Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Changes recommended for Crossroads pedestrian safety

New signals, crosswalks, bilingual signs included in improvements proposed by state Park and Planning

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Planners in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are working on recommendations to improve pedestrian safety at the Takoma-Langley Crossroads, a congested region with a history of pedestrian collisions.

The recommendations come from a study by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission released Aug. 13 on the intersection of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue (Routes 193 and 650) and its surrounding half-mile radius.

They include new traffic signals, shorter crosswalks and signs in both English and Spanish at the intersection.

The area is a hub for day laborers who gather by the dozens every morning, and for mobile food vendors who clog the streets near the adjacent apartment complexes.

Ten schools within two miles of the core of the study area and high-density residential areas on New Hampshire Avenue also contribute to pedestrian activity.

More than 90,000 vehicles a day drive through the intersection, the study said. And according to the State Highway Administration, there were 700 pedestrian and bicycle collisions involving motor vehicles in the area between 1993 and 2006.

While state funding for many recommendations has not yet been secured, several of the study’s proposals are already under way.

The Maryland Transit Authority is planning to develop a transit center at 7900 New Hampshire Ave. on the current site of a Taco Bell that will consolidate eight existing bus stops into one in an attempt to prevent increased pedestrian crossings.

‘‘Right now the bus stops are gathered all throughout those roads and people are running around to catch the different buses,” said Valerie Berton, media relations manager for the Montgomery County Planning Board. ‘‘The transit center will be more visible as a gathering spot and people won’t have to cross as much.”

The State Highway Administration also plans to construct 4-foot-tall fences on top of 2-foot-high concrete medians at various spots along the intersection in an effort to deter jaywalking. The fences are expected to be completed by the end of next year.

The study was funded by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and prepared by Hyattsville-based consultant Toole Design Group.

Erwin Mack, executive director of the Takoma-Langley Crossroads Development Authority, said he was pleased to see the county support such safety recommendations — many of which, he said, already have been proposed by his organization’s multi-jurisdictional pedestrian committee.

‘‘I’m glad we have their weight behind us now,” he said.

Mack said the transit center is particularly necessary to making the Crossroads a safer place.

‘‘People who have to catch a bus run jaywalking and put themselves in harm’s way,” he said.

The safety recommendations serve as a precursor to the M-NCPPC’s Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads Sector Plan, which Berton said would examine long-term land-use possibilities.

Planners from the agency will host a series of community meetings starting this fall to dialogue with the public about their ideas for the crossroads, Berton said.

‘‘They go out and learn what the community wants in the area,” she said. ‘‘It’s not something that’s just done at the planners’ desk.”

Mack said his organization would welcome such meetings as an opportunity to inform planners about the Crossroads.

One recommendation that may end up in the sector plan, Berton said, would be a change in zoning laws to allow mixed-land use in the area around the Crossroads.

‘‘When you mix residential with office and retail, people don’t have to go as far for services such as shopping and work,” she said. ‘‘It makes it a more inviting community for a lot of reasons.”

A stop on the Purple Line, a rapid-transit line under discussion between New Carrollton and Bethesda, is also tentatively planned.

Work on the sector plan will continue between now and 2009, Berton said.

For the time being, she said her agency will work to institute the safety recommendations made by the Aug. 13 study.

‘‘Because there have been accidents and fatalities, the first thing that is being addressed is safety,” she said.