Silver Spring wants to make city safer for pedestrians
Accidents fuel concern among residents
As residents grow more concerned with pedestrian safety in downtown Silver Spring following two pedestrian deaths in recent months, state transportation officials are undergoing a $1 million project to improve several busy intersections.
Six downtown intersections are marked for improvement under a project from the Maryland Department of Transportation's State Highway Administration that is funded by $1 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Work on the intersections, all on Colesville Road from Wayne Avenue to East West Highway in Silver Spring, begins this week. To present the project's plans, SHA officials met last week with residents who responded with a laundry list of other transportation demands in what they say is an increasingly dangerous urban area for pedestrians.
"The problem isn't that you guys aren't doing a good job at specific places, but you are focusing too much on automobiles rather than bicycle and pedestrian connectivity," Casey Anderson, a member of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, said Jan. 27 when about 50 residents met with SHA and county Department of Transportation officials.
The last of five pedestrian fatalities last year in Montgomery County Police's Third District, which covers most of Silver Spring, occurred in late November, when a 63-year-old man was struck and killed by a vehicle while he was crossing 16th Street near its busy intersection with Colesville Road. An 83-year-old woman was struck and killed further north in Silver Spring on Jan. 17, between Forest Glen Road and Dennis Avenue on Georgia Avenue. Both were struck near their homes.
"Some of these are clearly preventable," said Darian Unger, chairman of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. "... And one of the things we keep coming back to is engineering and how things are designed around here."
The November pedestrian fatality came as SHA is planning major changes to the 16th-Colesville intersection, which is currently a complicated, heavily trafficked roundabout that serves as a conduit between the Silver Spring and Washington, D.C., downtowns. SHA is in the final stages of a design that will install new crosswalks and new pedestrian signals this spring and eventually install traffic lights at all four corners of the currently unsignaled traffic circle.
That project is separate from the stimulus-funded intersection improvements. All six intersections included in that project will receive new traffic lights, light poles, voice-aided countdown pedestrian crossing signals, wider crosswalks and ramps that comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, said Woody Hood, a deputy director of traffic and safety in SHA's Hanover office.
Hood said the six intersections on Colesville East West Highway, Sligo Avenue, Silver Spring Avenue, Thayer Avenue, Bonifant Avenue and Wayne Avenue are all in poor condition, specially Wayne-Colesville, where the median will be replaced after serious erosion from vehicles frequently hitting it, Hood said.
"Wayne Avenue is the worst of the worst out here," he said. The project is expected to be completed by summer 2011, just two years after SHA received the federal stimulus funds.
The project comes amid other county pedestrian projects in Silver Spring, including a March 2009 study of pedestrian safety along the Georgia Avenue corridor and the Department of Housing and Community Affairs' pedestrian walkway project, which was completed in late December with the opening of a new street in south Silver Spring. Major sidewalk improvements to Georgia Avenue are also being planned.
Montgomery County has indeed focused too much on automobiles in the past, some county officials conceded. But these new projects, and the opportunity to improve communication and collaboration between the county DOT and SHA, should turn that around, they said.
"Montgomery County has been very car-centric in the past," said Emil Wolanin, the county's chief traffic engineer. "But that's changing. Whether you think that's changing fast enough is a debate."
And a debate residents are willing to have, especially with a new transit center, civic building, library and music hall all expected soon in downtown Silver Spring.
"We have to bring the walkability' back to the community," said Silver Spring resident Kathleen Samiy.