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8½ minutes to cross the street

When you get off the northbound bus at Route 355 and Shady Grove Road in Rockville, it takes 8½ minutes to cross legally to the other side of the street. Along the way, you traverse 28 traffic lanes.

Photo from Bing.

Just last week, two pedestrians were severely injured crossing the street at this intersection. I went there Saturday to look around. When I explained what I was interested in, people waiting for the southbound bus immediately pointed me to the bus stop on the other side.

I walked there, taking care to obey the law, and timed the return trip. It took 8½ minutes one way.

From the northbound bus stop (off the picture past point A on the picture below), I proceeded along the Route 355 sidewalk and reached the intersection at B. There I walked across a wide turn lane designed for high speeds that has no traffic signal—fortunately weekend traffic in the turn lane is light—and reached the traffic island at C.

Photo from Google Earth.

There is no crosswalk across the south side of the intersection (because there's a traffic light here, there's no unmarked crosswalk). Therefore, I had to wait for the walk signal to cross the 9 lanes of Shady Grove Road. The wait was substantial, because this is a slow light; the signal cycle is 2½ minutes.

When I reached the next traffic island at D, I found a "beg button"—a button that you press to get a walk signal. Cars made left turns for a little while, the through lanes began to move, and I got my signal to proceed across the 8 lanes of Route 355. The walk and flashing don't-walk phases, together, lasted 23 seconds.

I walk briskly, so I was able to finish the 104-foot crossing before the signal became a solid don't-walk. But a slower, and strictly law-abiding, pedestrian would have had to stop in the median. There is no beg button in the median, so they would have had to wait—who knows how long—until another pedestrian came along who follows traffic rules so punctiliously that they bother to push beg buttons.

Having finally reached point E, I had to wait again for a walk signal. This time I had 10 lanes to cross, but here there is a long green that gives you plenty of time. Finally, I walked along the sidewalk from F to G, and after 8½ minutes I arrived at the southbound bus stop.

New beg button at "C." Photo by the author.

The Montgomery County Department of Transpor­tation is not ignoring this troubled intersection. It has installed 4 new beg buttons, not yet operational. But the way MCDOT is using these devices almost flaunts the low priority it assigns to pedestrian safety and convenience.

One of the new buttons is at location C. That's where pedestrians cross a high-speed turn lane that has no traffic light. The turn lane won't change at all. It still won't have a light; you will still take your life in your hands to cross during rush hour. The beg button will only control the through lanes, making you wait through the 2½ minute light cycle if you arrive when the light is already green. Walking will be even slower; a few more cars will get through.

MCDOT is willing enough to spend money on walk signals. Here and there, as at this intersection, it will make traffic islands prettier and improve curb cuts. But getting people where they want to go on foot, quickly and safely, is never as important to the department as moving cars.

Route 355 and Shady Grove Road, as envisioned in the 2006 master plan and as it is today. Left, rendering from MNCPPC; right, photo from Google Earth.

Ironically, this is a place the county has designated for transit-oriented land use. It is only ¾ of a mile from the Shady Grove Metro station and on a future Bus Rapid Transit route. According to the master plan for this area, "Residents will find walking along tree-lined streets and using bike paths as convenient as driving."

The master plan, which the County Council enacted in 2006, specifies that road builders must "provide four-way crosswalks at all intersections." Seven years have passed, and MCDOT can't seem to find a can of paint. It takes as long to cross the street, at Shady Grove and 355, as the Purple Line will take to go from Silver Spring to Bethesda.

Ben Ross was president of the Action Committee for Transit for 15 years. His book about the politics of urbanism and transit, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, is now available in paperback. 


