Pedestrian death triggers unease
June 10, 2004
Corina E. Rivera
Staff Writer

A number of groups are calling for improved pedestrian safety in the Langley Park area ­ home to many Latino residents ­ following the recent death of a 7-year-old girl.

The Pedestrian Safety Committee, a bi-county group that has representatives from Prince George's and Montgomery counties and Takoma Park, has recommended reduction of the speed limit in the area.

Committee Chairman Erwin Mack said the group has been meeting since early in 2003 to help find solutions.

"The purpose of the group was to challenge the counties and the State Highway Administration to do something unique for pedestrian safety," Mack said.

The committee has recommended that the state increase the number of left turn signals at the intersection. It also recommended channeling ­ a term used to describe the erection of wrought iron barriers on the median to prevent pedestrians from crossing the street at unsafe parts of the road. Several median strips are built along University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, and pedestrians dart unto them when trying to cross the busy roadways.

"[Our recommendations are] being discussed and studied now," Mack said, adding that implementation of the recommendations is slated for 2006.

A car struck Yesenia Vasquez of Silver Spring on May 29 as she stood on a median on University Boulevard. The driver, Timoteo Morales, 32, of Hyattsville, is being held on a felony hit and run charge.

"We do expect to elevate the charges," Ramon Korionoff, communications director for the State's Attorney's Office said on Friday.

This year, there has been one pedestrian death and six motor vehicle accidents within the University Boulevard, New Hampshire Avenue, Metzerott and Riggs roads area, said Lt. Steve Yuen, spokesman for the Prince George's County Police Department.

Secretary of Transportation Robert Flanagan set aside $1 million in July to study improving safety in the New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard intersection. The study is scheduled for completion in fall 2005, said Lora Rakowski, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Suggestions include modifying islands, widening crosswalks, reducing lane widths and adding a left-turn lane from northbound New Hampshire Avenue to westbound University Boulevard, she said.

Fluorescent pedestrian signs are now at seven main intersections in the area, and lighting will be improved along University Boulevard at New Hampshire Avenue, she said. Other projects include resurfacing roadways, repairing sidewalks and re-striping crosswalks where needed, she said.

The state-funded C-Safe, Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement Initiative is also working to improve safety in the area. C-Safe has been holding educational events, said Director John Brill.

"The purpose of these events is to raise awareness among pedestrians who live around the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard, as well as raise awareness among the drivers," Brill said.

William Campos, Latino liaison in the Office of County Executive Jack Johnson, said many educational programs are under way.

"On May 5 we visited Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School and talked with students there about the importance of pedestrian safety. We definitely intend to repeat that in other area schools," he said.

Campos is also involved in a 30-minute Spanish-language weekly radio show on VIVA 900 AM that started last summer.

"There are about six crosswalk safety public service announcements that are aired during each show," he said.

Campos said it is important for immigrants to learn about highway and traffic rules and regulations.

"It's definitely something that needs to be addressed. ... We need to keep educating to save lives," Campos said.

A total of 103 pedestrians were killed in Prince George's County between 1997 and 2001, The Gazette reported in July.