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For pedestrian safety, Montgomery County cracks down on both sides

Thursday - 6/13/2013, 9:51am  ET

SILVER SPRING, Md. - With 11 pedestrians killed in Montgomery County this year -- more than in all of 2012 combined -- some pedestrian advocates are saying transportation officials and police are not doing enough for them.

"Some of us believe that many roads have been built in Montgomery County where the emphasis is on drivers first, then pedestrians in a distant second," says Tina Slater, president of the Action Committee for Transit, an organization that promotes mass transit options and pedestrian safety.

"There are more places like Bethesda, Silver Spring and White Flint popping up, walkable communities," Slater says. "We need to recognize that we're purposely putting more pedestrians out there and drivers need to be aware and conscious of pedestrians."

Slater's group was concerned after Montgomery County police data showed a vast majority of tickets during pedestrian stings in 2012 went to pedestrians, not drivers. In total, 2,001 citations were issued to drivers and pedestrians for the violations of failing to yield to a pedestrian or failure to cross in a proper crosswalk.

About 1,850 of the citations were given to pedestrians.

Montgomery County police Capt. Thomas Didone, who heads the department's traffic safety division, says the numbers are skewed because it was the first year of a two-year enforcement effort.

"Last year we targeted high-incident areas where our information showed that pedestrians were often at fault. We believe we were successful and educating pedestrians to be safer. This year, we're focusing on high-incident areas where drivers are the focus," he says.

In early May, Montgomery County police began pedestrian stings at several intersections, including near Walter Johnson High School, Thomas S. Wootton High School and Bethesda Elementary School.

According to data provided to WTOP, 318 tickets have been handed out between May 8 and June 5, with 282 of them going to drivers and only 36 to pedestrians.

"The figures were in one direction last year, now you'll likely see the numbers in the other direction this year," says Didone.

He adds that with distracted driving and distracted walking growing because of smartphones, it's up to both drivers and pedestrians to prevent tragedies.

Jeff Dunckel, pedestrian safety coordinator with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, insists that pedestrians are a priority in his department.

"You don't have to violate traffic laws to get through our county," Dunckel says. "Bottom line: Drivers are required to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. They don't have to break those laws to get home from work faster. Our effort is to have a balanced approach on the issue."

Dunckel spoke to Slater this week and shared a PowerPoint presentation about the issue.

Among the measures highlighted in the presentation include sidewalk and light improvements, audible push buttons, flashing beacons for drivers and adding mid-block crossings at busy locations like Piney Branch Road.

Dunckel also says traffic-calming measures have been helpful. According to the presentation, the average speeds on several stretches of Cedar Lane, Jones Bridge Road and Dale Drive, among other roadways, have all gone down with the measures.

Slater remains hopeful that with pressure, Montgomery County officials will continue to make sure pedestrians and bicyclists get a fair shake.

"As we're moving towards more walkable communities, and also adding bicyclists through Capital Bikeshare, it's important drivers know they share the road," she says.

"We will continue to keep the pressure on Montgomery County to make sure pedestrians are protected and safe."

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