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I always felt that those buttons were a fundamental violation of my civil rights not to mention ADA implications. I'd like to see an intersection where motorists had to get out and push a button to signal the light.

by Alan B. on Jan 14, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

Well done, Ben.

by Jasper on Jan 14, 2013 12:19 pm • linkreport

Thanks for putting the diagram after the jump. I was thinking, "28 lanes... surely you can't be serious!"

by Frank IBC on Jan 14, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

Does ½ work in some browsers? I think you're actually looking for & then frac12 then ;.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 14, 2013 12:29 pm • linkreport

"Jaywalker" training.

by oboe on Jan 14, 2013 12:30 pm • linkreport

It's worth noting that there is a commercial center just beyond F and G. The route Ben took is the one commuters would take if they came by bus from Shady Grove Metro to get to those shops.

by Ronit on Jan 14, 2013 12:35 pm • linkreport

Thats what you get when the "transportation" in MCDOT only means "cars." Until Legget and the council get MCDOT to change its view, a lot of the talk about "walkable communities" etc will be frustrated.

by SJE on Jan 14, 2013 12:43 pm • linkreport

The diagonal distances across this intersection are 250 feet. That would make for a very long "Barnes Dance".

by Frank IBC on Jan 14, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

@Ben, thank you for taking the time to document this. Its really important and you did it excellently.

by Tina on Jan 14, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

This is my neck of the woods and it is a bad intersection by all measures. First there are a lot of cars that use this intersection. Secondly since the county waste transfer station as well as a dozen or more important county facilities are on Shady Grove Road the truck traffic is quite high.

Finally the other traffic lights on Shady grove road are not synced at all making a 1 mile trip on shady grove road take 10 minutes at times. I only bring this up because due the badly designed traffic lights cars very often run the red light in the picture. In many case it is not uncommon to see 3 or more do so at rush hour. During rush hour you would be taking your life into your own hands making this walk.

by Matt R on Jan 14, 2013 12:49 pm • linkreport

@ Ronit:

Yes. It's amazing that the only really feasible path from the northbound bus stop is the one that has no crosswalk.

North on 355 - nearest structure 2,000 feet from bus stop

East on Shady Grove Rd. - nearest structure 1,600 feet from bus stop

South on 355 (staying on east side) - nearest structure 1,800 feet

To hotel on west side of street, using non-existent crosswalk - 800 feet

To hotel on west side of street, crossing directly at bus stop - 270 feet

by Frank IBC on Jan 14, 2013 12:56 pm • linkreport

Finally the other traffic lights on Shady grove road are not synced at all making a 1 mile trip on shady grove road take 10 minutes at times

It took Ben almost as long to get across the street (104 feet).

by Miriam on Jan 14, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

* I'd like to see an intersection where motorists had
* to get out and push a button to signal the light.

There are many such intersections of small streets with Broadway in Vancouver, BC. While these "flashing green light" signals were originally intended for pedestrians, motorists discovered they could get out and use them too to get a light where they could make a left turn. I believe a clarification of law back in the 90's actually made it illegal for motorists to get out and push the button.

The "flashing green" signals in Vancouver certainly cause a lot of confusion among American visitors when they find out that perpendicular traffic has nothing more than a stop sign .

by BO on Jan 14, 2013 1:18 pm • linkreport

This is what MNCPPC and PGCC want bake in to the master plan for Greenbelt Road and Hanover Parkway, with medical offices, a grocery/strip mall, apartments, and a High School on the corners. Ridiculous. They might as well just dig a moat and fill it with crocodiles -- it will be impossible to cross (as opposed to just difficult now).

by Greenbelt on Jan 14, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

I had not heard the term "beg button" until today.

It puts everything in perfect perspective.

by Frank IBC on Jan 14, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

It takes as long to cross the street, at Shady Grove and 355, as the Purple Line will take to go from Silver Spring to Bethesda.

Excellent line that really drives the point home.

by Cavan on Jan 14, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

Among the many problems is one that seems common in Montgomery County: exceptionally long light cycles. If you just miss a light as a pedestrian or a motorist, you're looking at waiting 2+ minutes at many intersections, all of increases the chance of speeding and frustration. This is even worse when green cycles are not long enough to clear traffic queues (especially for turn lanes), so you have to sit still for 2+ minutes before moving at all.

