Being a pedestrian in Montgomery County remains a dangerous undertaking, with eight people killed this year despite concerted efforts by police and officials at public education, traffic enforcement, and road improvements and engineering.
The county is unlikely to meet the goals announced in early 2002 by a special task force on pedestrian safety, which made dozens of recommendations aimed at halving deaths by January 2005.
Instead, after a dip to 14 last year, the number of deaths is climbing again and is on track to match some of the worst yearly fatality totals of the past decade.
"They're not good," said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who convened the task force and continues to make pedestrian safety a priority. "We have worked very hard for a few years now, and we've had some successes. But the numbers are back up. . . . This is going to be a long-term fight."
During two weeks in June, two residents died after being hit by cars on major thoroughfares -- one while trying to cross Olney-Sandy Spring Road and the other in a hit-and-run accident on Great Seneca Highway. A construction worker was critically injured when a Metrobus trying to get around a construction site struck him as he was painting lines in a curb lane of East West Highway.
The variety of these incidents signals the many ways the issue must be addressed.
"The whole thing of pedestrian safety is such a multifaceted problem," said Jacqueline Gillan, chairman of the county advisory committee that was created because of the task force's recommendations. It's not enough to target only those on foot, not enough to drive home the message with those behind the wheel.
"You have to do it all," she stressed. "People are going to make mistakes, but they don't have to make fatal mistakes."
The challenge of changing mind-sets and streetscapes to help protect someone on foot is daunting. The first takes time and repetition. The latter takes money, whether for new sidewalks and better-illuminated crosswalks or more speed limit signs and median islands that provide refuge in multi-lane thoroughfares.
"Changing the roadway environment . . . is the hardest," said Gillan, who is vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a national group based in Washington. "Because it impacts drivers."
In the nearly 2 1/2 years since the task force's call for a major new focus, those involved in the effort point to progress on:
* Education. The county teamed with jurisdictions around the region on a campaign called StreetSmart, which produced brochures with tips on safe driving, walking and biking in English and Spanish. The county also developed radio and print safety announcements and an intense Spanish-language project aimed at newly arrived immigrants. The latter emphasized the two basic pedestrian rules -- use crosswalks and look before stepping out -- and advised, "It could save your life . . . or change it forever."
In addition, armed with T-shirts and stickers, county staff members have worked with young students at nearly a dozen Silver Spring elementary schools on how to cross streets safely. Some of the materials distributed have been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.
* Enforcement. Police have continued high-visibility enforcement stings in some of the county's most dangerous transportation corridors. In 2002 and 2003, pedestrian-related citations increased several hundred percent. "There's nothing as educational as a ticket," Gillan said. Drivers who sped through crosswalk areas or failed to yield to those in crosswalks were stopped as well as pedestrians who jaywalked.
* Engineering. The county now mandates a "pedestrian impact statement" for capital projects. Similar to an environmental impact statement, it requires attention to design elements that would improve pedestrian access and safety.
Two crosswalks in Rockville, including on heavily trafficked Twinbrook Parkway near a community recreation center, now feature infrared sensors that activate a line of lights embedded in the roadway. The lights begin flashing when a pedestrian steps into the crosswalk.
Countdown signals have been installed at more than a half-dozen Silver Spring, Wheaton and Bethesda intersections, flashing to pedestrians how much time they have to cross the street safely.
Members of the pedestrian safety committee, who meet regularly, admit to frustration over the fatality count this year and the scope of what is needed.
"This is an issue that is big enough, the resources that are there are not sufficient," said Mary Ann Zimmerman of Silver Spring.
She notes that some of the greatest problems occur on state highways and will require state action; other members question the commitment of state officials, especially Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who vetoed legislation this year to use cameras in enforcing speed limits.
"You will find few counties around the country that have worked harder on safety," said Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Montgomery), who led the task force and remains involved as a member of the advisory committee.
But, he added, after a half-century of emphasis "on building a transportation infrastructure that accommodates cars, it's going to take longer than any of us want to retool that infrastructure to make it more pedestrian-friendly."