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Pedestrian safety is a priority for some counties, but not all

Sunday - 2/3/2013, 7:11am  ET

Ari Ashe, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Crossing a street in the D.C. metro area can prove challenging for bikers and pedestrians, but some jurisdictions are doing a better job than others when it comes to balancing pedestrian and driver safety.

"Arlington is doing amazing work, where as Fairfax, not so much," says Barbara McCann, founder of the National Complete Streets Coalition, an organization that pushes for transportation policies to equally consider drivers, bicyclists, mass transit and pedestrians.

Arlington is a member of the Street Smart campaign - a local campaign that addresses pedestrian and bicyclist safety - and was one of four communities in the nation to be recognized as a GOLD-Level Walk Friend Community in April 2011.

According to Street Smart, Arlington builds about 1.25 miles of new sidewalks each year and does an effective job at distributing large quantities of bike and pedestrian safety guides.

Arlington also has two groups, WalkArlington and Neighborhood 25, which actively work to ensure pedestrian safety in the county.

"They have a Complete Streets policy and they make their roads work for all users," McCann says. "They balance all the modes of travel well."

Additionally, Arlington gets high marks for integrating Capital Bikeshare - the largest bike-sharing program in the country - into the community. Capital Bikeshare also has stations in D.C. and Alexandria.

The City of Alexandria receives high marks for its bike trails, as well as for the city's efforts to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety while developing Potomac Yard along Route 1.

In Maryland, Howard County is credited with being pedestrian friendly due to walkable, planned communities and manageable intersections in Columbia and Ellicott City.

On the other end, McCann points to Fairfax County in Virginia and Montgomery County in Maryland as jurisdictions with problems adopting safe streets. In Fairfax County, Route 1, U.S. Route 50, Route 7, Route 236 and Route 29 all have intersections that are difficult for pedestrians to cross, and are thus prone to pedestrian accidents.

From 2003 through 2007, each roadway had sections with between 11-24 pedestrian injuries and three-to-five fatalities, according to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation Pedestrian Program.

Between 1995 and 2007, Fairfax County averaged 14 pedestrian fatalities per year. In contrast, Arlington County had no pedestrian fatalities between 2004 and 2011.

Two pedestrians were killed in Arlington in 2012, including 30-year-old Shabnam Motahhar-Tehrani on December 24 on North Glebe Road and North Randolph Street.

In Montgomery County, pedestrian fatalities dropped from 19 in 2008 to six in 2012. The county also has a Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee that meets every other month.

However, McCann points to several intersections in Germantown, Gaithersburg and Clarksburg that are not pedestrian friendly and often lead to accidents.

"If the measure of success in Montgomery County is moving traffic quickly and that's the only metric used, then we'll never see pedestrian safety," McCann says.

Montgomery County Executive launched a Pedestrian Safety Initiative in December 2007 to address these issues.

Jeff Dunckel, coordinator for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation Pedestrian Safety Initiative, says that some parts of the county were not built for pedestrians, so changes to improve safety are coming slowing.

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