For 15 years, residents around Colesville Road and Frankin Avenue in Silver Spring have been trying to persuade highway officials to install a traffic light at the intersection. But until this winter, they failed repeatedly.
The failed even though an average of 150,000 cars a day pass through the intersection, which is less than a mile south of the Beltway and less than a mile north of downtown Silver Spring.
They failed even though pedestrians can't cross the six lanes of Colesville Road without risking their lives. Not only is there no signal, there is no crosswalk, either. Says Susan Bratten, whose home overlooks the intersection: "When my teen-aged sons want to prove their man hood, they cross Colesville."
They failed even though motorists trying to turn left from Franklin onto southbound Colesville often have to wait three minutes for a "break" to develop in Colesville traffic. Around the neighborhood, "When we joke about the '18-second gap,' we aren't talking about the Watergate tapes," says one resident.
They failed even though a YMCA on the east side of Colesville is losing members who live west of Colesville because the children can't walk to the Y safely. "A signal light would make our situation an awful lot simpler," says Bunny Smith, the YMCA's director of children's programs.
They failed despite an average of two accidents a month at the intersection. And they failed even though students at the local elementary school who live west of Colesville have to be bused to school (east of Colesville) to assure that they arrive safely.
Why did they fail?
Because while Franklin Avenue and Colesville Road may look like local streets, and function at least in part as local streets, technically they are state highways.
That means that a signal light at the corner would be paid for out of state highway funds. And for 15 years, state highway officials have said a signal at Franklin (Route 516) and Colesville (U.S. 29) couldn't be justified because other state highway projects had higher priority.
Last February, however, a community activist from the area just east of Franklin and Colesville, Dr. Jorge Ribas, attended a local "firing line" television show.
The guest of honor was Gov. Harry Hughes. The first questioner was Ribas.
The Ecuadorian-born veterinarian, who lives about a mile northeast of Colesville and Franklin, recited the automotive and human price paid for the lack of a traffic signal.
He described members of his community association driving three miles out of their way to avoid having to make a left turn from Franklin onto Colesville.
He told of families being forced to drive their children three blocks to church rather than have them dodge Colesville's freeway-speed traffic.
He described how friendships between families living on either side of Colesville had died because of the difficulty of visiting.
And he asked the governor if he couldhelp.
Rather quickly, Hughes did.
Just a week after the television show, a signal at Franklin and Colesville was approved by the state Highway Administration. The project, which is expected to cost between $30,000 and $40,000, will be advertised for bids this summer, and the signal is expected to be in place by this fall, according to M. S. Caltrider, state highway administrator.
"I authorized the funding because the traffic engineers involved in that situation indicated it was borderline. Of eight standards for a signal light on a state highway, it met three," Caltrider said.
Even though Caltrider had refused to install the traffic light just a month earlier, he denied that pressure from Hughes made him change his mind.
"The light simply wasn't warranted before," Caltrider said. As a result of Ribas' televised appeal to Hughes, "We took another look, and now it is warranted -- barely," Caltrider said.
For Susan Bratten, her husband and four children, the signal light can't come too soon.
"My front yard (facing on Colesville) is a waste, a total waste," said Bratten, who lives at 9308 Colesville, on the highway's western edge. "If this house was in this neighborhood, but on a quieter block, it would be worth another $5,000 at least.
"But what I look forward to with the light isn't money; it's an end to our alienation. We no longer have a sense of community because of all the traffic and the accidents.
"For me to go visit a friend over there," Bratten said, gesturing toward the other side of Colesville, "is a major production. It means I have to drive four blocks. Isn't that crazy?
"But you know what has really been getting me the last couple of years? I've been afraid I'm getting blase about all the accidents. I hear the screech of the brakes and the accidents and I'm starting to say, 'Gee, I hope somebody else calls the police this time.'
"With the light, I'm hoping I won't be that way any more."
Ann Hunter, a poet and lay minister who lives west of Colesville, said the light will make a major difference in terms of pedestrian safety.
"I have run across that road in high heels on a rainy night," said Hunter. "And I'm 38. What's going to happen when I'm 65?"
David Schwiesow, an attorney, is president of the North Hills of Sligo Civic Association. The members all live in the area just west of the Franklin-Colesville intersection. According to Schwiesow, the light will "greatly improve our lives, because it will greatly improve our children's lives."
Until now, Schwiesow said, "It has been difficult to get children to go four blocks out of their way (to Colesville and Sligo Creek Parkway, the nearest Colesville crossing with a signal and a crosswalk). You know how kids are -- they run across Colesville rather than doing what their parents say.
"Now, I can see our children bicycling to the Y and to school without very much difficulty."
As it is, according to Ruby Guarles, a receptionist at the y, "You can always tell who lives on which side of Colesville. The kids with the bikes are the ones who haven't crossed."
After 15 years of effort, residents of the colesville-Franklin area might be expected to be exulting over their success. But caution prevails.
"It's not a matter of feeling great about the signal," said Ribas, who is on the staff of the Uniformed Services University of the health Sciences. "I don't feel traffic lights per se are going to cut down on accidents. If people continue to drive 50, 60 miles an hour along Colesville, we'll still have problems.
"I'm not happier because it's not enough. It's what we wanted, but it's only a start. Now we need the speed limits enforced."
"Besides," added Schwiesow, "the people in our neighborhood will believe the light and the crosswalk when we see it."