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County Makes Changes To Bethesda, Woodmont Avenues Traffic Signal

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 3/4/2013, 12:20pm  ET

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation in January made a signal change at a busy Bethesda intersection after hearing traffic complaints around the heavily scrutinized Lot 31 construction project.

But to one Bethesda transit activist, the change should have also meant more focus on the amount of time pedestrians get to cross the road.

Ben Ross, vice president of the Action Committee for Transit, says the county’s move to extend the green signal for traffic traveling along Bethesda Avenue across Woodmont Avenue at Bethesda Row means an insufficient amount of time for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the intersection:

Of course, with their usual attitude toward pedestrians, they shortened the walk signal to cross Bethesda, but did not lengthen the walk signal to cross Woodmont.  So pedestrians, at what’s probably the busiest pedestrian crossing in the county, get just 6 seconds out of every 100 to start across the road.

County spokeswoman Esther Bowring said MCDOT did not modify the pedestrian timings, but that they are a function of the amount of time allowed for traffic on each leg of the intersection.

The intersection will be cut off at Woodmont Avenue south of Bethesda Avenue until at least the summer of 2014, as the county and developer StonebridgeCarrass build a 940-space parking garage under Woodmont Avenue and the former space of Lot 31. StonebridgeCarrass will build a 240-unit apartment and condo building with 40,000 square feet of retail on what was Lot 31.

The road has been closed since last September.

In October, Ross took to Greater Greater Washington to argue the County’s modifications at the intersection were too car-centric, especially at an intersection frequented by cyclists and pedestrians on the Capital Crescent Trail.

Bowring said the green light on Bethesda Avenue was extended after complaints from workers in an office building where cars leaving a garage were getting backed up.

In September, a worker at the building told us afternoon rush hour congestion on Bethesda Avenue sometimes meant cars were backing up to the second level of the garage and a trip that usually took about 30 seconds took eight minutes.

In a response to the complaint from Ross, Bowring also defended the county’s record on improving pedestrian safety:

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has proven its commitment to improving pedestrian safety in the County thanks to the County Executive’s Pedestrian Safety Initiative.  Since 2009, pedestrian collisions have decreased 12 percent and the most severe collisions, those where pedestrians are incapacitated or killed, has declined 21 percent.

County Executive Isiah Leggett and other leaders last year celebrated the five-year anniversary of the Initiative.

Wisconsin Avenue between Montgomery Avenue and Leland Avenue and Old Georgetown Road between Fairmont Avenue and Edgemoor Lane were two of 10 areas the county designated as High Incidence Areas (HIAs) in which it says collisions have dropped by 45 percent since education, engineering and enforcement strategies first got almost $5 million of funding in July 2009.