Drivers, pedestrians share safety burden
Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2006
Police and Silver Spring officials hope a crackdown on aggressive drivers and a continued pedestrian safety campaign will help prevent the kind of collisions that have claimed three lives in the Silver Spring area over the last month.
But many say the real responsibility lies with the drivers and pedestrians who need to follow the rules and obey traffic signals, whether behind the wheel or on foot.
‘‘If you think about the number of people who successfully navigate very busy intersections throughout the day, the numbers that get through safely ... that’s something,” said Sgt. Tom Harmon, who supervises the traffic section for Montgomery County Police Third District, which includes downtown Silver Spring. ‘‘It’s unfortunate that one moment of inattention, either the pedestrian or the driver, can result in something terrible happening.”
The most recent fatal collision happened during the afternoon hours of Aug. 30, when Hyattsville resident Tandong Johnson Efuet, 27, was struck and killed by a car as he tried to cross Colesville Road at the intersection of East West Highway in Silver Spring.
Cpl. Sonia Pruitt, a spokeswoman with the Montgomery County Police, said police are still investigating the collision and whether the driver, 17-year-old Marcus James McNair of Washington, D.C., was doing anything illegal. There were four other passengers in the car, Pruitt said.
The Aug. 30 accident followed two other recent deadly collisions in eastern Montgomery County, and one other crash last Friday involving students waiting for a school bus.
On Aug. 26, Silver Spring resident Wilfred H. Ortiz, 33, was killed trying to cross Georgia Avenue in Wheaton. On Aug. 6, Washington, D.C., resident Benedicte Tchenang Kouayid, 53, was killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing New Hampshire Avenue in Takoma Park. And last Friday, 10 White Oak Middle School students were hurt, some critically, after a van lost control and hit the children waiting at a bus stop on Piney Branch Road.
Residents who live near Colesville Road and East West Highway place blame on neither the pedestrian nor the driver, but on the engineering of the roads and traffic lights.
For Elnora Harvey, who has been living in the Blair East apartment complex on East West Highway for 16 years, the biggest problem at Colesville Road and East West Highway is the short amount of time pedestrians are given to cross. Many of the neighborhood’s residents need more than the 16 seconds they are given on the pedestrian signal countdown, she said.
‘‘There are a lot of senior citizens here, myself included, that have their aches and their pains, their canes and their walkers,” Harvey said. ‘‘Every time I cross there, I think to myself, ‘Am I going to make it? Will I make it safely?’ ”
For Scott Marshall, who is legally blind, crossing busy intersections is even more dangerous. While he said the state has been good about installing audible pedestrian signals, the intersection at Colesville Road and East West Highway is still one of the most difficult.
‘‘I would like to avoid it for sure,” said Marshall, who crosses the intersection daily as part of his Metro commute from his apartment at 1220 East West Highway.
However, all traffic and pedestrian crossing lights throughout downtown Silver Spring meet required engineering standards, said Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, operated by Montgomery County Government. More time to cross would also mean longer for them to wait, he said. The timing of the lights wouldn’t make much difference for those impatient enough to go when they don’t have the right of way, he added.
‘‘If people are in a hurry, they’re going to do what they’re doing to do,” Stith said. ‘‘This is the difficulty, of finding the balance between keeping traffic flowing, and getting people across safely.”
The Silver Spring Regional Center’s transportation and safety committee has been following up with police who monitor the area and talking with community members as part of an effort to educate residents on proper crosswalk use. Debbie Spielberg, chairwoman of both the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board and the transportation⁄safety committee, said there is no straightforward answer in how to reach a ‘‘balance between what’s right for traffic, and for pedestrians.” More police enforcement could play a part, she said.
Harmon has two pedestrian safety enforcement details tentatively planned for Sept. 20 and 27 in his district. On those days, plainclothes officers will watch traffic and take note of ‘‘conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians,” he said. Officers also will notify pedestrians of the proper way to cross if they cross against the light, and cite vehicles that engage in risky driving behavior. During lunch hour Thursday, the day after the fatal crash, Harmon said police wrote up 10 citations, mostly for improper left-hand turns.
‘‘We do cite pedestrians, but we prefer to educate them,” Harmon said.
The Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads area has seen some success with education campaigns there targeting the Hispanic population. Last year, University of Maryland students helped plan two public forums for residents there on proper crosswalk use, and signs posted in English and Spanish at bus stops and crosswalks remind pedestrians of the dangers of crossing outside the marked crosswalks.
Harvey said she would like to see more pedestrian education in Silver Spring, where she said intersections are just as busy as at the Crossroads.
‘‘We’re only going to see more traffic, with all the condos going up in the area,” she said. ‘‘We all want to be safe. We shouldn’t be confined because we can’t cross the street.”
The county has touted pedestrian safety campaigns in the past. The Street Smart Pedestrian Safety campaign launched in 2003 led to improved traffic signals countywide and new pedestrian timers at many high-volume intersections.
Still, most agree that pedestrians and drivers need to be mindful of decisions made at intersections.
‘‘All intersections are dangerous intersections,” Stith said. ‘‘Education may be the only answer, but you’d hope that this kind of tragedy would make people a little more aware of what they’re doing, and the consequences involved.”