry him to the car,” Bowsher said. The boy then wore a cast, which was replaced after three days with an air brace.
Still he was lucky. Five pedestrians who were hit by cars this year in Montgomery County were not so fortunate and their injuries were fatal, said Rebecca Innocenti, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Police Department. There also was a bicyclist who was killed after being struck by a car. The number of pedestrian accidents that did not result in fatalities was not available from police, but according to a county news release, there are about 400 accidents in the county each year.
A recent rash of pedestrian accidents has garnered attention from county officials and residents. Like Matt Bowsher and his family, some of those hit were in crosswalks when struck by vehicles.
In the past 30 days, there have been nine victims in five separate accidents, none of them fatal.
To be sure not all pedestrians hit are in crosswalks, nor are all accidents the fault of drivers. The police department sent 76 special assignments to enforce pedestrian and driver compliance last year, according to Innocenti. During those operations, 1,100 pedestrians were issued citations for various offenses, such as not crossing in a crosswalk or starting to cross after the solid red hand has begun blinking, and those citations often come with fines. There were 38 vehicle citations during as well, Innocenti said.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) called the recent spate of accidents “terrible” and said the county was committed to keeping pedestrians safe. The county released a series of tips, both in print and in announcements on the county cable television channel, that urged both drivers and pedestrians to be more aware of their surroundings.
But for some residents that’s not enough.
Some of those who live near downtown Bethesda were shaken up when a mother pushing her stroller across Arlington Road was hit and the stroller dragged several feet in February. No one was seriously injured. The accident highlighted a problem with the design of the intersection, said Wendy Leibowitz who lives nearby and walks her daughter to and from Bethesda Elementary School across that intersection every day. The driver was not speeding, but simply did not see anyone in the crosswalk.
“We’d love to get a left turn signal there,” Leibowitz said, adding that locals feel a “general alarm about Arlington Road.”
As for the Bowshers, they also would like the county to take a closer look at the intersection on River Road where they cross almost every day. Marina Bowsher said she has been in touch with the office of Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda and was told a study would be conducted this spring.
After the accident, it took a while before her children wanted to walk to school again, Bowsher said.
“We’re not going to let this change our way of life,” Bowsher said. “We love to walk.”