When travelers ask me what traffic laws say about confrontations between drivers and pedestrians, it worries me: They seem to be asking who’s going to get the ticket after a crash. The goal of the laws is to prevent the crash from happening in the first place.
Drivers, pedestrians and cyclists are all equally capable of doing dumb things when they encounter each other on the streets. The laws are supposed to help them sort out how each can go on his merry way without mishap.
But people who work for street safety don’t believe the laws alone will protect travelers. Some of them gathered Monday afternoon on Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring to show off one new effort at protection and to launch their fall Street Smart safety campaign.
This particular effort is quite simple: Montgomery County and the Maryland Department of Transportation have installed curb markings along the street between corners and crosswalks that say “Do not cross.”
Why do that along Piney Branch and why spotlight a block between Flower and University avenues? Montgomery County, pursuing a pedestrian safety campaign launched by County Executive Isiah Leggett, has identified the Piney Branch corridor as among the most dangerous places in Montgomery County to be a pedestrian.
The site chosen to kick off the campaign showed off the new street markers and some of the behavior they are designed to counter. Even in this setting Monday afternoon, with more police spread out along Piney Branch than I’ve ever seen there, people jaywalked in the face of oncoming traffic.
One man managed to provide a perfect backdrop for cameras by jaywalking right up to an officer waiting to give him a warning that even if he made it across the street, he faced a ticket.
That reminded me about our discussions concerning traffic enforcement. We had one during the online chat at noon Monday after a traveler wrote in to complain about cyclists not getting stopped by officers on the George Washington Parkway.
Police can swarm an area from time to time, as they did yesterday in Silver Spring. Some people will be oblivious. Besides the pedestrian jaywalking up to the waiting officer, another scene developed in which a police officer walked into a crosswalk to assist some pedestrians. For a moment, it was a little unclear to me — and to the officer — whether an oncoming truck was going to stop for him and the pedestrians.
Safety officials like Montgomery Police Capt. Thomas Didone and county pedestrian safety coordinator Jeff Dunckel believe that enforcement has a role in protecting people. They know it has to be supported by other efforts.
Dunckel talked about the need for “education and behavioral change,” educating both motorists and pedestrians.
The new curb markers, simple as they are, have a part in this strategy. They can be ignored — we saw them ignored during the event Monday — but they may lead some pedestrians to avoid a dangerous step.
It’s “a way of life in this region to be in a hurry,” Leggett said. The markers could make some of those hurried people to pause long enough to stay alive.