Thursday, August 9, 2007

the lindes: downtown's crosswalk crusaders (updated)

Pictured: Michael and Wendy Linde of Georgian Towers cross a street near their apartment building. Check out this slideshow of the most dangerous intersections Downtown.

I'm crossing Georgia Avenue at Spring Street in Downtown Silver Spring. With me are Michael and Wendy Linde, a couple for whom pedestrian safety has become something of a crusade.

Neither of them can drive. Michael has epilepsy and has to wear a bicycle helmet in case of a seizure - and he had one once, right in the middle of Georgia Avenue. Wendy has anxiety and sometimes uses an electric scooter to get around. But even a disability isn't enough to get motorists to pay attention.

Wendy heads first into the intersection, her husband guiding the scooter along. A man in a white sedan peels out of Spring Street, stopping merely seconds before knocking Wendy's scooter.

"Sir, you need to watch where you're going!" she yells at the driver.

"Ma'am, I'm sorry," the man grumbles before speeding away.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The intersection of Georgia and Spring from above. While not one of Downtown Silver Spring's biggest, it's one of the area's most dangerous to cross.

It's like this every day for the Lindes. Ask Michael or Wendy to give you a list of the dangerous intersections in Silver Spring and they'll rattle them off: Colesville and Georgia. Colesville and Second. Cameron and Fenton. ("A truck almost hit us," Wendy says). Georgia and Spring.

At Georgia and Spring, "Michael had to wave and the driver rolled his window down and said 'be nice!' when he was the one about to hit us," says Wendy. "I said 'if you won't be nice, then we won't be nice.'"

And that's the issue: driver behavior. WalkScore, a site that promotes walkable neighborhoods, gives Silver Spring a rating of 97 out 100 points, meaning there's a lot to walk to. But with several state and national highways converging in Downtown Silver Spring, wide intersections are designed to get cars through as quickly as possible. Cars turn without watching pedestrians, who decide to cross before the light changes, putting them in the path of moving cars.

"Every time I cross the street, a car either turns ahead of us or behind us," laments Michael. "It's getting worse."

While the Department of Public Works and Transportation has a special department for traffic calming (such as the "scarifying" tactic in Calverton we reported on) - and the County Council recently approved a new "road code" that favors pedestrians over cars in road design - the Lindes feel it won't change the way drivers, well, drive.

"[The Road Code] doesn't solve the real problem," says Michael. "They need to reinforce the laws they already have."

Last winter, the Lindes were the subject of a Channel 9 report on pedestrian safety. Cameras followed Michael and Wendy around the intersection of Georgia and Spring, dodging cars and even getting into arguments with drivers who just didn't seem to care. But eight months after the publicity, they haven't seen many changes on the crosswalk.

Getting hold of a politician "is hell," according to Wendy. Calls to state delegate Sheila Hixson were left unanswered; delegate Tom Hucker replied back to them, but only after several tries. They've left messages with County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, who represents Downtown, but they were to no avail.

Even County Executive Ike Leggett's blown them off. At his Town Hall Meeting last month, Michael stood up and asked why the County hasn't responded to his concerns about pedestrian safety., but Leggett didn't say anything in return.

"I was not about to bully him because he did not answer my question," says Michael.

Of course, the Lindes also called the County police, but they didn't bite. "They say 'if we didn't see it, we can't do anything about it.'," says Michael.

"We asked, 'you'd wait for someone to die to do something?'" Wendy adds.

"They said 'yes, we will.'"

"So you'd be an accessory to murder?"

If you're having trouble crossing the street, you might want to report it to the Department of Public Works and Transportation. It's also worth checking out the County's plan for "making walking safer."


rd said...

Although it's expensive (& therefore will never get done), the only way to make walking safer is to put fences and pedestrian bridges, or better yet, like on 16th street near Dupont Circle, reroute the faster road underground with a little bridge on top...

Anonymous said...

As more people move into DTSS and populate the streets, hopefully it will make drivers more aware.

Sligo said...

How about ticketing jaywalkers.

WashingtonGardener said...

GO Lindes! You are indeed local heroes - keep up the driver education and good work.

MammaMia said...

Fences or pedestrian bridges aren't the only way -- stoplights can be set to turn red in all directions, for all cars, allowing pedestrians freedom to cross safely from any corner to any other corner. This relies on pedestrians waiting for their turn and drivers not making illegal right turns, though... not exactly givens. More enforcement would be nice.

Crossing Georgia at Sligo is also a joke. I've been screamed at by drivers speeding right off of Sligo ontp Georgia, as I cross in the crosswalk with the green walk signal, pushing a freakin baby stroller. Have a nice day to you too, sir...

The intersection of East West/Blair Mill/Newell in South Silver Spring is also terrible for pedestrians, but that's not so much drivers' faults -- it's because of THREE different construction projects taking over the public right of way.

Jimmy said...

"Fences or pedestrian bridges aren't the only way -- stoplights can be set to turn red in all directions, for all cars, allowing pedestrians freedom to cross safely from any corner to any other corner."

I've seen this done in New England. It seems to work nicely. It's very strange at first walking diagonally through an intersection.

Sligo said...

Those are very common in big Japanese cities. See pic here.

rtsind said...

The corner of Colesville and I believe Spring St, use to have diagonal crossing.

We had civil drivers at the time, and the walk signs were coordinated to allow for diagonal crossing.

The problem is not all driver related, you have a lot of pedestrians who are assholes, who insist on rosing whenever they feel like it, so between the asshole drivers, and the asshole pedestrians youhave your problems.

If drivers and pedestrians were a little more patient and used a bit of common sense and paid more attention to the world around them things would progree at a smoother rate.

The other day at the intersectiion of 2nd St and Spring St. a young man had on earphones and was walking across down Spring and crossing 2nd. He was so caught up in his own little world, that he did not see my car and walked right into my car.

I wasn't even in the crosswalk.

perhaps we should ban the use of cell phones. ipods and anything else that distracts drivers and pedestrian from their surrounding space.

Anonymous said...

I live right beside the intersection of Spring St. and Georgia ave. and the biggest pedestrian safety issue here isn't at the crosswalks, it's the pedestrians that don't use them. All day long I see people crossing on red or running across the street in the middle of the block.

Some of them don't look first or even hurry, they walk at a leisurely pace through busy traffic and give angry looks or gestures to the cars that have the right-of-way.

It's also interesting to observe that 9 out of 10 times, I see the Caucasian pedestrians waiting patiently at the crosswalks for the light to turn, and no shortage of African American pedestrians jaywalking or crossing on red. Maybe if everyone would just obey the rules that are there for their own protection, we could also eliminate one more racial stereotype.