Greater Greater Washington

Gaithersburg police target people in the way of cars

"Gaithersburg police declare pedestrian safety is top issue along 355," a recent Gazette headline announced. But "Gaithersburg police target people on foot who get in the way of people in cars" would have been more like it.

According to the Gazette, Gaithersburg police used a grant from the Maryland State Highway Administration to issue more than 150 warnings and 83 tickets for jaywalking, crossing against the light, and speeding, on a single stretch of MD 355 between Old Town Gaithersburg and Lakeforest Mall. Even after this effort, "[Gaithersburg Police] Department spokesman Officer Dan Lane said pedestrian safety along Route 355 remains a concern for police..."


Photo by the author.

And well it should. In the targeted half-mile stretch of MD 355 between Brookes and Odendhal Avenues, described in the Gazette as a "block," there are six street intersections. There are two lanes of traffic in either direction, with a bi-directional turning lane in the middle.

There are seven bus stops, for the seven-day-a-week 55 and 59 Ride-On buses. There are apartment buildings, a supermarket, fast-food and sit-down restaurants, office buildings, stores, and a shopping center. And there is one crosswalkat Chestnut Street, 0.4 miles south of the crosswalk at Odendhal.

Again according to the Gazette, the Gaithersburg police chose this section of MD 355 "based on complaints from the public." But who could the complainers have been? Given the police department's responsewriting tickets for jaywalkingit's unlikely they were the people forced to choose between walking nearly half a mile out of the way to cross at a crosswalk or dashing through five lanes of traffic on a state highway. That leaves the people who see the road through a windshield and have to slow down when pedestrians try to cross in front of their cars.

So maybe the City of Gaithersburg should try again. If they're really concerned about pedestrian safety, perhaps they should cut back on the jaywalking tickets and instead propose a joint effort with the MD SHA to put in a few more places for people to cross safely and legally on foot.


Photo by the author.

Yes, this might mean a slightly slower trip, for the people who use this major commuting route in cars. But how about all of the other people who want to use the road without reorganizing their day or risking their lives?

Miriam Schoenbaum lives in Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve. She serves on the MARC Riders' Advisory Council and is a member of the Action Committee for Transit

Comments

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You should contact your delegate about this stretch of roadway. To me, it sounds like there may be inadequate pedestrian crossings on the corridor. You could also contact SHA. SHA is supposed to respond to all requests.

by Murn on Oct 4, 2010 12:36 pm • linkreport

AMEN. I hate this stretch of road. There is a crosswalk at Odendhal, a crosswalk at Chestnut, and that's it. I always feel as if my life is in danger when trying to cross. On occasion, cars will actually let me go by, but usually, it's just me standing in the turning lane, having cars honk at me in every direction. I know I'm preventing them from SPEEDING down 355 (seriously, did the cops check THAT part out?), but where else am I supposed to go?

by Justin..... on Oct 4, 2010 12:40 pm • linkreport

Under Maryland law, there are probably unmarked crosswalks on some of the intersections on this stretch of road. How many tickets did the police write for drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians in unmarked crosswalks?

by Ben Ross on Oct 4, 2010 12:43 pm • linkreport

Email this post to the Gaithersburg city council. They are pretty responsive.

by BeyondDC on Oct 4, 2010 12:44 pm • linkreport

So what was the breakdown? The article says speeding as well as ped enforcement. You seem to assume it was all jaywalking tickets.

by m on Oct 4, 2010 12:53 pm • linkreport

So we complain about the police not enforcing the laws, but now we're complaining about them enforcing the 'wrong' ones?

Shouldn't they enforce all of them?

by mch on Oct 4, 2010 1:02 pm • linkreport

@Ben Ross:

How many tickets did the police write for drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians in unmarked crosswalks?

Hahahahahahaaha!

Oh, sorry...heh... That was a good one!

by oboe on Oct 4, 2010 1:08 pm • linkreport

>Shouldn't they enforce all of them?

