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Schools, churches call for traffic improvements near Westbard Avenue and Massachusetts

Push comes after girl struck by car crossing street Sept. 13

Representatives from Westland Middle School, St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, and other institutions around Massachusetts Avenue and Westbard Avenue are advocating for transportation improvements in the area after a girl was struck by a car there Sept. 13 while crossing the street.

The incident was first reported in The Gazette Wednesday.

The pedestrian, a 13-year-old girl, was crossing Massachusetts Avenue in a mid-block crosswalk near Westbard Avenue, according to Blanca Kling, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County police. A driver attempted to pass a car on Massachusetts that he thought was making a left turn, Kling said, and struck the girl.

Jennifer Webster, the principal of Thomas W. Pyle Middle School, where the girl is enrolled, said she's recovering.

Safety concerns about speeding cars combined with lots of foot traffic from students at Westland and the nearby Little Flower School have stretched back years, according to Alysa Emden, president of Westland's PTA.

"We've been saying 'It's an accident waiting to happen, it's an accident waiting to happen,' and it happened," Emden said.

"There's lots of cars turning in and out of Westland and Little Flower, and it's very difficult to make a left turn sometimes into that Massachusetts Avenue traffic," she said. "You've got cars turning off of Massachusetts onto Westbard and Little Flower kids trying to cross the street – it's just not a good mix."

Schools and church representatives are concerned both about the mid-block crosswalk near Westland Middle School on Massachusetts – which isn't located near a street light or stop sign – and the signalized crosswalk nearby at Westbard and Massachusetts. Even though there are traffic signals to guide pedestrians there, cars making turns onto Massachusetts can turn into the path of pedestrians following a "walk" signal.

Wednesday, Little Flower teacher Michael Chiazze held out his hand to stop cars making a right turn onto Massachusetts Avenue from Westbard Avenue as Little Flower students crossed the street there. Chiazze said he walks students across the intersection every day.

"There's a light here, and this is the most dangerous part of where I get the kids to cross," Chiazze said. "I literally have to hold up traffic."

Rev. Jeff MacKnight, rector at the nearby St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, said the church hosted a meeting Sept. 29 with representatives from Little Flower and Westland, along with second district police Cmdr. Russ Hamill.

"We're advocating for whatever measures might be effective to make the area safer for pedestrians, particularly children," MacKnight said. Besides Westland Middle School and the Little Flower church and school, the intersection is also home to the St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church and Pilgrim Lutheran Church. Both of the churches house pre-schools, MacKnight said. There's typically a lot of children in the area, he said.

"The mid-block crosswalks are pretty routinely ignored by motorists and we're looking at options that could make a stronger statement that people really need to slow down and stop if anybody's in the crosswalks," MacKnight  said. Those who attended the meeting discussed the possibility of using a crossing guard during the times school lets out or installing blinking lights near the mid-block crosswalk, MacKnight said.

The State Highway Administration is responsible for crosswalks on state roads, including Massachusetts Avenue. A mobile speed camera is set to go online soon at the intersection, Kling said.

Fletcher Jones October 08, 2010 at 04:24 PM
Glad to see this article. This is in my neighborhood and the mid-block crosswalk is really poorly placed on this stretch. Due to the long, flat nature of this stretch of Mass it is too easy to miss someone crossing the street against a background of a lot of other activity. I agree there is definite room for improvement.
Erin Donaghue (Editor) October 08, 2010 at 08:23 PM
Thanks for commenting, Fletcher. In the article I also linked to a story Bethesda Patch did on mid-block crosswalks -- traffic officials tell us that drivers don't always expect to see crosswalks outside of an intersection. It looks like in this case what happened is what some of the folks we spoke to in the article worried was the danger -- once a pedestrian is out in the middle of the street and has one lane of traffic stopped for them, the next lane of traffic may not see/stop for the pedestrian. This area seems to be a trouble spot because of how busy Massachusetts Avenue is and how many children are in the area.

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