Last week while Silver Spring residents met with state highway officials and persuaded them to install a traffic light at a dangerous intersection on Rte. 29, an elderly pedestrian was struck by a car and killed there. The death of Walter O'Hagan at Rte. 29 and Oak Leaf Drive on Jan. 25 occurred as representatives of the 600 families in the Dumont Oaks community testified at a hearing that the lack of traffic signals and sidewalks endangered pedestrians and drivers. O'Hagan, 81, a resident of New York, was visiting his son in Silver Spring. A block away that morning, a woman driving her son to a day care center had been hit by another car as they tried to make a right-hand turn from Prelude Drive onto Rte. 29. The woman, Peggy Close, said of the later accident: "It was horrible. It was something we have been trying to avoid for a long time." The two incidents were a grim testimonial to a problem that residents of Dumont Oaks have complained about for years. The only access they have to Rte. 29, or Colesville Road, is from either Prelude or Oak Leaf drives. These access roads lack the traffic signals that would stop northbound or southbound traffic on Rte. 29, and would allow cars into traffic and pedestrians safe passage across Rte. 29. "You can sit there for 25 minutes waiting for traffic to clear," said Dumont Oaks resident Mark Hirschfeld. "If you're lucky, the traffic becomes bumper-to-bumper and you can inch across." Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery), who has supported the residents' battle for a traffic light, testified on their behalf at the hearing. "I was on my way to a meeting and I passed the {O'Hagan} accident," Ruben said. "I brought that up in my testimony. "They're really prisoners of the traffic," she said. "You literally take your life into your hands when you cross 29." The neighborhood also has a large Orthodox Jewish population that because of the requirements of the Sabbath must walk to services at two local synagogues. Because Rte. 29 lacks sidewalks along that area, residents must walk down the middle of the highway along the median strip. "When I see people walking on the median with kids it bothers me because it's too dangerous," Close said. Joan Lehrhaupt, who attends services at the nearby Southeast Hebrew Congregation, estimated that 400 adults and children walk down the median strip to services. "They are usually wearing dark coats and dark hats and no one can see them," Lehrhaupt said. "It's just not safe. "And there are four bus stops between Oak Leaf and Prelude, and no sidewalk to get off on," she said. Lehrhaupt has worked for four years to get the state to put in a traffic light and sidewalks. Other area residents oppose plans by the state to expand Rte. 29 and take out the median strip to create an HOV lane. Tony Hausner, cochairman of the Rte. 29 Coalition, which is fighting the proposed changes, said, "People have been telling them for years about the problems at Dumont Oaks. "Our complaints are not just with the state but with the County Council and county executive," he said. "The whole Silver Spring development issue is creating problems that undermine the community. They undermine safety needs and environmental needs." State highway engineer Michael Snyder said the decision this week to put in a light at Prelude Drive was not precipitated by last Wednesday's death. "The decision to do the reevaluation was made the night of the hearing before the death was known," Snyder said. "I really looked at it from the standpoint of safety. "The evaluations of traffic counts we had done in the past did not meet the criteria for signalization," he said. "This decision was not based on a count but on safety." Montgomery County also has announced plans to build sidewalks in that area. Nevertheless, many residents said they resented what they perceived as past indifference by state officials. "I think they were terribly unresponsive for four years," Lehrhaupt said. "I felt that we were drowning and everyone was watching us drown." "It's extremely sad," Ruben said. "There's no guarantee that something wouldn't have happened even if there had been a light, but there would have been some sort of feeling that the needs of the community had been met."