Operation Safe Streets cracks down on county drivers
Officers patrol dangerous corridors to catch offenders
A typical Sunday morning turned tragic last year when, just before 7 a.m. Jan. 17, an 83-year-old woman was struck by a car and later died after she tried to cross Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring on her way to church.
More than a year later, Sgt. Meredith Dominick, supervisor of the Montgomery County Police Department's Collision Reconstruction Unit, can still remember when her team was called onto the case.
"Initially, she was conscious; she didn't want to go to the hospital, but the medics and police on the scene encouraged her to," she said. "Unfortunately, her condition deteriorated; ... by the afternoon that same day, we'd lost her. That's when [my unit] took over the investigation."
After a thorough investigation, including interviews with the Silver Spring driver and an examination of his vehicle, as well as studying such roadway conditions as visibility, Dominick and her colleagues finally reached their conclusion: There was nothing the driver could have done to avoid the woman.
"She crossed when it wasn't safe to do so, and two lives were affected," Dominick said. "We don't need to lose a life, we don't need to have injuries; we need drivers to be aware that pedestrians are out there, we need pedestrians to be aware that cars might not see us. ... We need to cooperate and coexist on the roadways, there's no excuse not to do that."
That was the central message at the county police department's Operation Safe Streets kick-off event Wednesday morning in St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church off Georgia Avenue. In Montgomery County in 2010, vehicles collided with pedestrians in 436 incidents, 13 of which resulted in the pedestrian being killed, police said.
On average, 15 pedestrians are killed in Montgomery County each year in traffic collisions, said Capt. Thomas Didone, commander of the county police's Traffic Division. So far, two pedestrians have died this year, he said. To cut down on fatalities and collisions in general, Didone put together a team of traffic officers from all six of the county's police districts who began stepping up enforcement last month.
"Every month from here, the traffic squads will get together and start targeting different areas throughout the county, rotating through them," Didone said. "These waves of enforcement will come with zero tolerance."
During today's enforcement activity, 35 traffic officers left the church to monitor intersections and crosswalks, conduct radar stops and walk foot patrols all along Georgia Avenue from Connecticut Avenue to the Washington, D.C., border. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., officers issued 248 written warnings 69 to pedestrians and 179 to drivers and 156 citations for unsafe driving practices, police said.
And enforcement is only a piece of the puzzle, so far as Montgomery County Department of Transportation Director Art Holmes was concerned.
"There's engineering, there's education and then there's enforcement," he explained Wednesday. "We can put in as many traffic signals, [new] pavements, walkways and streets as we need."
Holmes cited, for instance, the department's move to reduce the posted speed limit on nearby Arcola Avenue by about 10 miles per hour over the last few years.
Last November, Holmes and others, including police and a team of bilingual volunteers armed with Spanish/English pedestrian safety pamphlets, took to the streets along Piney Branch Avenue in Long Branch, which had been identified at that time as the county's most dangerous stretch of roadway for pedestrians.
Thanks to the enforcement, hundreds of residents received warnings and instruction on the proper use of crosswalks and other measures. The transportation department, along with the State Highway Administration, also compiled a list of improvements needed in the area such as repainting for crosswalks, a new, raised pedestrian refuge for walkers and replacement street lights.
County officials have identified a number of areas across the county where pedestrian and traffic-related collisions tend to occur with above-average frequency. While the locations change with new collision data, some of the areas identified in the Silver Spring area include:
- Piney Branch Road from Flower Avenue to the Prince George's County border (Silver Spring)
- Georgia Avenue from Thayer Avenue to Spring Street (Silver Spring)
- Georgia Avenue from Arcola Avenue to Glenallan Avenue (Wheaton)
- Georgia Avenue at Reedie Drive (Wheaton)
- Georgia Avenue at Veirs Mill Road (Wheaton)