Good point. I wouldn't blame the police here so much as the street's lack of adequate pedestrian facilities.

by BeyondDC on Oct 4, 2010 1:14 pm • linkreport

So we complain about the police not enforcing the laws, but now we're complaining about them enforcing the 'wrong' ones?

Okay, just to break it down: there are finite policing resources. Police are constantly deciding which laws to enforce, and which to ignore. Police *could* be enforcing pedestrian access. They could be enforcing speed limit laws.

Instead they ignore laws that should be urgently enforced because they primarily impact folks with political clout, and crack down on folks forced to jaywalk because of shitty urban design. So, yes, we're complaining about them "enforcing the 'wrong' ones."

by oboe on Oct 4, 2010 1:25 pm • linkreport

Nobody is forced to jaywalk. Just like the police can not enforce every law, people choose which laws to circumvent every single day. We all do it.

by Lou on Oct 4, 2010 1:29 pm • linkreport

I live in "North Bethesda" and can say that it doesn't seem to matter how close a crosswalk is or how many crosswalks there are, lazy people will always just walk across the street in front of on-coming traffic. In fact, just yesterday a man and woman got stuck in the center median because they were too inept to cross at the crosswalk 50 feet away. Genius. Unfortunately, I never see anyone getting jaywalking tickets there.

by Chris on Oct 4, 2010 1:32 pm • linkreport


Sorry, but if you are on foot, and you're given a choice between "walking nearly half a mile out of the way to cross at a crosswalk or dashing through five lanes of traffic on a state highway" you have effectively been "forced to jaywalk."

by oboe on Oct 4, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

A. The pictures and common sense for anyone who has been in the area reinforce the notion that the bottom line message that this stretch of road is very pedestrian unfriendly, especially for those who want to get from one side to the other. Writing a bunch of tickets, regardless of which kind, is no solution.
B. This post, I think, does exhibit a kind of framing here at GGW that does occasionally veer from objectivity. Specifically, on the issue of how many tickets were issued for which violation. The sentence with the numbers could just as easily be interpreted to mean 1 ticket for jaywalking as 81 tickets. But the rest of the post seems to assume the enforcement activity was disproportionately on pedestrians. Furthermore, the comment about who might have complained is entirely speculative based on the information provided in the post. It is certainly possible that pedestrians complained about speeding cars. Based on my own experience with neighborhood associations and this kind of local citizen activity, it could just as well have been a little old lady watching from her living room window and who got worried about the pedestrians crossing. If the Gazette article goes on to provide more information implicating the police for having biased enforcement, it should be provided here and readers should not just be assumed to have clicked on the link and read the source material themselves.

by Josh S on Oct 4, 2010 2:13 pm • linkreport

While I agree with the conclusion of this post - that there should be more marked crosswalks here - there is a big point being missed by the original post and by the comments. There is a crosswalk at every intersection along this stretch, whether it's marked or not. And that means that anyone crossing at any corner is not jaywalking. And even more, since there is no street segment with signalized intersections at both ends of the same block, it is also not illegal to cross outside of a crosswalk, but drivers do have the right of way over pedestrians in that situation. So, the only "jaywalking" that the police could be ticketing is crossing against a don't walk signal, not crossing outside of a crosswalk.

See Maryland Transportation Article Section 21-503.

by J. Walker on Oct 4, 2010 2:24 pm • linkreport

@J. Walker:
+1000

by Matt Johnson on Oct 4, 2010 2:28 pm • linkreport

"Unmarked crosswalks"?? I'm a full time pedestrian and had never heard of such things. But i looked it up and what do you know? Every corner is in fact a cross walk! Good to know.

How much would it cost to paint those crosswalks in? Maybe you can use any leftover change from the seat cushions to toss up a few yield to pedestrian signs!

by Chris on Oct 4, 2010 2:36 pm • linkreport

Doh- Ben Ross beat me to it. Just to expand a bit...

