Tuesday, September 9, 2008

pedestrian safety isn't just about the roads

A family attempts to cross Route 29 at Stewart Lane in White Oak.

Despite all of the new initiatives County Executive Ike Leggett's announced throughout his Pedestrian Safety Week, which has just drawn to a close, the biggest news has gone to just how bad pedestrians have it in Montgomery County.

Our walkers may inspire no sympathy - local news stations broadcast footage of a man jaywalking across University Boulevard directly behind a press conference on pedestrian safety in Long Branch last week - but they remain endangered by the poor decisions of local drivers. Today, after announcing that speed camera revenues would be fully used to pay for pedestrian safety improvements, Leggett happened upon the scene of an accident early this morning in which a pedestrian was killed crossing Fairland Road at East Randolph Road.

Leggett's seven-pronged "Pedestrian Safety Initiative" is nothing short of ambitious; and it promises to make some improvements for those traveling on foot. But the solutions we're employing thus far are oriented more to those behind the wheel of a car. Speed cameras and concrete bump-outs might get drivers to hit the brakes, but their behavior won't change until they understand they're not the only ones on the road. Just look at these letters to the Post's Dr. Gridlock about the bump-outs installed along Arcola Avenue and Connecticut Avenue. Drivers don't see what the fuss about pedestrians is - chances are, they haven't seen enough to think there's any problem in either of these places.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

We have to make walking a safe, easy and attractive form of transportation in Montgomery County, not just a last resort for people who can't afford to do otherwise. University Boulevard, Fairland Road, Arcola Avenue - all of these roads are designed for cars, not pedestrians; they're pass through suburban neighborhoods where houses turn their backs to the street and stores sit behind vast parking lots. They're not places where people on foot should feel safe or even remotely comfortable.

The more people there are out in the street, the less drivers feel entitled to it. No amount of traffic calming can make that happen by itself. It's also an issue of planning - how we design and build our communities, how buildings are sited to the street, how close amenities like schools and shopping are to the neighborhoods we live in. If there are more places to walk to, more people will walk to them, creating a presence on our local roads that cannot be ignored by motorists.

Pedestrian Safety Week may start in the road, but it's not going to end there. We have to make places worth walking to before we start to see any change in behavior.


Thomas Hardman said...

They just did a "bump out" and "safety islands" revision to Aspen Hill Road.

Someone -- not me -- went out and spraypainted "dangerous, remove now" on one of the bump-outs.

My own personal pet peeve about the bump-outs has to do with the fact that there are two distinct approaches to standing at a corner waiting to cross.

I was always taught to stand at least 3 feet from the curb unless I was walking to cross it out into the street. Most of us old-school types do that.

There are also the folks who just walk right up and stand on the edge of the curb. These people are highly related to the idiots that sit on the curb at bus-stops with their feet out in the right-turn lane.

Here in Aspen Hill, we've had a fair number of pedestrian fatalities in the last decade, though in recent years we have had less due to fairly aggressive pedestrian-education programs in school and elsewhere, specifically targeting the spanish-speaking community who were the primary population getting killed from just walking into the street, generally going to and from the Aspen Manor shopping center on Georgia Avenue.

Apparently the pedestrian-education people didn't educate these folks about the bump-outs.

The corner bump-outs are mostly there to provide extra buffer space between turning traffic and the sort of people who stand right there at curb-edge.

Now, the same idiots who used to sit curbside at the bus-stop with their feet out in traffic have taken to standing around in groups on the bump-outs, bringing them even closer to the travel lanes.

I can't say that I disagree with the person who spraypainted "dangerous, remove now" on that one bump-out -- it's definitely not improving safety for bicyclists! -- but I disagree with the particular message.

All of those bump-outs need to have a nice bilingual sign that says "it is dangerous to you and disturbing to drivers for you to stand here".

Whenever I see these people standing out there, it looks to me like drunks milling around in the crosswalk, and it makes my brain itch in the same way I get when I see people run 4-way stop-sights, and for about the same reason: it's a thoughtless and stupid offense against public safety.

retgroclk said...

The accident that occured this morning appears to leave some unanswered questions.

At 3:30Am there is very little traffic on 29 or Fairland.

For someone to be hit by a car at that time inthe morning makes me wonder- where were they going at that time of the morning, and with hardly any traffic on the road at this time of the morning-- how could one not be aware of its precence.
There is more to this story than the police are saying.

retgroclk said...

