There have been 14 pedestrian accidents in Montgomery County since the beginning of 2013, four of which took place in Bethesda, leaving residents concerned about safety.
Following a Feb. 27 accident in which a car struck a stroller carrying a 3-month-old baby at the intersection of Arlington Road and Edgemoor Lane, a group of Bethesda Elementary parents launched an online petition advocating for increased pedestrian safety measures on the busy street.
The petition, which has 228 supporters as of May 6, asks the Montgomery County Council for speed cameras and radar signs on Arlington Road, better and more visible markings of crosswalks and a change to “no turn on red” in areas with high pedestrian traffic near schools.
“We, the parents of students attending Bethesda Elementary School, are horrified by the number of traffic accidents and near-accidents in and around downtown Bethesda,” the petition reads. “The safety of this walkable haven is at risk.”
Though parents say the concerns about safety are nothing new, February’s incident involving the child in the stroller led to the renewed sense of urgency.
“It was a pretty terrifying experience,” said Robin Harding, the Bethesda resident whose 3-month-old son was knocked over in his stroller and dragged down the road while crossing the street. “[The intersection] is full of children crossing the roads on the way to school. I would like the county to think this through rationally and just consider what’s going to be the best thing, both for safety and for people who are trying to get around.”
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center director Ken Hartman said the county’s Department of Transportation is looking into improving the intersection and repainting the crosswalks with reflective paint, though some parents still do not think enough is being done.
“It’s a start,” wrote Wendy Leibowitz, a mother whose daughter attends Bethesda Elementary and who co-founded the change.org petition. “Speed cameras would be nice, too. I worry nothing will happen until a child is killed.”
Some residents, particularly those who walk their young children to school, believe the problem lies with the drivers, not with pedestrians themselves.
“Right now many drivers drive quite aggressively,” wrote Liebowitz. “Well, eventually the drivers will get out of their cars and become pedestrians!”
Tracy Simmons, a Bethesda resident whose son attends Bethesda Elementary, said she shared Liebowitz’s concerns.
“Children are crossing the street, cars are attempting to make right turns, not looking left to see if someone’s crossing, just going too fast. This needs to change,” said Simmons, who helped co-found the petition to improve the safety features on Arlington Road. “[Harding’s] baby and mom were fine, but this is a glaring example of why attention needs to be paid.”
Local parents aren’t the only ones concerned — Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Dist 8) has called for federal aid from the Department of Transportation to protect pedestrians and cyclists. As part of a bipartisan group of 68 representatives, he advocated for increasing funding available to states to reduce roadway fatalities.
As part of Street Smart, a regional campaign to increase awareness and enforcement of pedestrian and bicycle safety laws, local police are putting an emphasis on ticketing both drivers and pedestrians for breaking the law.
“Everyone has a responsibility when it comes to pedestrian safety,” Capt. Thomas Didone, head of Montgomery County police’s traffic division, told Patch.
Like the many other residents who spend time both walking and driving in downtown Bethesda every day, Simmons echoed Didone’s sentiment.
“The roads are for everyone. I’m not asking cars to stop driving, or bikers to stop biking, or walkers to stop walking,” she said. “But the streets are for everyone, and these streets need to be safe. And we can make them that way.”
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