Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Crosswalks

Pedestrians


Many Silver Line riders have no way to safely reach their offices

Tysons now has four Metro stations, but workers trying to get from those stations to nearby offices often have no choice but to cross wide, high-speed roads without any crosswalks.


The south side of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive. Photo by the author.

I saw several Tysons Corner workers walking across streets with up to 9 lanes of traffic in order to take the Silver Line this morning, due to the continued lack of crosswalks in Tysons. It's a matter of time before a Silver Line rider is struck by a car in Tysons Corner.

At the Tysons Corner station, the entrance north of Route 123 (the side with most of the offices) is on the west side of Tysons Blvd between 123 and Galleria Drive. There's no legal way to walk east on Galleria Drive, because there are no crosswalks on the south or east side of the intersection of Tysons Blvd and Galleria Drive.


There are no crosswalks from Tysons Corner station for workers walking east along Galleria Drive. Base map from Google Maps.

Many Silver Line riders therefore walked across nine lanes of traffic on Tysons Boulevard.


The south side of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive. Photo by the author.

My company's office is at 7900 Westpark Drive along with dozens of other tech companies. The main topic of conversation around the office this morning was the safest places to jaywalk to get to the Silver Line.

I've endured the lack of crosswalks in Tysons Corner for years as a pedestrian, but assumed that Fairfax County would add crosswalks before the Silver Line began operation. The county needs to create safe pedestrian pathways immediately, rather than waiting until someone gets hurt or killed.

Roads


Engineers find a new approach to solve traffic congestion and pedestrian delays

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Drivers and pedestrians alike often have to face unacceptable levels of delay when they drive or walk around roads in the state of Maryland and Montgomery County. Engineers recently announced new approaches that they believe will make these problems disappear.


Image from photo by Google Earth.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is developing a new Pedestrian Level of Service standard to ensure that pedestrian delays are not unacceptably long, while the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) will make traffic changes that ensure smoother flow of traffic.

On state highways, pedestrians sometimes have to cross three legs of an intersection, as SHA often does not stripe a crosswalk on one leg. Under federal guidelines, walk signals must last long enough for those on foot to traverse the crosswalk. But the crosswalks need not go straight to a pedestrian's destination, so the state and localities often remove crosswalks so avoid having a long walk signal.

The new Pedestrian Level of Service (PLOS) will address this. It will work similarly to the motorist Level of Service, which grades intersections based on how long people have to wait to cross. Vehicular LOS defines an intersection as "failing" if, on average, a driver has to wait 90 seconds or more to get through the intersection.

Since a pedestrian trying to go straight across the leg where the crosswalk doesn't exist has to cross the other 3 legs of the intersection (waiting for the signal each time), they often encounter more than 90 seconds of delay, so SHA will instead define a failing intersection as one where a pedestiran has to wait 3600 seconds or more to cross.

A statewide analysis of intersections under these new standards to determine which intersections need to be upgraded didn't find any problem spots. Deputy Administrator Ida Driven is pleased. "Clearly, this study shows that Maryland is doing well with pedestrian safety. Over the past 15 years, SHA has spent tens of dollars to make sure that active transportation users can get around safely."

A representative of AAA, Hugh Jestkarr, lauded the change. "Clearly the study shows that pedestrians benefit from roadway improvement projects. It shows that drivers can have fast roads and pedestrians can still get what the government defines as adequate."

The State Highway Administration hopes the new standards and the study will help determine where to spend money. As has been done in many areas, if the PLOS does show a poor grade, state officials will simply remove the crosswalk to ensure that the intersection continues to meet the standards.

Meanwhile, MCDOT has been conducting a detailed analysis of places where the vehicular Level of Service is too low. The test measures how much time it takes cars to get through each intersection, but the county has faced increasing difficulties in meeting this test.

County rules, in fact, block construction where roads have a "Level of Service" that is too low. This test measures how much time it takes cars to get through each intersection.