Maryland does not have an explicit jaywalking law, nor am I aware of on in Gaithersburg's City Code. There are some contradictory laws in the State code, however...

The nearest State law to a jaywalking law is 21-503(c) "Between adjacent intersections at which a traffic control signal is in operation, a pedestrian may cross a roadway only in a marked crosswalk"

This references a marked crosswalk, despite decisions establishing that unmarked crossings at street crossings (Pratt v. Coleman, Casanow v. Smouse, Lipphard v. Hanes) &/or as a continuation of sidewalks (Harris v. Bowie) are equal in legality as marked crosswalks.

Furthermore, it's not well-defined as to what adjacent signalised intersections are... such as the total span between them without cross-street (as could be an issue in rural areas) or whether *any* cross-street in-between breaks up the "adjacent" determinant (as could be an issue in suburban & urban areas).

by Bossi on Oct 4, 2010 2:36 pm • linkreport

I'm outraged that the police are enforcing traffic safety laws!

by Fritz on Oct 4, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

I'm outraged that the police are enforcing traffic safety laws!

Let's call 'em what they are: driver convenience laws.

by oboe on Oct 4, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

There are two different things going on here, firstly it is very clear that this is roadway is not pedestrian friendly at all. Obviously this roadway has to be redesigned to include greater pedestrian crossing which alleviate the need for illegal jay walking.

However jay walking is just that, illegal. As long as pedestrians are crossing outside of a crosswalk or against the light regardless of where they are or how far the next crosswalk is, they need to be ticketed. You cannot have a workable system by not enforcing the law.

However roadways need to accommodate pedestrians, but even when they don't it does not give a license to break the law.

by Ryan on Oct 4, 2010 3:17 pm • linkreport

@Ryan-

Per my post above, there is no explicit jaywalking law in Maryland.

by Bossi on Oct 4, 2010 3:28 pm • linkreport

Ok, one-sided article. Pedestrian safety is important. I am happy to see the police interested at all.\

Now, if the police was seriously interested in safety, they should be investigating why this area is so dangerous (poor and absent predestrian crossings) and make recommendations to MD SHA.

Furthermore, the police should be enforcing all the laws. That means ticketing pedestrians who are jaywalking (according to the law), *and* cars who are speeding *and* cars who are not not yielding appropriately to crossing pedestrians.

by Jasper on Oct 4, 2010 3:31 pm • linkreport

...But don't forget that this is a blog post summarizing a Gazette article summarizing what a public information officer said that the police actually did. So it is possible that the blog post--and certainly J Walker's criticism--are based on an incorrect account of what actually happenned. When I find out, I'll let you know.

by Jim Titus on Oct 4, 2010 3:49 pm • linkreport

If there are 6 intersections, than there are 12 unmarked crosswalks. I'm not sure about the Maryland law, but in most states, an unmarked crosswalk has the same legal standing as a marked one.

Did the police educate the "jaywalkers" by telling them to cross at the unmarked crosswalks, or were the police unaware of the law they claim to enforce?

Perhaps a better use of resources would be to either

a)Paint all those unmarked crosswalks so that they are marked
b) have a plainclothes officer walk across the unmarked crosswalks and ticket the thousands of cars that don't yield.

by JJJ on Oct 4, 2010 3:50 pm • linkreport

To build on JJJ's options-

(a) The unfortunate reality is that it's not just the roadway that's not pedestrian-oriented, but rather the entire context of the land uses along it. It's difficult to built a will to orient a roadway away from cars when there's little potential for non-motorised users.

To spin it the other way, it's also difficult to build pedestrian-oriented land uses without a pedestrian-oriented infrastructure. As such, it's something that needs to be developed at in a comprehensive & joint manner between planners, engineers, developers, and the public.

Regardless of the legal elements prompting ticketing (though I agree with Jim Titus' warning regarding hearsay), the fact of the matter is that very few people know of unmarked crosswalk; and subsequently it'd be very unexpected -- potentially quite dangerous -- for a motorist to give way at one.

