A reader sent me an e-mail last weekend asking why I haven't written anything about the new sidewalks and stoplights on Fairland Road. I didn't write about it because I just don't feel it's worth the attention of even a press conference, which is what happened last week after the work was completed. There's no excuse why our county's major roads don't have good sidewalks, and no reason to celebrate building something that should have been there in the first place. But as long as the discussion over how to design our roads is led by drivers and people who advocate for drivers, accomodations for pedestrians will always take the backseat.
Living two blocks from Fairland Road, I know how dangerous it can be. Construction on Randolph Road and Briggs Chaney Road have made it a popular cut-through for motorists, and a lack of stoplights make it easy for one to go sixty miles an hour. (I know this because I have done so.) I took my life in my hands every time I had to run across Fairland Road to visit a friend or catch a bus.
In high school, one of my friends lost control of his car on Fairland Road and drove into a brick wall. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt, but many people are not so lucky. Not fine was the dad of another friend, who ran to work on Route 29 every day before being hit by a car, all long before sidewalks were completed and a press conference was held. People who live along Fairland and 29 have been clamoring for improvements for years, but our County Executive had to see someone die there in order to make them happen. No one needs to be a martyr for sidewalks, nor should anyone be a hero because of them.
Pedestrian safety is one of the biggest transportation issues East County faces, if only because we have so many pedestrians and so few accomodations for them. Only two months ago was a 71-year-old man killed trying to cross New Hampshire Avenue in White Oak. This is a major road in a busy shopping area surrounded by apartments and served by several bus routes - not a surprising place for a pedestrian to be, and there are many. Yet we've widened New Hampshire to allow cars to get through faster. Some might say that the fence in the median is good for pedestrians, but don't think for a second that people will stop jaywalking. Except now drivers won't anticipate anyone jumping in front of their car, so they'll step on the gas, and someone else will get killed.
I'm personally very happy at the improvements Montgomery County has made to Fairland Road east of Route 29, adding sidewalks (in some places up to eight feet wide) and roundabouts. Traffic moves slower, but it still moves. My brother and I started going for bike rides this summer solely because it's now safe to do so on Fairland. Hopefully, the improvements west of Route 29 will allow more people to do the same.
There are more people, I'm sure, who would change their habits to walk or bike more for work, errands or play if given safe, attractive paths. But there are even more who don't have any choice but to risk their lives every day walking in Montgomery County. Rather than celebrate the one sidewalk we've built, we should be building - and improving - hundreds more, on all of the roads where we've neglected to consider the needs of those without four wheels.