In addition to just long cycles, many many Montgomery County intersections have too many movements. Often a protected left, then green ball, then protected left the other way for both cross streets.

by Adam F on Jan 14, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

Ben, this is a good article. But I disagree with your assertion that there is not an unmarked crosswalk at the south side. Why do you think that the existence of a traffic light takes away the status of unmarked crosswalk?

by JimT on Jan 14, 2013 2:20 pm • linkreport

Take 2: Why do you think that the traffic light takes away the status of unmarked crosswalk in the south side of the intersection

by JimT on Jan 14, 2013 2:22 pm • linkreport

Is it just my browser (IE 8) or do comments run off

the edge of the screen within a paragraph unless

you insert some sort of line break?

by JimT on Jan 14, 2013 2:27 pm • linkreport

JimT: Thanks, I've fixed the problem.

by David Alpert on Jan 14, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

That Google earth photo is a traffic engineers dream!

by Greenbelt on Jan 14, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

Thanks. Here is the MD code's definition of crosswalk. I don't see anything in this definition that would not apply to the south side of the intersection we are dicussing.

(i) Crosswalk. -- "Crosswalk" means that part of a roadway that is:

(1) Within the prolongation or connection of the lateral lines of sidewalks at any place where 2 or more roadways of any type meet or join, measured from the curbs or, in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the roadway;

(2) Within the prolongation or connection of the lateral lines of a bicycle way where a bicycle way and a roadway of any type meet or join, measured from the curbs or, in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the roadway; or

(3) Distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings.

by JimT on Jan 14, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

One final comment to this monologue: If we all agree that there really is an unmarked crosswalk, that begs the question, who can do what?

1. Can the City of Rockville be persuaded to do regular enforcement of crosswalk violations. MoCo police seem to only do stings at marked crosswalks, but some stings at unmarked crosswalks might do more to promote public education about the law.

2. This is a state highway, so I gather that SHA decided not to paint the extra crosswalk. Maybe regular stings would persuade them otherwise.

3. Realistically, the City of Rockville has the greater political capacity to enforce at this intersection because its citizens comprise a greater fraction of pedestrians than drivers. So why don't they?

by JimT on Jan 14, 2013 2:56 pm • linkreport

I'm amazed at the amount of vacant land at this location.

by Frank IBC on Jan 14, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

@Frank IBC

Seconded - I never really scoped that area out in google maps. Compared to areas near the ends of other metro lines (PGC lines excluded), it is interesting.

by Steve on Jan 14, 2013 3:50 pm • linkreport

Pretty sure this has been said by now- but while the signal is County-maintained; the intersection is State-owned. All design elements and operations are under purview of the SHA.

by Bossi on Jan 14, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

@Frank -- Why amazed by the vacant land? An intersection that sucks for people and is unpleasant for driving is probably going to suck for business too!

by Greenbelt on Jan 14, 2013 4:31 pm • linkreport

This is a problem in many places around MoCo. It's hard to make walkable neighborhoods around 10-lane highways. I would suggest tunnels, because those roads are not designed with peds in mind. 2 1/2 minute waits are going to be pretty standard to cross. However, tunnels can be sketchy. Maybe a series of islands to break up the highway at junctions like this and calm traffic? Enlarged crosswalks, more plantings (very useful in the summer when you can catch the sun in the time it takes to cross these traffic sewers!). Different color of pavement approaching the intersection to provide a visual cue to drivers to expect pedestrians.

by renegade09 on Jan 14, 2013 5:31 pm • linkreport

After a heavy snow, the county piles snow onto sidewalks and pedestrian islands at every intersection making crossing more dangerous and time consuming.

by PhilGP on Jan 14, 2013 5:56 pm • linkreport

@ PhilGP -

Ah, that brings back memories of one of the superstorms.

I was walking along a major road at night. Normally three lanes in each direction but reduced to two because of the volume of the plowed snow, and not even an attempt to plow the sidewalk.

I had to walk in the roadway, facing traffic, and dive into the snowbank every time a car approached.

Luckily I was younger and more agile back then.

by Frank IBC on Jan 14, 2013 7:49 pm • linkreport

You would be surprised at how little designating an area as "Transit Oriented Development" means, mostly because most of the planning technicians, engineers, developers and code enforcers don't actually understand basic walkable urban design. I've seen too many potential TOD areas just turn into an excuse for high density without providing the proper road/sidewalk connectivity for people and slower moving cars.