Even at marked crosswalks this is an issue at crossings spanning more than one lane in a given direction, where the multithreat scenario is a major safety element -- especially in situations where the mode split is substantially in favor of vehicular traffic.

(b) This would certainly raise awareness of the issue, but the bad press stemming from such an activity would almost certainly be even greater than what's seen with the issue at hand. Political factors would almost certainly weigh against such an action.

by Bossi on Oct 4, 2010 4:01 pm • linkreport

@ JJJ: b) have a plainclothes officer walk across the unmarked crosswalks and ticket the thousands of cars that don't yield.

Please, please, pretty please, can he do it MD-style: with a pulled gun?

by Jasper on Oct 4, 2010 4:53 pm • linkreport

I'd be interested to hear from those ticketed. Do they feel that the police were in the wrong?

by SJE on Oct 4, 2010 5:53 pm • linkreport

Bossi, Ive read about police in LA running a sting like that in an unmarked crosswalk.

Yes, people complained, but ignorance has never been an excuse to break the law. The DMV guide (in california) makes it clear where unmarked crosswalks stand.

They did a similar sting with a 3 lane (in each direction) road and a school bus that stopped to pick up a disabled kid every day on that avenue. Most people did not stop, even though the 12 cops on motorcycles waiting appeared to be a good way to note that it was a sting.

by JJJ on Oct 4, 2010 6:37 pm • linkreport

@Bossi

Maryland's Laws are pretty specific when it comes to Jaywalking. Here is 21-503 in its entirety:

§ 21-503. Crossing at other than crosswalks

(a) In general. -- If a pedestrian crosses a roadway at any point other than in a marked crosswalk or in an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, the pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching on the roadway.

(b) Where special pedestrian crossing provided. -- If a pedestrian crosses a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing is provided, the pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching on the roadway.

(c) Between adjacent intersections. -- Between adjacent intersections at which a traffic control signal is in operation, a pedestrian may cross a roadway only in a marked crosswalk.

(d) Crossing intersection diagonally. -- A pedestrian may not cross a roadway intersection diagonally unless authorized by a traffic control device for crossing movements. If authorized to cross diagonally, a pedestrian may cross only in accordance with the traffic control device.

Additionally MD courts have affirmed that an individual is jaywalking when not crossing in a crosswalk and additionally must yield to traffic when crossing anywhere other than a crosswalk. See Dix v. Spampinato, 28 Md. App. 81, 344 A.2d 155 (1975) or Knisley v. Keller, 11 Md. App. 269, 273 A.2d 624 or Opert v. Crim. Injuries Comp. Bd., 403 Md. 587

by Ryan on Oct 4, 2010 9:40 pm • linkreport

@Ryan-

Correct, but both (a) and (b) do not render it illegal and (d) is a separate item. Hence (c), which my previous post addressed.

by Bossi on Oct 4, 2010 9:50 pm • linkreport

The City of Gaithersburg requested that State Highway give pedestrians a head start with the walk light coming on before the green light at Oden'hal and Chestnut Ave.s so people could cross before cars start turning. SHA said "if the existing crosswalks are unsafe we will remove them". They also commented that not enough people use the crosswalks now to merit any changes. Their process does not take into account the desire to increase the number of pedestrians using the crosswalks.

The City of Gaithersburg requested that the "suicide lanes" for left turns be replaced with an island, to reduce vehicle accidents and provide a pedestrian refuge. SHA said they had no money to do that.

Any help in getting SHA to reconsider these requests would be welcome.

by Cathy Drzyzgula on Oct 4, 2010 10:38 pm • linkreport

Everybody supports greater police traffic safety enforcement.

