Montgomery County still a ways from ‘walkable,’ pedestrian safety data shows

September 25, 2013

One of County Executive Isiah Leggett’s signature programs has been an effort to improve pedestrian safety in auto-centric Montgomery County, with tougher enforcement, intersection improvements and a public awareness campaign.

Since its 2007 launch, the Pedestrian Safety Initiative has had some success, but the momentum of improvement may be slowing. Pedestrian fatalities, which declined steadily from 2008 to 2012, are rising again. According to preliminary data, 11 Montgomery pedestrians have died so far in 2013 traffic incidents, up from six during all of last year.

While the number of cars hitting pedestrians in so-called “high incidence areas” (including Rockville Pike, Wisconsin Avenue, Four Corners, Piney Branch Road and the intersection of Randolph and Veirs Mills roads) is down 40 percent (50 to 30) since 2007, collisions countywide were up in 2012 (423) after three years of decline.

One reason for the uptick is an increase in parking lot accidents. The number of pedestrians nailed by cars in parking lots — nearly all of them surface lots, not garages--was up nearly 40 percent in 2012 (from 90 to 125). According to county data, three-quarters of the incidents were judged to be the fault of the driver. A third involved cars that backed out of a parking stall or travel lane. Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the county is assembling a “kitchen cabinet” of private property owners and managers who operate lots to address the problem.

The issues resonated personally with some County Council members, who were briefed on the safety program Tuesday. Their takeaway: there is significant room for improvement in a county where “walkability” has become a major aspiration.

Council Vice President Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) said he recently chased down on foot a driver who nearly hit his daughter by ignoring a school bus stop sign.

“There is a culture now. . ..We forget the basic rules,” Rice said.

“I think we have to revisit some of our assumptions,” said Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large). “We call this pedestrian safety. It should be called driver misbehavior.” She said it was time to consider prohibiting right turns on red in urban areas, where some intersections remain driver-pedestrian war zones.

Recounting a recent vacation trip to France, Floreen described how pedestrians there“don’t even have to look” as they cross streets because motorists are so observant of the law.

To county staff she said: “I would urge you to call the French police.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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