A particular problem is left turns, which slow down the performance of each intersection. Therefore, beginning next year, left turns will be banned throughout the county.

"When turning cars aren't in the way," explained chief traffic engineer Ample Wandering, "drivers get through intersections faster." Current LOS defines an intersection with an excessively backed-up left turn lane as "failing," but the same intersection passes when left turns are forbidden.

LOS rules prescribe how fast cars must go through intersections, noted deputy transportation director Edsel Gasoline, but they say nothing about how quickly drivers get where they are actually going. "Our drivers will finally be free from the curse of failing intersections," boasted Gasoline.

If any intersections still have Level of Service F without left turns, the county will ban right turns there too.

AAA's Jestkarr cheered the plan. "Drivers," she said, "will at last have the fast-moving roads we crave."

Roads


Notes from Seattle: Neighborhood greenways

Several GGW editors and contributors are in Seattle this week for the Railvolution conference. While there, they'll offer a series of short posts about their experiences.

Seattle residents were sick of speeding cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. In response, the city is creating a network of "neighborhood greenways" designed to slow drivers and make it safer to get around by foot or bike.


A cyclist and a driver navigate a roundabout on a "neighborhood greenway" in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. All photos by the author.

Neighborhood greenways are sort of a carrot and stick approach: speed bumps, physical diverters and small roundabouts at each intersection slow drivers down, discouraging them from cutting through the neighborhood, or at least encouraging them to drive more carefully.

Meanwhile, improved sidewalks and marked crosswalks make it easier and safer to walk. Bike lanes and sharrows, or shared lanes, give cyclists a safer ride as well. And all of those roundabouts and bumpouts are great places for landscaping, putting the "green" in "neighborhood greenway."

Seattle first got the idea from Portland, which pioneered the neighborhood greenway a few years ago. The city has completed neighborhood greenways in two communities, including Wallingford, where I'm staying this week.

There are nine additional greenways elsewhere in the city in various stages of planning and construction. Residents are big fans of the project, and have even started a citywide advocacy group to identify potential greenways and push for them.


Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring is closed to through traffic, but lacks amenities for walkers and cyclists.

If the neighborhood greenway is a carrot and stick, traffic calming in the DC area is often just the stick. Hearing complaints from neighborhoods abutting commercial districts, local departments of transportation often respond by closing streets off entirely. This creates "fake cul-de-sacs" that not only push through traffic to main streets, but sometimes local trips as well.

But unlike neighborhood greenways, these treatments don't always come with pedestrian and bicycle improvements. In Bethesda, where Montgomery County's department of transportation limits access to several streets around downtown, parents say they can't safely walk their kids to school because of too-narrow sidewalks, poorly-timed stoplights, and a lack of crosswalks.

Speeding drivers and cut-through traffic can be a safety hazard, especially on narrow residential streets. But the answer isn't simply to keep them out, as some neighborhoods seek to do. By making it easier to get around without a car, neighborhood greenways create more transportation choices and make the street a more welcoming place for all.

Pedestrians


Montgomery police ticket pedestrians obeying the law

Montgomery County police are finally paying attention to the needs of pedestrians. But officers on the beat don't seem to have gotten the message yet. Pedestrians have even been ticketed for crossing the street in a legal manner.


Photo by Kate Mereand-Sinha on Flickr.

In May, the county's police department held their first "sting" targeting drivers who don't stop at crosswalks. Just last week, when a student was hit by a fast-moving driver while crossing Veirs Mill Road, the police told TV stations that mid-block crossings are allowed at that location. This is a sharp reversal from the past, when the police would sometimes say a collision occurred outside a crosswalk without explaining that it's legal to cross there.

But last week, a GGW reader in Bethesda spoke with an officer who was ticketing drivers making a forbidden turn into a residential neighborhood, but ignoring speeding violations on a street where many walk. Roads are made for cars, not pedestrians, she was told. The officer said that those on foot have a claim to safety in crosswalks only when drivers are kept away by red lights.