So long as the cops focus on "the other guy" first.

by Fritz on Oct 5, 2010 7:35 am • linkreport

@Cathy Drzyzgula (who is the vice president of the Gaithersburg City Council): Thank you very much for posting. That's really disturbing. So the SHA thinks that the problem with that stretch of highway is that there are too many marked crosswalks? Do they think that the pedestrians will just go away, if the crosswalks go away? I wonder if they have the same belief about cars and roads.

by Miriam on Oct 5, 2010 8:50 am • linkreport

@SJE (and @Fritz),

I'd be interested to hear from those ticketed. Do they feel that the police were in the wrong?

I wonder, if the police were to set up with a radar gun, and pull over ever driver doing 1 mph over the speed limit, do you think those ticketed would feel that police were in the wrong?

The problem is, policing resources are limited, but there never seems to be any resources to address the root of these issues: wholesale reckless driving. If murders were up 200% and police were being taken off homicide in order to write parking tickets, people would be up in arms--and those arguing "What? You don't want the police enforcing the law???" would be hooted out of polite company.

by oboe on Oct 5, 2010 10:00 am • linkreport

Oboe -

I'm not sure we agree on much, but your take on the "what? you don't want policy enforcing the law???" argument is spot on. This is a head in the sand argument if ever there was one. It's knee-jerk, it attempts to stifle debate, it reflects an unwillingness to see, to think, or to contemplate the notion that maybe, just maybe, the blind devotion to authority is sometimes not the right approach to participating in society.

by Josh S on Oct 5, 2010 10:18 am • linkreport

Problem is, there was a time when you wouldn't have had anyone in Gaithersburg on foot. Even the poorest of the poor would have had a car and had no problem negotiating the streets and avenues there. Now 'the big city' has caught up with Gaitherburg and it either needs to accomodate those who can't afford cars ... if it's okay with becoming urbanized ... or not, if it rather stay suburban. I'd suggest the increased enforcement indicates it's decided to take the latter course of action.

by Lance on Oct 6, 2010 8:17 am • linkreport

@Lance,

Now 'the big city' has caught up with Gaitherburg and it either needs to accomodate those who can't afford cars ... if it's okay with becoming urbanized ... or not, if it rather stay suburban. I'd suggest the increased enforcement indicates it's decided to take the latter course of action.

Not sure I'd really call "making walking illegal" an "option."

As poverty continues to become more suburbanized, those jaywalkers aren't going anywhere, and as long as the streetscape sucks, they'll keep on jaywalking. So unless you get a handle on the car part of the equation, folks will continue to die.

by oboe on Oct 6, 2010 11:47 am • linkreport

I am not in the poverty level and I own cars and I walk across Rt. 355 and I find it dangerous to cross at the marked intersections at Chestnut and Odenhal. IMHO the optimal solution is to put in mid-block cross walks with islands in the middle.

I am amused by the suggestion that this is a result of poverty. That seems to be the typical response in Gaithersburg City Hall these days -- it is all the fault of the poor people. If only we could knock down all the low income housing Gaithersburg would such a better place.

by Gaithersburg Resident on Oct 6, 2010 3:09 pm • linkreport

[quick reiteration that everything I write to GGW is of my own personal opinion]

Perhaps to defend the city a bit- where have they specified that poverty is related to the pedestrian issue? I believe that may be something that's just worked its way into this comment thread.

To offer my take, while many low-income people may be dependent on carless lifestyles; higher-income people are similarly demanding ped/bike treatments, as well. If that weren't the case, the eastern half of DC would on its way to becoming a walkers' paradise and the western half would be full of expressways; whereas the reality is somewhat the opposite (though before this paragraph spurns a whole new round of comments: I'll agree that there are many other issues at play with this).

At issue is more that we have suburban/subrural infrastructure which was designed & built in an era of cars. It's not any particular fault against any demographic or government agency; rather, it's what we, the taxpayers, wanted at the time & thought we'd continue to want (indeed, some still do). Now people have rediscovered alternative means of transportation & recreation, and we find ourselves demanding new capabilities out of systems which were never designed to accommodate them.

