Montgomery County says a recent analysis of car collisions with pedestrians proves its pedestrian safety efforts are working, despite that data showing a bump in pedestrian collisions in 2012 and seven pedestrian fatalities already this year.
An analysis at the May 8 CountyStat review of County Executive Isiah Leggett’s Pedestrian Safety Initiative showed the most severe collisions involving either debilitating injury or death decreased by 20 percent in 2012 compared to 2011. But total pedestrian collisions increased from 399 in 2011 to 423 in 2012, a result of what the county says was an increase in collisions in private parking lots and garages.
Still, the seven pedestrian fatalities in the first quarter of this year have already surpassed the six pedestrian fatalities in all of of 2012. There were 11 pedestrian fatalities in 2011 and a high of 19 in 2008.
In December, the county said pedestrian collisions had decreased by 12 percent since 2009, when County Executive Isiah Leggett’s Initiative was first funded.
“In 2007, my Pedestrian Safety Initiative outlined a blueprint for reducing pedestrian collisions in Montgomery County, and I am gratified that the plan appears to be working,” Leggett said in a release. “Through engineering, education and enforcement, as well as a broad partnership between residents, County departments and agencies, and the State Highway Administration, the severity of collisions are trending downward, particularly in the areas that need the most help. Targeted interventions really can make a difference in reducing the number of pedestrians who are injured or killed.”
In Bethesda, a group of pedestrian activists and Bethesda Elementary School parents joined together to ask the county to lower speed limits, increase fines and install crossing signals that allow pedestrians an exclusive window to cross in school zones.
Parents at Bethesda Elementary School have been asking for pedestrian safety improvements since a February incident in which a baby in a stroller was hit in an Arlington Road crosswalk. The baby was uninjured. They also cited a Dec. 11 incident on River Road in which a nine-year-old boy was hit while walking to school.
Since, Montgomery County Police have embarked on a number of aggressive pedestrian safety enforcement programs, including staking out Bethesda intersections known to be dangerous and an undercover sting at a crosswalk on Democracy Boulevard that provides access to Walter Johnson High School. The four-hour sting resulted in 56 citations for failing to stop at a crosswalk.
Since 2005, over 160 schools have undergone comprehensive school zone traffic safety assessments and improvements. An analysis of schools with three years of post-improvement data showed the collision rate within a quarter-mile radius of those schools declined from 1.45 to .21 incidents per year — an 85 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions.
Leggett’s Initiative involves targeted enforcement in 10 High Incidence Areas (HIAs), including Wisconsin Avenue between Montgomery Avenue and Leland Avenue and Old Georgetown Road between Fairmont Avenue and Edgemoor Lane.
Montgomery County said pedestrian collisions in HIAs dropped by 45 percent since almost $5 million in funding was kicked in for the program in 2009. Almost $2.2 million has been dedicated to audits of those areas. In a December celebration of his Initiative, Leggett said more emphasis has been put on street lighting, upgrading pedestrian signals, completing traffic calming projects and enforcing traffic laws in the HIAs, resulting in nearly 3,000 citations and about 1,000 warnings to pedestrians and motorists.
After a rash of pedestrian collisions in March, Action Committee for Transit’s Ben Ross took exception with a County Police press release that he said unfairly put part of the blame on pedestrians and not drivers.
The CountyStat analysis found that police are increasingly finding drivers at fault in pedestrian collisions. In 2012, drivers were found at fault 59 percent of the time while pedestrians were found at fault 35 percent of the time. In six percent of collisions, fault was undetermined or both the driver and pedestrian were found at fault.
The ratio historically has shown an equal amount of driver-at-fault and pedestrian-at-fault incidents.
The press release on the CountyStat analysis also revealed the county is developing a plan to reduce pedestrian collisions in parking lots. The county says a bump of 31 collisions in parking lots and garages in 2012 is to blame for overall increase of pedestrian collisions. The 121 collisions that happened in parking lots and garages make up 29 percent of the 423 total collisions in 2012.
None of the incidents were fatal but 19 resulted in debilitating injuries.