Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lobbying efforts lead to pedestrian safety features

Part of Arcola Avenue to be narrowed; youth’s death in 2006 prompted review of road

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This story was corrected on July 14, 2008, from its print version.

Yaffa Klugerman says the death of her son two years ago opened her eyes to the dangers facing pedestrians in Silver Spring’s Kemp Mill neighborhood.

Dov Klugerman, 14, was hit by a car on Arcola Avenue as he walked home from school. In the aftermath of his death, residents lobbied for safety improvements to the busy county roadway.

Those changes, including narrowing a portion of Arcola to two lanes, are finally being implemented, and residents in the close-knit Kemp Mill community hope that future tragedies can be avoided.

‘‘This is obviously very painful that we have lost our son. It will affect us the rest of our lives,” said Klugerman, who lives on Arcola with her husband Hal and their five children. ‘‘But I’m happy to see [pedestrian safety] being addressed, not just for my children but for the rest of the children in the community.”

On July 1, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation began construction on Arcola Avenue between Hoyt Street and Kemp Mill Road to improve pedestrian safety and calm traffic.

Between Kemp Mill Road and University Boulevard, Arcola will be changed from a four-lane road to two lanes, one in each direction, with a two-way center turning lane. To decrease crossing distances for pedestrians, refuge islands will be constructed in the middle of Arcola at the crosswalks at Kersey Road, Hoyt Street and Kenbrook Drive. Concrete bump-outs will be added to the curbs and sidewalks at intersections to reduce crossing distances as well.

Dov Klugerman died June 8, 2006, just over a week after being hit by a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo while he was crossing the 1200 block of Arcola. He was walking home from his school, Yeshiva of Greater Washington Boys’ School at 1216 Arcola Ave., which is almost directly across the street from the Klugermans’ home.

‘‘We didn’t realize the degree to how dangerous it was,” said Yaffa Klugerman. ‘‘What happened to us was the last thing we could have expected.

‘‘Our son was a careful kid.”

Since Klugerman’s death, the county has held several meetings with the community to discuss traffic improvements. After a traffic study of Arcola in late 2006 that examined collision data, traffic flow and car speeds, Department of Public Works and Transportation officials first proposed reducing the lanes. Residents also wanted a traffic light at Kersey and Arcola.

A light was ruled out in early 2007 after a study indicated it would increase traffic delays without improving safety, but the other improvements were designed with residents’ input.

Kemp Mill resident Alec Stone, a former chair of the Mid-County Advisory Board, said some residents are concerned about back-ups on Arcola or drivers using the turn lane to pass, but most of the community is pleased that efforts are being made to improve safety.

‘‘I don’t know that everybody is thrilled with how it will work. There is some anxiety,” he said. ‘‘But overall, at synagogues and Kemp Mill meetings, this is a welcome enhancement to the community.”

The construction that began July 1 will take about a month, with traffic westbound on Arcola experiencing delays because of construction, said Jeff Dunckel, pedestrian safety coordinator for DOT. Dunckel said the changes are expected to lower the speeds of vehicles on Arcola, which connects Georgia Avenue and University Boulevard. The limit is 30 mph. Dunckel said traffic studies showed vehicles traveling around 45 mph.

‘‘Right now on Arcola, it’s almost like a horse race because people are trying to get by one another,” Dunckel said, adding that similar improvements made to Connecticut Avenue between Bel Pre and Grand Pre roads last year lowered speeds by an average of 10 mph.

With speeding vehicles and Kemp Mill’s high concentration of orthodox Jews — it is Jewish custom not to use the automobile on Sabbath (Saturdays) — Kemp Mill can be especially dangerous for pedestrians, said Bob Levi, president of the Young Israel Shomrai Emunah of Greater Washington, 1132 Arcola Ave.

‘‘[The improvements] are clearly a step in the right direction,” said Levi, a Kemp Mill resident since 1994. ‘‘Unfortunately, it took the death of a valued and loved member of the community to make it happen.”

Long-time Kemp Mill resident Barbara Price, who lives next to the Klugermans, said it was unfortunate that it took her neighbor’s death to be the catalyst for change.

‘‘[Demand for improvements] had been enacted here before, but I think there was probably more community activism, as well as the county getting more involved, once that tragedy occurred,” she said.