And earlier this month in Silver Spring, another GGW reader saw officers ticket pedestrians who were obeying the law. They were crossing Georgia Avenue mid-block between two intersections that don't have traffic lights. This is perfectly legal, as long as the pedestrian yields the right of way to oncoming cars. The same officers ignored genuine violations by drivers, who failed repeatedly to stop for people walking in the adjacent unmarked crosswalks.

The Georgia Avenue sting took place on August 13 between Fenwick Lane and Planning Place. Neither of these intersections has a stoplight. Under Maryland law, unmarked crosswalks exist at both intersections, but motorists seem unaware of that fact. When drivers don't know these crosswalks exist, and police don't try to educate the drivers, there's little reason for pedestrians to use them.


Green lines indicate marked crosswalks. Blue lines are unmarked crosswalks. The orange line is where ticketed pedestrians were crossing.

The distance between the nearest signalized intersections, located at Cameron Street and Spring Street, is 849 feet. The walk from halfway between the traffic lights to the signal and back takes 4 minutes. That is a lot of time to add to a short trip; traffic engineers consider an intersection "failing" when drivers are delayed by 80 seconds. Georgia Avenue is lined with offices, apartments, restaurants, and shops, so many pedestrians take the most direct route, as is their legal right.

What's the law?

Maryland law is very clear about where pedestrians can and cannot cross. And the Silver Spring sting occurred where it is legal to cross.

First, let's look at how crosswalks are defined in Maryland. The Maryland Transportation Code section 21-101 includes definitions for the terms relevant to transport. A crosswalk is defined as

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.
While the third point may seem obvious, the first point is important to note. Any place where a street with sidewalks intersects another street, those sidewalks "extend" across the intersection, whether or not the department of transportation has put paint down.

And while it's not directly relevant to this discussion, Maryland law also defines "sidewalk." It doesn't have to be a paved area. Even when a traditional concrete sidewalk is not present, crosswalks still exist at every intersection.

But pedestrians aren't required to cross only at crosswalks, either. Section 21-503 explains what their rights are:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Let's break this down. Pedestrians are allowed to cross at places other than crosswalks in certain circumstances. When crossing outside of a marked or unmarked crosswalk, pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to motorists.

Paragraph C is also important. It's illegal for pedestrians to cross a street when both adjacent intersections are signalized. Otherwise, it's okay to cross, so long as you yield to drivers.

The stretch of Georgia Avenue where Montgomery County police ticketed pedestrians does have two stoplights, at Cameron Street and Spring Street. But between them are two intersections without signals, at Fenwick Lane and Planning Place. That means this stretch is broken into 3 blocks, and it is perfectly legal to cross any any point in this stretch.

As a counter-example, take the block of Georgia between Ellsworth Drive and Colesville Road, in front of the Discovery Channel headquarters. Both of those intersections are signalized, and there are no intermediate intersections. Therefore, it is illegal to cross mid-block there.

Law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks

There are a few other laws that are noteworthy. Under section 21-502(c), it is illegal for any motorist to pass a driver stopped at a marked or unmarked crosswalk to allow a pedestrian to cross.

Section 21-502(a)(2) deals with when drivers must yield. In Maryland, waiting on the sidewalk is not enough. A pedestrian does not assert his or her right to cross until they step off the curb into the crosswalk. However, once the pedestrian steps into the crosswalk, they have the right-of-way on that half of the street, and they gain it on the other half when they step into the adjacent lane.

That means that if I'm crossing Georgia Avenue from west to east in a crosswalk, once I step into the southbound parking lane, the two southbound lanes must yield. Once I step into the leftmost southbound lane, northbound traffic must yield. I've found that a handy way to remind drivers to stop without endangering myself, when I'm walking to the grocery store, is to reach forward and wave my shopping bag in the next lane, but wait until the car begins to slow before I walk in front of it.