Currently doing the engineering for some townhouses in the Largo Town Center "TOD" area, they are being placed right in the center of a highway on ramp!

by DCNimby on Jan 14, 2013 8:11 pm • linkreport

It's ironic how amazingly un-"transit-oriented" many of the Metro stations themselves are. Shady Grove is a case in point.

by Frank IBC on Jan 14, 2013 8:25 pm • linkreport

That's one nasty intersection, no question about it.  I bike through it all the time; it's also a primo spot for panhandlers to hit up autos queued for the stoplights. 

Bus passengers who need to end up on the W side of 355 can slightly simplify the unpleasant walk by staying on the bus until it crosses Shady Grove Road since the next stop is just N of the intersection, underneath the I-370 overpass. 

@Frank IBC,

That highway is why the NE and NW corners of the intersection appear vacant; the SE corner was at one point set aside for a future fire station.  King Auto has occasionally used it for overflow vehicle storage. 

by agree that it's yucky on Jan 14, 2013 9:27 pm • linkreport

Just a reminder that in China they have found a way to get pedestrians across major intersections (see photo at link below.

by Frank Spielberg on Jan 15, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

At the 2009 Rail~Volution conference in Boston, Kim Delaney, Growth Management Coordinator for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council in Florida, mentioned what she called the evil twin brother of transit-oriented development: transit-adjacent development, which she said is not pedestrian-friendly. It's merely something built next to the station, not something integrated with the station in a community. That sounds like some of the so-called transit-oriented development mentioned above.

by Steve Dunham on Jan 15, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

Montgomery County is very good at not putting crossings on the South side of intersections. If they think most people are going to walk the other three sides, they're idiots. It's no wonder people cross randomly -- it's faster and often safer. They do this even in downtown Bethesda. They need to take some lessons from Arlington.

by dseain on Jan 15, 2013 8:14 pm • linkreport

Like Woody Allen said in ANNIE HALL: "Walk? No, I'll take a cab from here, thank you."

by Tom on Jan 15, 2013 9:50 pm • linkreport

I see Jim T beat me to the unmarked crosswalk issue.
Ref: Surprising Aspects of Maryland Pedestrian Laws:

I'm just not seeing any legal requirement not to use the unmarked crosswalk. We have a law how to cross with no pedestrian signal: § 21-202. Traffic lights with steady indication

And we have a law how to cross with a pedestrian signal: § 21-203. Pedestrian control signals

I don't see where you have to do one over the other.

Point #2:
"In all counties state roads account for the majority of pedestrian fatalities"

"The conclusions from this study were as follows:

• The detection distances to continental and bar pairs are statistically similar and are statistically longer than those for transverse markings.

• For the existing midblock locations, continental markings were detected at about twice the distance upstream as transverse markings during daytime conditions. This increase in distance reflects 8 s of increased awareness of the crossing for a 30-mi/h operating speed.

• The results of the appearance ratings of the markings on a scale of A to F mirrored the findings from the detection distance evaluation. Participants preferred the continental and bar pair markings over the transverse markings.

• Participants gave the continental and bar pair markings similar ratings during both the daytime and nighttime. However, the transverse marking ratings differed based on the light level. The participants gave slightly better ratings (although still worse than continental or bar pair markings) for transverse markings during the nighttime as compared to the daytime. The lower ratings during daylight conditions might be due to sun glare or shadow issues mentioned by the participants."

In other words, the type of crosswalk markings used by SHA have the lowest rating.

by Barry Childress on Jan 16, 2013 9:33 am • linkreport

Never trust a rendering. It's taken me a few years to come to that conclusion. If I was artistic and could use the software well, I'd make "counter renderings".

For example, there's a rendering that shows a new flyover that is about to be proposed in neighborhood that happens to have a freeway through (in Chicago). But the rendering shows the pedestrian's view – from the street – of the flyover, looking south. The rendering looking north would show a very different view but that rendering isn't including in the project package.

by Steven Vance on Jan 17, 2013 4:22 pm • linkreport

This is a bad intersection. There is, however, a faster, shorter way to cross. Stay on the bus until the next stop, which is just North of Shady Grove Rd. That way you only need to cross 355 and Shady Grove once to reach the Southbound bus.

The distance is just 0.1 miles.

by Mike on Mar 3, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

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