Study steers toward a safer Pennsylvania Avenue in Prince George’s County


Two pedestrians walk along Pennsylvania Avenue near the state highway’s intersection with Walters Lane. The Maryland State Highway Administration is working with a task force to come up with ideas for making the road less dangerous. (Natalie McGill/The Gazette)
October 4, 2012

With a long way between crosswalks and a sea of speeding drivers, Pennsylvania Avenue in Forestville is not “walker-friendly,” said Harold Smith.

Smith, 30, of Forestville said he generally crosses the road twice a day and finds the 55 miles per hour speed limit and distance between crosswalks less than ideal. Such complaints — and a large number of vehicle crashes and pedestrian fatalities — have prompted the Maryland State Highway Administration to draft a plan to reduce the danger.

“You got to go where you got to go,” Smith said. “Traffic doesn’t care. You got to take your chance and hope you make it across.”

SHA is in the midst of a $2.5 million engineering study designed to make the state highway safer along a more than two-mile stretch between Forestville and Silver Hill roads, said David Buck, an agency spokesman.

The stretch is a four-lane highway that connects unincorporated District Heights, Forestville and Suitland.

SHA officials are planning a meeting for sometime in mid-October with the MD 4 Community Task Force, a group the SHA formed in April 2011 that consists of about a dozen residents and officials from such agencies as the Prince George’s County’s Department of Public Works and Transportation and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The group will review designs for an enhanced Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although the engineering study is under way, funding has not been allocated for the project, which is estimated to cost between $20 million and $30 million, Buck said.

“The task force is still meeting; we still have quite a bit of engineering,” Buck said. “The $2.5 million takes us through the end of 2013. At an absolute minimum, even if funding became available, the earliest would be 2014 [for construction].”

Suggestions SHA will consider include a midblock crosswalk between Donnell Drive and Walters Lane. More people cross there because of the proximity to the Centre at Forestville shopping center.

The high amount of crossing in that area has resulted in more accidents on that stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue than any other in the project area, according to SHA data. There are six crosswalks in the project area and five are at traffic signals, according to the SHA.

In 2009, there were 76 motor vehicle crashes between Forestville and Silver Hill roads, three of which resulted in fatalities; one of the fatal accidents involved a pedestrian, Buck said. In 2010, there were 96 crashes in the same stretch, with one non-pedestrian fatality.

In 2011, there were 73 crashes and two fatalities — both pedestrian-related, Buck said. Data from this year were not yet available. An average of 37,900 cars travel Pennsylvania Avenue daily, according to SHA data.

Better street lighting, continuous sidewalks and narrower lanes are among the resident suggestions to make Pennsylvania Avenue safer, according to the SHA.

Residents such as Toney Campbell, 47, of Capitol Heights said that, beyond adding more sidewalks, he does not know what the SHA could add that is not already in place to reinforce safe crossings.

“They have the divider there, so I don’t know what else could be done,” said Campbell, referring to the median between Donnell Drive and Walters Lane. “They have the crosswalk [at Donnell Drive]. I don’t know what else could be done to make it safe.”

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