Posts about Safe Routes To School
In a win for parents, an intersection adjacent to a northern Montgomery County elementary school is getting a traffic signal and marked crosswalks.
Today, Snowden Farm Parkway in Clarksburg is four lanes wide and has a speed limit of 40 mph. Kids who need to get to Wilson Wims Elementary School from the other side of Snowden Farm have two options for getting to school: take a circuitous bus route, or make a dangerous crossing on foot. Thankfully, that's about to change.
In a recent letter, acting Montgomery County transportation director Al Roshdieh said his agency will install the signal, along with marked crosswalks, audible pedestrian warnings, and countdown timers, by the start of next school year.
When MCDOT resisted their first request, parents kept pushing
Families living on one side of Snowden Farm Parkway in Clarksburg have been working for two years to win a safer way for their children to walk across Snowden Farm to Wilson Wims. They put in a request for crosswalks and a signal two years ago, at which time the Montgomery County Department of Transportation said no.
Parents then launched an advocacy campaign, and last October teamed with the Coalition for Smarter Growth to circulate a petition that promoted a safer crossing. MCDOT reversed its initial decision earlier this month.
"We're glad to see that persistence and dedication can succeed in making an intersection safe before bad something happens," said Seenu Suvarna, a Wilson Wims parent and a leader in the effort.
MCDOT should also monitor the area and consider further steps, like lowering the school zone's high speed limit. Traffic is actually pretty low in this area, so it may also make sense to cut Snowden Farm Parkway from four lanes to two, with a turn lane in the middle.
Similar changes should happen near other area schools
Clarksburg's original master plan called for a pedestrian and transit-oriented community. Making the crossing at Wilson Wims safer is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, it leads to safer crossings at other schools.
Families at Clarksburg Elementary School face an issue similar to the one at Wilson Wims. Kids and parents in Gateway Commons, across Stringtown Road at Observation Drive, do not have a direct crossing. But so far, MCDOT officials have said that other signals are too close to that location, and that perhaps they'll add one when Observation Drive is complete.
The intersection of Stringtown Road and Observation Drive. There's no crosswalk or signal for getting to Clarksburg Elementary, which is on the north side of the street. Image from Google Maps.
But kids' safety is at stake. Combine that with how good walking to school is for individual health, the community, and the environment, and there's an obvious question: why wait?
This week, join the discourse in Alexandria about Eisenhower West and learn about safe commutes to school. Looking ahead, don't miss a presentation of new ideas for Buzzard Point and don't forget to register for Transportation Camp 2015.
Safe routes to school: A safe commute to school is an integral part of any community. With missing pedestrian infrastructure, safe school commutes in suburban areas can be especially difficult. This Tuesday, December 9, the Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting will welcome Bill Sadler, Regional Policy Manager of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, to discuss "Safe Walks to School in the Suburbs." The event is 7:30-9:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Place.
Eisenhower West meeting: In Alexandria, a major redevelopment of Eisenhower West is planned for the coming year. The Eisenhower West Plan is currently open for public comment. Come make your opinion heard at the fourth community meeting tonight (Monday), December 7, 7-9 pm at Beatley Central Library, 5005 Duke Street.
Urban communities inspired by nature: connecting people and the planet: On Thursday, December 11 at 4:30pm on the second floor of 1250 24th St NW, the World Wildlife fund is hosting Tim Beatley for an event on his Biophilic Cities Network and his newest book, Blue Urbanism, which looks at the connections between cities and oceans.
CityVision final presentation: Sometimes young minds come up with the most innovative solutions. This fall, students of the CityVision program at the National Building Museum have been working hard to research and propose ideas for active gathering spaces at Buzzard Point. Join these students for the final presentation next week on Thursday, December 18, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at 401 F Street NW.
Transportation Camp: Reminder to all transportation nerds: Make sure to register for the 4th Annual Transportation Camp Washington DC coming up on Saturday, January 10, 2015. Transportation Camp is a daylong event that is meant to explore the intersection of urban transportation and technology and will precede the Transportation Research Board 94th Annual Meeting. George Mason University School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs, at Founders Hall will host.
Take some time to stop, listen and engage in our many events this week! Don't miss our lunchtime chat with David Catania. Plus, there are several information-packed symposiums this week and if you want to get outside, CSG is hosting a beautiful walk-a-bout in College Park.
#GGWchat with David Catania: Did you love our chat with DC mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser? Don't miss our lunchtime talk with one of her opponents, David Catania, this Wednesday, October 22, from noon to 1 pm.
Follow the chat and propose questions live using the hashtag #GGWchat or submit your questions beforehand in the comments in this post.
After the jump: streetcars, urban agriculture, the Purple Line, College Park, and Safe Routes to School.
Streetcars in Southeast and Southwest: An environmental study to plan out the streetcar in Southwest Waterfront and Near Southeast is kicking off, and the first public meeting is Wednesday, October 22, 4-6 pm at Van Ness Elementary, 1150 5th Street SE. At the same time, DDOT officials will talk about updates to the citywide streetcar system plan.
Talk urban ag: Friday, the University of the District of Columbia will host a free Urban Agriculture Symposium from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Local and national leaders will come together to discuss today's food economy. Enjoy speakers and breakout sessions, followed by a green roof tour.
A vibrant Purple Line: Do you live or work near the Purple Line corridor? Do you want to take part in making it a healthy and vibrant neighborhood? Join the Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC) this Saturday, October 25, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm for the first of a two part workshop. The focus will be on community and economic development in the region. Space is limited.
