Posts Tagged ‘pedestrian safety’

As part of the Walking College, one of my assignments this week was to interview pedestrians in my community to find out why they are walking, what they like about walking, and what makes walking difficult in that particular location.

I decided to walk along a stretch of Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County, Maryland, just south of Aspen Hill Road. I drive along here on a regular basis, and I frequently see pedestrians crossing the street mid-block, which is not safe given the 45 mph speed limit.

As I started on my walk, I felt uncomfortable for three reasons. First, it felt unsafe to walk so close to the cars. As they whizzed by I could feel the wind whip up. Second, I had an unfounded fear that I was somehow physically vulnerable to crime, as if someone would decide to snatch my purse at any moment (this fear dissipated as soon as I started walking). Third, I was petrified of randomly accosting other pedestrians to interview them; it seemed so awkward.

image

I decided to walk towards a sheltered bus stop (Georgia Ave & Hewitt Ave stop), and interview people there as they waited for their bus to arrive. To my relief, this approach worked. I ended up interviewing three women who were waiting at the bus stop (I’ll call them Lady 1, Lady 2, and Lady 3). Here is what the three ladies shared with me related to walking:

  • Lady 1 (~60 years old): We don’t have a lot of pedestrian crossings. Maybe we need an overhead bridge, so we can cross and not disturb the traffic. The other day I saw a bus nearly hit a girl who was at the crosswalk [pointing to the crosswalk in front of the bus stop].
  • Lady 2 (~30 years old): Where Janet Road intersects with Georgia Avenue [a few blocks south of here], there’s a crosswalk but no traffic light. It’s very dangerous. I have to wait until the car stops. There needs to be a traffic light installed there. In general, it feels safe to walk on Georgia; there are a lot of buses here. I like walking to the shopping center, gas station, and grocery store; they’re all within walking distance. It feels safer to walk here than in DC [from a crime perspective]. At the crosswalk in front of this bus stop, there needs to be a sign to tell cars to slow down.
  • Lady 3 (~75 years old): Walking is good exercise. They need to add more time for pedestrians to cross the street [currently the pedestrian countdown signal is set for 30 seconds]. The crosswalk by this bus stop [pictured below] needs to be made into more of a crosswalk.

image

As Lady 3 was talking, the bus arrived. As she lined up to get on the bus, Lady 3 said she was surprised that she had found things to say. She choked up a bit and gave me a hug before stepping into the bus.

 

Advertisements

Montgomery County is running a parking lot pedestrian safety campaign. I recently received a campaign flyer in the mail. I’ve also seen Heads Up in Parking Lots signage at a county-owned lot in Wheaton. Both are good ideas, and will hopefully play a hand in reducing pedestrian collisions. However, achieving complete pedestrian safety in parking lots will require overhauling how they are designed. 

img_1867

I love that IKEA College Park has a sidewalk along one portion of its parking lot. Makes getting into and out of the store more pleasant– and safer.

IMG_6519 IMG_6520

 

The area around White Flint Metro station in Montgomery County, Maryland, is a sea of strip malls and parking lots. If you check out White Flint on Walkscore, it gets a respectable 86 (out of 100) rating for walkability. But that still leaves a lot to be desired. One of my pet peeves as a pedestrian in White Flint is trying to get from the sidewalk to the store. Invariably, the sidewalk ends at the parking lot entrance, and I’m left to wonder my way through the parking lot in order to get to my destination.

Case in point: White Flint Plaza is a strip mall with a supermarket, a fitness gym, a pet store, a home goods store, among other shops. There’s a sidewalk that takes me to the main parking entrance to White Flint Plaza, but then I’m on my own. At the entrance, the sidewalk suddenly stops, sending a message that drivers are the only ones welcome beyond this point.

IMG_6515

As a pedestrian trying to walk into White Flint Plaza, I’m left with two not very pleasant options. I could walk on the road next to the cars and hope that the drivers can see me despite the blind turn.

IMG_6517

My other option is climb a steep hill that takes me into one of the parking lots. I inevitably go with this option, as it allows me to bypass the busy main entrance, but it means I still need to be on the lookout for cars getting into and leaving their parking spaces.

IMG_6513

Which takes me to the point of this post. Parking lots need sidewalks too. Even people who drive still need to get out of their cars to get inside the store. In Montgomery County, 22% of accidents involving pedestrians take place in parking lots, according to Montgomery County government data. Requiring parking lots to have sidewalks would go a long way to improve pedestrian safety.

I’ve heard that Rockville Pike– a road that cuts through Montgomery County, Maryland– is the largest commercial corridor on the East Coast. Within the stretch of a few miles, you can find a large shopping mall, Target, The Container Store, Bed Bath and Beyond, Toys R Us, Whole Foods Market, Fresh Market, multiple CVS pharmacies, Petco, ethnic grocery stores and restaurants, countless fast food restaurants, nail salons, banks, car washes, dry cleaners, furniture shops, and more.

IMG_6329

In theory, most of these destinations are accessible to pedestrians, as both sides of Rockville Pike are lined with sidewalks. In practice, walking to any of these places is a challenge. There are a number of reasons why. Blocks are extremely long, so opportunities to cross the street are few and far between. There are six or more lanes of traffic, and the crosswalks are not always well marked, so it feels unsafe to cross the street. The sidewalks are littered with curb cuts that lead to surface parking in front of the stores, and this forces pedestrians to be continously on the lookout for approaching cars. And, as the picture above shows, there are no sidewalk buffers along most of Rockville Pike; the pedestrian walks directly next to the vehicles. Should a car veer off the road, there are no trees or street furniture that can act as a buffer between the vehicle and the pedestrian. The result is that very few people walk along Rockville Pike, because the sidewalks are neither safe nor convenient.

There is reason for hope. One block of sidewalk along Rockville Pike was recently renovated, as part of a mixed-use (residential/commercial) redevelopment project. Walking along this block is like finding an oasis in the desert. The benches, the vegetated buffer, the stores that front the sidewalk, all of it combines to make walking a safe and enjoyable experience. Future planned redevelopment along Rockville Pike should bring a vast improvement of additional miles of sidewalk.

IMG_6333