Thursday, September 25, 2008

road code changes ditch trees, embrace irony

Trees and speed cameras mingle in the median of Randolph Road in Wheaton.

Three weeks after his "Pedestrian Safety Week" and literally stumbling upon the scene of an accident where a woman was killed crossing Fairland Road a few weeks ago, County Executive Ike Leggett's commitment to pedestrian safety is starting to look suspect. The Planning Board recently slammed (scroll down for links!) his proposed changes to the new Road Code, championed by councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Valerie Ervin as a way to make county roads more pedestrian-and bike-friendly.

Among his recommendations, which came from a twenty-four member task force composed of county drivers and pedestrians: removing trees from roadway medians and along sidewalks and widening lanes to encourage motorists to drive faster. Drivers will be pleased, but at the expense walkers and bikers will just have more of the same difficulty getting around.

It's ironic because narrow lanes and street trees can be found on many of the roads where speed cameras were installed last year, particularly Randolph Road in Wheaton. These are just two of the many tools road designers use to force drivers to slow down - and, just as importantly, to make these roads more attractive for pedestrians and bicyclists.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson sarcastically says that "Park and Planning thinks if every road was 20 mph or 25 mph that'd be great and every road should be tree-lined," and he's sort of right, whether or not he meant it. Discouraging auto use might cost Anderson a job, but he told us last fall he's a big supporter of the Purple Line, so he could definitely work for the MTA.

ALSO: Construction on the Sarbanes Transit Center in Downtown Silver Spring starts this weekend, moving the stops for all of your favorite bus routes; The eighteenth-annual Burtonsville Days (not enough civic pride for just one day!) comes this weekend, with a parade down Old Columbia Pike Saturday morning, followed by the first-ever Burtonsville Fashion Show.


lon anderson AAA Mid-Atlantic said...

Thanks for the coverage, but you missed a terrible irony here about our concerns at AAA. In the road design debates, we are all for trees, but want them set back adequately to ensure they don't limit motorists' and pedestrians' site distances, and obscure things like traffic signals, stop signs, and pedestrians and children preparing to enter the roadway. Additionally, trees set too close to roads can kill motorists who run off the roads. Here's the irony: on the day of the Planning Board hearings in which one member sarcastically refered to "Killer Trees", a Washington Post front page story told of two elderly residents of Leisure World who died when their car hit a tree on Norbeck Road. There are ways to include trees in road scapes that don't kill us. Please know that AAA has long played a role as a leader in the fight for pedestrian safety, and sponors over 36,000 children as AAA School Safety Patrols in the DC area, and I served on Doug Duncan's Pedestrian Safety Task Force a couple of years ago. We must design our roads in ways that encourage pedestrians, bikers and all users, but in the safest possible ways, and that's what I worked for in my efforts on the Road Design Study Commission. We don't want to lose one more pedestrian life, but we also don't want any more fatal crashes into trees! Thanks for your coverage! Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic

Thomas Hardman said...

It's funny how times change and attitudes and expectations change as well.

Watching a recent PBS retrospective on the history of Warner Brothers, a short clip had Bette Davis's character challenging her romantic partner with the statement "up around the corner we'll be coming to a tree in the middle of the road". And sure enough, right in the middle of the road in something a lot like the County's new darling of design, the Roundabout, was a tree. It was a large tree, a sturdy tree, well and appropriately marked, and Bette Davis drove right into it as fast as she could.

So much for safety measures inherent in design.

All along Parkland Drive and assorted other streets in Aspen Hill, are trees which were planted about 40 years ago in the then-brand-new neighborhood. I'm quiet aware of the timeframe because I'm the kid who walked the length of Parkland Drive about ten time, collecting signatures on petitions.

I freely admit that this was done for purely selfish reasons for me and my family, and for those like us. Our ancestry is Black Forest German, and we are pale and prefer to march in the shade, and will petition in the hot summer sun to get our shade in which to walk.

In the 40 years since those trees were planted, I can't remember one person getting killed by the trees. By telephone poles, certainly; by people running stop-signs, yes, I've seen those dead in by very own front yard, many times. But those people certainly didn't die because the trees obstructed the signage; we're diligent citizens and like to clear the vegetation to provide sightlines. We have to look at less dead people that way, and can't therefor feel the guilt that would be proper for an omission of action contributory to human death.

Yet the County has some rather strange policies regarding the trees on the medians and "no man's land" right of way strips between the curbs and sidewalks.

It is evidently illegal for private citizens to trim these trees to remove obstructions of sightlines and menaces of good order and public safety.

And so I must freely confess my crimes against the taxpayer!

At certain dangerous intersections, where one sees drivers taking clear and clearly-unnecessary risks poking out into traffic to see around unmaintained County vegetation, at night I sneak out, dressed in black, armed with garden tools, and live my secret other life as Stealth Ninja Landscaper.

Hey, we can't all be the Batman, dontcha know. But it's still a public-safety gig.

But now the County, in its wisdom, has decided that the only way to deal with hazards posed by trees that it both refuses to maintain and prohibits others to maintain, is to rip out the trees which exist and to refuse to plant others.

Thinking back to those days when I got sunburnt to peeling and beyond, just so that years hence I could walk to the Library without getting another sunburn, I have to wonder whether or not this is even more anti-Germanic sentiment. Rip out the trees, that'll teach 'em. Call it public safety, even though if there is a hazard the hazard exists because we the County government have prohibited public maintenance of a public amenity.

And as to the purported deadliness of median trees... if a car comes across the median out of heavy traffic into heavy traffic, don't you think it's better that less people die fetching up against a tree than would die in a head-on collision that would almost certainly launch other vehicles across the median into oncoming traffic?

Seriously, people need to take the time to think things through.