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With new school year, pedestrian safety a priority in Prince George's County

Monday - 8/19/2013, 7:06am  ET

LARGO, Md. - As Prince George's County students return to school Monday, a top transportation official wants the public to know pedestrian safety is a top priority.

"Statewide, pedestrian fatalities are in the hundreds. Any fatality is one too many on our roadways and it's something we need to look at," says Darrell B. Mobley, acting director of the Prince George's County Department of Public Works and Transportation.

Maryland has the eighth highest number of pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people in the United States. Within Maryland, Prince George's County has the highest number of pedestrian fatalities. In 2011, there were 105 traffic fatalities in Prince George's. That number dropped to 82 in 2012, but remained the top number in Maryland.

In a letter to the Maryland State Highway Administration in February, County Executive Rushern Baker identified Langley Park, East Riverdale, Bladensburg, Kentland, Palmer Park, Coral Hills, Suitland, Hillcrest Heights, Marlow Heights, Glassmanor and Oxon Hill as areas that need considerable upgrades for pedestrian safety.

"We have to make sure we are addressing this issue with the entire community. It's not just a matter of designing safety improvements, but also changing driving behavior and patterns," he says.

Mobley believes speed cameras in school zones play a vital role in that effort. Prince George's County has 72 mobile speed cameras, issuing about 200,000 tickets per year. Drivers are ticketed starting at 12 mph above the limit.

"We certainly want those areas to be safe and we want to try and reduce speeds. They have worked," he says.

But Mobley says the county's Department of Public Works and Transportation has a lot of work to do to improve areas where pedestrian safety is a problem. In 2011, about 83 percent of the pedestrian fatalities happened on state roads, which only make up 12 percent of the total lane miles.

One recently completed project in Forestville could help.

"We just recently opened up a pedestrian signal on Md. 4 (Md. 4/Pennsylvania Avenue) just before you get to Donnell Drive. This crossing will improve pedestrian safety," Mobley says.

Last month, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced transportation funding to Prince George's County that will also help. One new funding project is $50 million to construct a new pedestrian bridge over Md. 5 to the Branch Avenue Metro station. Another was $20 million for bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Route 1 from College Avenue to Maryland Route 193 in College Park.

"We are getting a lot of help from the state to help with pedestrian issues and we will be working on projects that'll have a big impact on pedestrian safety across Prince George's County," says Mobley.

Much of the work also will come from Baker's "Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative" that includes better street lighting, crosswalks and sidewalks.

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