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‘Safe Streets’ is goal of new county legislation

by Judith Hruz

Editor

Hector Ramirez thought he was taking the appropriate precautions when he was crossing the intersection in the heart of Olney.

The light had turned red to stop southbound traffic on Georgia Avenue (Route 97), signaling it was appropriate for him to walk across the street, he said.

But someone turning right on red from Olney-Laytonsville Road (Route 108) apparently did not see him, he said, and nearly hit him.

“I could feel the car brush my arm as I was walking. Honestly, I did,” he said.

He was not hurt by the brush with danger. “But I could have been. One inch more, I could have been hurt,” he said.

Ramirez, of Wheaton, was visiting a friend, but said he knows the intersection in Olney well.

“I cross that street many times,” he said. “I swear I obeyed all the rules.”

A new law spearheaded by County Council President Evan Glass (D-At large) and approved unanimously by the full council on Sept. 19 hopes to address pedestrian, cyclist and motorist safety.

Called the Safe Streets Act of 2023 (Bill 11-23), the legislation is designed to create safer streets for everyone, and falls in line with the county’s Vision Zero action plan, which has put resources in place to eliminate serious injury and fatal collisions on county roads for vehicle occupants, pedestrians and bicyclists by the end of 2030 by addressing specific transportation initiatives.

During a media briefing the day before the passage of Safe Streets, Glass called “the largest ped safety effort since adoption of Vision Zero in 2016.”

The Safe Streets Act prioritizes pedestrians by enhancing walk times at crosswalks and prohibits “right turn on red” at busy intersections in downtown areas.

“Too many of our neighbors continue to be seriously injured or killed while walking or biking on our roads,” said Glass, who chairs the Transportation and Environment Committee. “The Safe Streets Act of 2023 will bring much-needed safety improvements to our roads and help prevent injuries and death.

“The United States has the highest rate of roadway incidents in the developed world. This legislation will put us on a safer path. I’m grateful to the community members and advocates for safer streets who shared their personal stories and provided valuable perspectives that strengthened this legislation.”

In 2022, 19 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed and 541 people were seriously injured on Montgomery County roads.

At press time, the county has had 11 fatalities and 404 injuries involving pedestrians and cyclists so far in 2023.

The legislation also addresses safer walking routes to school by requiring infrastructure reviews following incidents in school zones, walksheds and bus stops.

“Students deserve to have a safe passage as they travel to and from school by walking, cycling, riding a bus or driving in a car,” said Melissa Regan, co-chair of MCCPTA Safe Routes to School. “The routes and bus stops are too often dangerous. By including school zones improvements, the Safe Streets Bill supports safety measures for our youngest travelers. Parents commend this legislation.”

Kristy Daphnis, steering committee member of MoCo Families for Safe Streets, applauds the council for passing the Safe Streets Act.

“We are hopeful that this renewed focus on safety features along our County roadways, especially in and around school zones and busy pedestrian town centers, will help to improve safety for our children and community members,” she said.

Seth Grimes, Maryland Organizer for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), said the organization is grateful to Glass’ Vision Zero leadership via the new legislation.

“We have to rethink roadway design to meet our commitment to eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries,” he said. “The Safe Streets Act does this: It mandates sensible changes that will make Montgomery County streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

The legislation also requires the county executive to provide a comprehensive automated traffic enforcement plan, which must be updated and resubmitted to the council annually.

“This common-sense legislation will go a long way to make sure the county’s town centers and school zones are safer places to walk, which is good for public health and for our environment. However, this is only the beginning,” said Dan Reed, regional policy director of Greater Greater Washington. “We look forward to working with Council President Glass and the County Council to secure a future in which people are no longer killed walking or bicycling on Montgomery County streets.”

Ramirez did not report the near-miss to police or others, he said.

“I really didn’t think anything would be done,” he said. “I just figured there are too many of those types of incidents happening out there and the police or the elected officials would not be able to do anything.”

Ramirez added, however, that the Safe Streets Act gives him hope for a safer trip.

“I walk all the time,” he said. “I hope this helps. I pray that it does.”

 

    To read the bill, go to https://tinyurl.com/nhdw9nm.

    For more on Montgomery County’s Vision Zero action plan, visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/visionzero/.

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