Hence my previous comment that infrastructure requires coordination with adjacent land uses; and adjacent land uses require coordination with infrastructure. While it seems an intuitive concept, it's something that's been lost to much of the planning & engineering world and is only now *beginning* to take root again... and even then, I know many planners who could really use some engineering experience; and many engineers who could really use some planning experience.

While both Odend'Hal and Chestnut have signalised crossings, the area in between (a 2000' span) does not. I agree that as a pedestrian right in the middle of that, I'd certainly cross where I am and not walk up to 1000' to a signal; but at the same time one must consider that there's very little pedestrian trip generation in the first place at these points in between.

In between are some extremely low density fast food & small office, a gas station, Hertz Rent-a-Car, a Fedex store, and a cemetery... none of which are particularly renowned for inducing much pedestrian demand (barring a zombie apocalypse).

There are two bus stop areas: one is 350' from Odend'Hal and the other is 900' from Chestnut. While the former isn't too far from a signal, the latter is certainly asking quite a bit of pedestrians to walk down to the Chestnut signal and back again.

If an uncontrolled marked midblock crossing were added, motorists would pass through 99% of the time without any pedestrian presence. That 1% of the time a pedestrian is present, would the motorists take heed? Also, as I've noted earlier in this thread & on many other similar posts: the multithreat scenario is a very real risk at uncontrolled crossings. While all the motorists giving way to a pedestrian would be lovely, in reality few, if any, would; and because of multithreat it could even be argued that *no one* yielding is preferable to only some motorists yielding.

Would you feel comfortable being one of only a couple people over an entire day to cross the 7-lane roadway? I know I wouldn't, and I like to think of myself as at least somewhat of a risk-taker... but the great paradox is that I'd almost certainly cross there, anyway, if I were in that situation. Laziness seems to trump safety; but when I think of "safety", my subconscious is thinking "I'm alive today, so I've been safe so far; and surely I'll be safe this time, too."

Median refuges come with their own set of issues, especially in the presence of numerous driveways as is the case here. Without increased access control (which could potentially drive up speeds further), a small refuge would result in motorists performing awkward & unexpected maneuvers in a variety of directions, reducing safety for pedestrians & motorists alike. A longer median would cut off access for a number of properties, which can be a sensitive issue among those property owners and, hence, a delicate political issue. Diverting those movements as U-turns elsewhere can also come with issues, as the U-turns may cause an intersection to go over-capacity, inducing additional congestion (its own breed of safety issue); and many pedestrians out there have likely had some less-than-pleasant conflicts with U-turn maneuvers.

If a pedestrian signal were added, once again it becomes an issue of pedestrian volume. Firstly, getting very few calls each day, motorists would be used to getting a green or flashing yellow & then not even noticing when it's red; and secondly is the potential for establishing a precedent of pedestrian signals for very low volume crossings. Pretty much every 600' from Gaithersburg down to the DC line could subsequently qualify for such a pedestrian signal.

As much as I like to be a bike/ped/transit-friendly person, even I can't find that something that's easy to justify. Hence I come back to a need for greater pedestrian-oriented uses; which itself comes in coordination with a redesigned pedestrian-oriented street. ...And that is a very major endeavor.

by Bossi on Oct 6, 2010 6:37 pm • linkreport

@Bossi,

There's a grocery store across from the cemetery. And while I don't know how many pedestrians there typically are on this stretch of 355 -- you'd have to ask people like Gaithersburg Resident or Justin..... -- I do know that when I was walking up and down that stretch for about an hour on a Sunday morning last week, I saw at least 20 people crossing 355, not at a marked crosswalk. This suggests to me that it's not a case of "only a couple people over an entire day to cross the 7-lane roadway." Plus, of course, I was not able to count the people who would like to be able to cross 355 on foot somewhere between Chestnut and Odendhal but are not willing to risk their lives. The land uses may not be pedestrian-oriented, but the pedestrians are there nonetheless.

by Miriam on Oct 7, 2010 6:29 am • linkreport

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