Street Smart campaign aims to improve safety during dark months


Belmont Ridge Road, at its crossing with the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, is very heavily trafficked. Officials across the region remind commuters, pedestrians and cyclists to proceed with caution as they travel at a time of year with diminished daylight. (2009 photo by Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)
November 26, 2012

With almost a month left before the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year in terms of daylight hours — officials across the region are reminding Washington area drivers, bikers and pedestrians to stay safe as they make their way about in the dark.

On Nov. 14, representatives from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and police departments across the region gathered at a notoriously busy intersection in Ashburn to launch this year’s Street Smart campaign. The semi-
annual program, which is in its 11th year, aims to educate residents about ways they can avoid potentially deadly accidents as more commuters are traveling to and from work before dawn and after nightfall.

Last year, there were more than 430 crashes in the Washington region involving pedestrians in November and December — the darkest and typically the most dangerous months of the year, officials said.

On average, more than 2,600 pedestrians and bicyclists are injured throughout the region annually, and about 89 are killed, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Aimed at reducing such statistics, the Street Smart campaign uses radio and television ads and direct outreach to commuters, including distributing handouts and tip cards to educate drivers and pedestrians about how to be safer. Local law enforcement agencies are also partnering with the campaign, stepping up efforts to discipline those who violate safety laws, such as drivers and cyclists who fail to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, and pedestrians who jaywalk.

Before a crowd of several dozen at the intersection of Ashburn’s busy Belmont Ridge Road and the highly trafficked Washington and Old Dominion Trail, Loudoun County Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) was among several regional officials to talk about the importance of proactive safety measures.

Although there have been no reported accidents involving pedestrians at the intersection, Buona said that there had been numerous rear-end collisions and that the combination of the bustling trail and the speed of travel on the road pose potential problems. “We have a crosswalk and a 45 miles-per-hour speed limit,” he said.

But most drivers traveling through the area are going even faster, he said, often more than 5o miles an hour.

“We’ve got a very dangerous situation,” Buona said. “The bottom line here is, we’re really trying to be proactive.”

As Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman spoke to the crowd, he raised his voice to be heard over the noise of passing cement trucks. Behind the podium, a biker paused and waited for two oncoming vehicles to slow before he attempted to cross the road.

“You can tell just by being here that it is a problem area,” Chapman told the crowd.

The most critical issue to consider is driver visibility, said Jeff Dunckel, pedestrian safety coordinator with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.

Pedestrians and cyclists should avoid dark clothing and wear reflective gear, he said. Drivers should exercise extra caution when approaching intersections and crosswalks, he added. It doesn’t take a high speed to create a deadly situation: Most pedestrians struck at 40 miles per hour are killed, Dunckel told the crowd.

“These are preventable deaths,” he said. “If we all [take these steps], we won’t have 430 pedestrian incidents this November and December. We’ll have none.”

For information about the Street Smart campaign, go to www.bestreetsmart.net.

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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