However, section 21-502(b) does make it illegal for a pedestrian to step out in front of a vehicle whose driver would not have time to stop. So although you ordinarily have the right-of-way at marked and unmarked crosswalks, you must let drivers pass first if they are too close to stop.

These laws set the basic framework for walkers, cyclists, and motorists to share Maryland roadways. With diligent and even-handed enforcement, we can have safer streets and more livable neighborhoods.

Pedestrians


Need to pick up a UPS package? The car-free are out of luck

Reader Nacim B. sent along his frustrating experience trying to visit UPS' Landover warehouse as a car-free resident.


Photo by hn3000 on Flickr.

I came home one day to find a final delivery notice from UPS (I swear I never saw the other two!) and then was instructed by their website that my only option is to pick it up from their Landover warehouse.

I checked Google Maps, and while I saw that it was a ways out from where I live in Columbia Heights, I also noticed that it was pretty close to the New Carrollton Metro (I don't have a car) and I don't mind walking. I didn't find out until I got there that portions of the walk have no sidewalks, and one portion in particular is literally only passable if you run through car lanes.

The entire trip one-way took me about an hour and a half, and Google tells me it takes about 25 minutes by car.

The intersection of Ardwick Ardmore Road and Pennsy Drive is the real problem. There is no sidewalk on the approach from the east, just a desire path. There's also no crosswalk despite the slip lane.

The northern southbound lane of Pennsy Drive. is now widened so the western shoulder is now nowhere near the intersection. The eastern shoulder narrows down into nothingness and faces a very dangerous blind corner behind a tree from motorists turning from Ardwick.

There is literally no way to cross this intersection either legally or safely. I had to run across the northern portion and tried to be as visible as possible to turning traffic.

This is what the intersection looks like coming in from Pennsy Drive:


Photos by the author.

And here's what that blind corner looks like:

Looking more closely on Google Maps afterward, I could've improved my walk a bit by going on the sidewalk on Garden City Drive, but that would've only avoided me the shoulder on Pennsy Drive. The real issue is how impassable the above intersection is to pedestrians.

I'm not sure what UPS expects from people without a vehicle. FedEx's warehouse is at the intersection of Florida and New York Avenues in DC, a destination that's very transit-accessible and easily bikeable and walkable. Given how remote the UPS warehouse is, a reasonable solution would allow package recipients the option of picking up their missed packages from their nearby UPS location. That would've saved me about 3 hours today along with some serious risk from automotive traffic.

The last picture isn't as bad in the scheme of things, but it's illustrative. It's the entrance to the UPS warehouse that has the sidewalk completely fenced off.

Pedestrians


Pedestrian "sting" finds frequent driver lawlessness

So many drivers don't yield to pedestrians that catching them is "like shooting fish in a barrel," a surprised Montgomery County police officer remarked Wednesday. The police ticketed 72 violators in 2½ hoursone every two minutesat a single crosswalk on Veirs Mill Road.


Photo by Montgomery County police.

The operation, a first for the county, was advertised as a sting. But it was not very covert. The police announced in advance that their plainclothes officers would ticket between 11 am and 3 pm while wearing brightly-colored outfits.

Capt. Thomas Didone, head of the police traffic enforcement division, explained the reasoning behind the "sting" to the Patch. "Officers would typically attempt to enforce that kind of law by driving around a high-traffic area and looking for drivers not following the rules," he said. "That's not very efficient."

Inefficiency is the least of the problems with this style of law enforcement. Police who drive all day don't understand the reality of walking on the county's roadways. When you get out of the squad car and join the thousands who cross Veirs Mill every day (it's among the county's busiest bus corridors), you suddenly learn that "it's kind of scary."

All of this raises the question: in an increasingly urbanized county, where is the cop on the beat? Downtown Bethesda throngs with people on weekend evenings, and the police sit in parked squad cars behind rolled-up windows. If they were on foot, they would have plenty to doespecially in the late evening when drivers often zoom through the emptying streets.

