Pedestrian and cyclist safety is going in the wrong direction. Maryland is one of 25 states to experience year-over-year increases in accidents and pedestrian deaths increased 25% in the last year.
Montgomery County and Rockville both adopted Vision Zero initiatives and Maryland followed last year. However, the devil is in the details. This means that even though all of our jurisdictions have agreed to work toward zero driver, pedestrian, and cyclist deaths, the actual action items and implementation will take more time and effort to complete than realized.
Montgomery County adopted a Vision Zero traffic safety initiative in February 2016 to eliminate pedestrian fatalities by 2030. A two-year action plan was implemented in November 2017 and half of the 41 items outlined are behind schedule or haven’t started, and a separate 10-year action plan hasn’t been touched.
Meanwhile, Rockville city staff have been working with the Rockville Traffic and Transportation Commission and other interested bodies to formulate the city’s action plan that is basically modeled after the County’s plan. Rockville was built as a suburb with car-oriented major thoroughfares designed to move traffic. As our city has grown to include more walkable neighborhoods, we must redesign to actually make the streets safe for walking and biking. This is called creating “complete streets.”
Vision Zero primarily makes sure our streets are engineered to be safe so that even if you make a mistake while driving, walking, or biking, you don’t die from that mistake. An example is the black fence on Park Road by the Rockville Metro station that prevents people from jay-walking across the street. Vehicles making left turns are the most deadly. An action as simple as adding rubber bumps along center lines forces vehicles to slow down because they have to make a sharper left turn. Installing flashing yellow lights when vehicles are permitted to make a left turn on green has also proved effective.
On the night of my pedestrian accident, the immediate problem was the length of the walk signal that started to blink when the pedestrian was in the first lane of a 3 ½ lane crossing. Four days after our accident, the State of Maryland completely redesigned the intersection adding a street light over the crosswalk, bumped out sidewalks, and a curb-protected pedestrian island. For my husband and I, these improvements were too late. However, the state’s engineering, plus my advocacy for a longer walk signal, lane polls, and pedestrian alert signs, have made a difference.
The timing of our traffic signals has always been a frustration to me. Where I grew up, the lights are timed so that you will get a green signal for significant distances if you are going the speed limit. Other cities have implemented this type of traffic signal timing to cut down on the wear on vehicles and lower emissions pollution, but it also has the added benefit of being able to easily provide longer pedestrian signals when vehicles do have to stop at a light.
As a city we need to consider “no right on red” zones in our main shopping/transit centers and red arrows forbidding left turns across a crosswalk when a pedestrian has pushed a walk signal button and is in the crosswalk. Within our neighborhoods, we need to paint white lines at stop signs, add stop signs at intersections where they do not exist, and add crosswalks in residential neighborhoods along walk to school paths. Bike lanes should be separated from traffic by dividers, curbs, lines of posts, or rows of parked cars.
As we make improvements, we also all need to take personal responsibility for street safety. This is why Choice Hotels and the Rockville Chamber of Commerce collaborated to produce the “Eyes Up Rockville” campaign. The cards for this education campaign are being distributed across the city and also handed out by police officers who witness unsafe behavior. Drivers in pedestrian areas must stay alert, obey the speed limit, make eye contact with pedestrians, be vigilant especially at night or in bad weather. Pedestrians need to stay off the phone while crossing, never assume a driver is paying attention, stop at the curb and look in both directions, stay in the crosswalks, and make sure to not step out in front of a vehicle without giving them time to stop.
Together we can get our street safety trends going in the right direction.
Cynthia Cotte Griffiths is a member of Rockville’s Traffic and Transportation Commission and a candidate for Rockville City Council. You can learn more about her and her vision for Rockville at her website at CynthiaForRockvilleCityCouncil.com.