Without wanting to sound like a racist-- it appears to me that the majority of the accidents are minorities, hitting minorities. I have had family members involved in hit and run car accidents-- the runners were illegal immigrants, driving cars with the wrong tags,and one had no drivers license.

The pedestrians are usually immigrants, who seem to think they walk into the middle of on-coming traffic and they expect cars to stop on a dime.

I see a lot of this in the Langley Park area--New Hampshire Ave. and University Blvd.

Thomas Hardman said...

It's not racism. It's an observation on cultural characteristics.

There's a story that might or might not be true, but it sounds true enough.

Evidently there's some little island out in the Chesapeake where they don't have traffic (no bridges, no cars, ferries are pedestrian-only), and apparently one of the residents won a trip to New York City. Evidently they took the limo to the hotel, got up bright and early the next morning, walked right out into rush-hour traffic and died right there.

That's not racist -- that's ignorance of the fact that you have to look both ways and keep in mind that the cars are much bigger and can't always stop in time, and in many cases aren't really required to stop for people who just walk out in front of them.

I once had a GF who was a bit unobservant about one-way streets. We took a road trip up to Fells Point in Bmore one night and she'd had a few, walked up to the curb, looked to the right and saw no traffic coming, and started to cross the street. I grabbed her by the collar and none-too-gently yanked her back onto the curb, just before the truck running 40 in the curb lane would have squished her. All traffic lanes were coming from her left. I personally was raised with a rather comprehensive set of "don't do this or you could die and nobody will get blamed but you" safety rules. Among these, look left, look right, look left again before crossing a street.

I'd try telling some of the folks I see doing stupid stuff to not do stupid stuff, but all I ever get from most of them of is "por que no peudas hablar en espa~ol come todos los otros". Sorry, but my Spanish is pretty limited to phrases like "por mi es ahora no trabajo para yo no hablo espa~ol" or "que idiota, es pelligro" so I guess it's on the fine folks of CASA de Maryland to inform these people that it's not machismo, but rather boneheadedness, to think that you can frighten a car into stopping for you when the driver can't see you because you are staggering drunk in their blind-spot.

And in conclusion, "ha tiene un accidente des chemicos horriffico, pro favor me laves immediatamente con much agua fresca, mi camiso es de pelo".

Unknown said...

You have fair points about driver/pedestrian education. However, I think it needs to be noted that pedestrian fatality thing is not so much an ethnicity thing as an economic class thing.

It also needs to be noted that when you build for cars and traffic you get cars and traffic. Everything else, literally, gets run over. That is what's happening. Suburbia has long since showed its ugly downsides. Pedestrian danger is just one of them. Another is extremely high levels of car crashes. How long will we keep building it? I don't know. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills when I point out the obvious reasons why suburbia is/has been ruining our nation and I just get the response, "It's just the free market." We all know about the subsidies, zoning, etc. Anyway I'm off topic now.

Thomas Hardman said...


Suburbia has its own limits, no disagreement there. Yet if you look at the statistics, small towns are much more dangerous in almost every way, especially in terms of the rate of violent crime. Cities aren't much better. Suburbs suffer from car-addiction, especially where zoning is extreme. However, for anyone who wants to see what happens when there's no zoning, all I can do is send them to Houston, in particular, the parts of western Houston just across the line from the engulfed little city of Bellaire, TX, which did have zoning. At that boundary between order and chaos, strange attractors popped up all over the place, islands of weirdness, to overwork a physics metaphor.

Of course, a good comeback to that would to be to tell me that almost the whole megalopolis of Houston is one giant suburb masquerading as a city.

But can someone tell me if we'd have any of these problems if we had a much smaller population?

retgroclk said...

Apparently, the police are rethinking that hit and run accident on Fairland Road that occured as 3:30AM the other day.

It appears that her injuries may have beencaused by something or someone else.

Thomas Hardman said...

Police have identified the victim as Alexandra Antzoulatos, 22, of Aspen Hill.

According to the Post "[p]olice said Antzoulatos was with friends at bars and restaurants in Silver Spring until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Police asked that anyone who saw or spoke to her between 10 p.m. Monday and 3:30 a.m. Tuesday call detectives at 301-840-2435."

Best wishes for a speedy recovery.