Foot patrols succeeded in calming downtown Silver Spring after a series of brawls in 2010. But they ended once the brawls went away.

Street fighting is hardly Montgomery County's biggest law enforcement problem. Driver violations of pedestrian rights are ubiquitous, and they do far more harm. There are as many pedestrian deaths per year in the county as homicides.

Where people walk, we need police on foot. Not just on a few not-so-secret "stings"Capt. Didone said these operations will continue only through the end of the monthand not just in response to occasional outbreaks of crime.

Police should be walking every day, in Aspen Hill and Germantown as well as Bethesda and Silver Spring, protecting the rights of pedestrians as a routine element of law enforcement. Drivers need to understand that they can be ticketed any time they break the law, not just between 11:00 and 3:00 during the month of May.

Pedestrians


Florida Avenue shouldn't have to wait for real sidewalks

Florida Avenue, NE is one of the most dangerous roads in DC for all modes of transportation, and a 71-year-old pedestrian was just recently killed trying to cross. Past studies have recommended widening the sidewalks here, but residents likely have to wait even longer for fixes as DDOT embarks on yet another study.


Photograph by John Nelson reproduced with permission.

Gallaudet University, a Metro station, an elementary school, homes and businesses line the 6-lane road. It has very narrow sidewalks which don't meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and no parked cars or street trees to serve as buffers.

This road has seen many deaths over the past few years. Most recently, 71-year-old Ruby Whitfield was killed while walking across Florida Avenue NE in a marked crosswalk. The driver, a 32-year-old Annapolis man, was reportedly drunk and speeding, and fled the scene. MPD quickly apprehended him.

While the section of Florida Avenue from 2nd Street NE to West Virginia Avenue NE is 6 lanes wide, the block where Ms. Whitfield was killed has fewer driving lanes, with relatively wider sidewalks and street trees. The driver had just crossed West Virginia Avenue into this adjacent block.

At a vigil on Florida Avenue a few days after Ms. Whitfield died, Mayor Gray committed to quickly installing a new traffic signal at the intersection with 11th Street NE, and allowing parking at all times on this block to reduce the road to one lane per direction. This might have saved Ms. Whitfield's life, and is a positive first step, but it is not nearly enough.


Photograph by John Nelson reproduced with permission.

The road is not adequate for growing pedestrian usage

Pedestrian traffic has increased significantly in this area as the NoMa area grows and new attractions such as Union Market open. Florida Avenue is also home to Two Rivers Public Charter School and Gallaudet University. The NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station, which opened in 2004 one block from Florida Avenue, has the fastest growth rate of any in the system.

The sidewalks in many areas, especially on the south side of the street, are often only 2 feet wide. Numerous obstructions such as light poles and sign posts reduce the effective width even further. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) repainted some of the crosswalks in 2011, but this is not as helpful as creating actual ADA-compliant sidewalks with proper widths and ramps.


Photos by Yancey Burns.

For the thousands of students, staff, and visitors to Gallaudet University, the narrow sidewalks are particularly hazardous because it's not possible to communicate in sign language while walking single-file down a narrow sidewalk.

Hansel Bauman, the University's Director of Campus Planning & Design (and a resident of the Trinidad neighborhood) has led an initiative called "DeafSpace" to create architectural design guidelines that quantify ways to enhance communication and livability. It is ironic and sad that the main street to campus does not provide for the needs of their community.

The volume of cars traveling on Florida Avenue NE does not justify the current road configuration, particularly because this street is already narrower for most of its length. DDOT & the Office of Planning have written numerous studies and reports over the past few years that recommend reducing the number of travel lanes and installing wider sidewalks on Florida Avenue.

Most recently, the NoMa Neighborhood Access Study & Transportation Management Plan included this project on its "Immediate Action List" for completion within 24 months. That study was published in early 2010, and to date DDOT has not put forth any preliminary plans or come close to starting construction.

Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability, said in an email that DDOT is "starting a planning study from New York to West Virginia with the goal of improving safety and operations, and that will explore the ability to reduce the number of travel lanes."

The planning study won't wrap up until the middle of 2014. Then, if funding is available, DDOT could potentially begin design and construction. However, all of this would take several years. Ms. Whitfield's neighbors and friends, and everyone else who uses this street, should not continue to wait.

Pedestrians


On crosswalks, research and safety campaigns conflict

Marlyn Eres Ali was killed last week in Wheaton, crossing Connecticut Avenue on foot at an intersection with no traffic light. She was in a crosswalk that has wheelchair ramps and a paved median refuge but no markings on the pavement. Why aren't crosswalks like this one marked?


Crosswalk where Marlyn Eres Ali died. By permission of nbc4 news.

Legally, a pair of crosswalks exists at every intersection, regardless of whether there are markings on the road. Most of the general public believes that marking those crosswalks makes them safer to use. But the Federal Highway Administration disagrees. Sometimes, at least.

Its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices or MUTCD, the traffic engineer's bible, states that on roads with 4 or more lanes, speed limits above 40 mph, and heavy traffic:

New marked crosswalks alone, without other measures designed to reduce traffic speeds, shorten crossing distances, enhance driver awareness of the crossing, and/or provide active warning of pedestrian presence, should not be installed across uncontrolled roadways.
Local agencies, reluctant to make cars go slower and short of funds to install the pedestrian warning lights called hawk beacons, usually take this as an injunction to simply leave the crossing unmarked.

The MUTCD bases this provision on studies of crash data. Pedestrians crossing big highways, these studies report, have a greater chance of being hit by drivers at marked crosswalks than at similar unmarked ones.

There are several possible reasons for this.

  • Traffic engineers often locate marked crosswalks at the places where they interfere least with vehicle movement. Pedestrians may put a higher priority on safety when choosing where to cross.
  • Politicians may demand crosswalk markings at the intersections with repeated crashes, meaning the crashes are not a consequence of the marked crosswalk but the cause.
  • Researchers have other suggestions, too, as Tom Vanderbilt discusses on page 198 of his book Traffic.
Whatever the causes of this phenomenon, if it is real, there is an easy way to save lives: FHWA and state transportation agencies could instruct pedestrians to ignore crosswalk markings when they cross highways without traffic lights. Cross at whatever intersection feels safest, not the one with a marked crosswalk.

Of course, you will never hear that advice in a safety campaign. They urge pedestrians, as the current DC effort puts it, to "always use a crosswalk." Pedestrians understand this to mean a marked one, and the campaigns reinforce that belief with images of marked crosswalks.


FHWA safety poster.

The FHWA's own pedestrian safety campaign does not explicitly recommend using marked crosswalks. Butsomewhat like advertising for an escort servicewhat isn't said matters more than what's said. The text assumes that the reader already has an idea of what's going on and carefully avoids correcting that impression. The real message is in the pictures.

Why would highway agencies promote pedestrian behavior that their research shows to be unsafe? One potential reason is that the traffic engineers don't really believe the research. The study results are often inconsistent; the researchers offer many cautions. Scientists know that when you get a result contrary to common sense, it's most often wrong. If it still stands up after checking and double-checking, you may have a great discovery, but more often you'll find a subtle mistake buried in your work.

The other possibility is that safety isn't really what this recommendation is about. Rather, it may reflect drivers' desire, reinforced by the historic biases of the traffic engineering profession, to get pedestrians out of unmarked crosswalks where they slow down cars. Peter Norton has shown that safety campaigns, when they started in the 1920s, aimed to push pedestrians off the streets and make room for cars.

Intentionally or not, the traffic engineering profession gravitates toward conclusions that support its existing practices and priorities. When the research supports a road design that speeds trafficwonderful! A safety recommendation that would slow down vehiclesunthinkable!

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