Weekend walk: Join Coalition for Smarter Growth this Saturday, October 25, 3-5 pm for an afternoon walking tour of College Park. Discover and discuss the many ways this college is using its assets to create a more walkable and central hub for the region.
Safe school commute: Every student deserves a safe ride to school. Join Safe Routes to School on Tuesday, October 28, 8-12 pm to hear from North Carolina Safe Routes expert Mark Fenton, to talk about how to give students a safe commute. Registration requested.
Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First week of middle school. First bike ride to school. First near-fatal encounter with the #1 killer of children—
That scary commute was my son's experience when he began the 2014 school year in Arlington County. And it's the same story throughout most US metropolitan areas. Isn't it way past time we grant our children safe passage to school?
Here's a timely opportunity. Today is the annual International Walk and Bike to School Day. Across the country, kids will be encouraged to change their usual routines to walking or biking instead of being chauffeured to school. Yet how can kids take advantage of that choice when we've made the routes between their homes and schools so unsafe? According to a 2014 DOT study, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 4 through 14.
Since our Arlington County home is 1.3 miles from my son's middle school, walking and biking are obvious transportation options. Biking with him on his first day, I was surprised to find the roads overwhelmed by cars. At the school's intersection, bike lanes fade into nothingness, leaving young bike riders to determine their own routes.
The school driveway doesn't even have a stop or yield sign, so cars enter the street without pausing, putting bikers and walkers at risk. The congestion and dangers are such that a police officer and a teacher have to oversee the drop-off. But their backs are to the middle school cyclists coming onto the school property.
Street design and schools' transportation management priorities send strong signals to parents and students that cars trump all other modes of getting around. It's an assumption that contributes to the obesity epidemic among our children and to the overall social and economic health of our communities. Childhood obesity now affects one in three children between 2 and 19 and costs the US an estimated $305 billion each year. Research suggests that kids who walk to school have higher overall physical activity throughout the day and better academic performance.
The fact is, neighborhood and street design that encourages more pedestrian and cycling activity is an indicator of health and relative prosperity. Research has shown that GDP per capita in walkable urban metropolitan areas is 38% higher than the average in the 10 least walkable urban metros. Homes in walkable neighborhoods experienced less than half the average decline in price from the housing peak in the mid-2000s.
And in the Washington region, each point increase in a walkability measure adds $9 per square foot to annual office rents, $7 per square foot to retail rents, over $300 per month to apartment rents, and nearly $82 per square foot to home values.
If we can't convince ourselves to make it safer to walk or bike for children's health and academic performance, can we do it to bolster our economic bottom lines?
There are a number of easy low-cost design fixes that could send strong signals that school systems prioritize safe walking and biking. Given the costs of traffic congestion management to schools during drop-off and pick-up hours, maybe parents who drive students should have to apply for a permit. Or perhaps blocks surrounding the school could designate pedestrian-only zones at the beginning and end of the school day. Designated bike lanes could be painted on the street. At the very least, the school or county could install stop signs at the ends of school driveways.
A measure of a healthy neighborhood and community is how well people ages 8 to 80 can safely navigate their streets, roads, parks, and public areas. On this national day when we celebrate the benefits of walking and biking to school, shouldn't we be planning better ways to demonstrate our concern for our kids' safety?
Recently, we posted contributor stories about times they'd walked in places where most people don't. A reader who is in middle school, Leo from Maryland, posted this comment which we think is worth highlighting:
I am an urbanist, stuck in suburbia. (I'm in Middle School, so "stuck" isn't exactly the right word.) Anywayyy...... I am an urbanist, right? And I also like walking, biking, public transit, etc.
So, I bike or walk to school almost every day. I live about a mile from my school. People are SHOCKED when they hear I bike or walk to school. The school doesn't bother salting the ped. walkways to school, so they are covered in ice the day school reopens after a snowstorm.
I was walking to school, and I fell and slipped twice due the the ice. My HW was soaked, b/c my backpack fell in snow. 1st period teacher wouldn't take my HW even though I did the work correctly, and you could still see my answers. I tried to explain the situation, he wouldn't listen.
His solution to my problem? Tomorrow, have your parents drive you to school. Lol, my mom's left for work already when I leave, and my dad works till midnight, and is asleep when I leave.Perhaps Leo and his school could work with an organization like the National Center for Safe Routes to School, which focuses on providing students and parents with options to get to school on foot or by bike. (Update: Locally, there's also the Safe Routes to School Regional Network.) It may be too late for Leo's homework assignment, but it's never too late to improve walking conditions in all of our communities.
Montgomery County could do a lot to make walking to school safer and more convenient, and at little cost. All it takes is a few changes to the law, signs and paint, and retiming some traffic signals.
These are the recommendations from the Safe Walk to School campaign, which launched last week. The Action Committee for Transit, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, the mother of a high school student killed while walking to school last October, and others started the campaign because walking to and from school in Montgomery County can be hazardous.
In this school year alone, at least 8 kids and one parent have been struck by cars:
- On October 3 (International Walk to School Day), a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old were struck by a car while on the sidewalk on their way to Springbrook High School in Silver Spring.
- On October 31, Christina Morris-Ward, age 15, was struck by a car and killed on the way to Seneca Valley High School in Germantown.
- On December 11, a 9-year-old was struck by a car while in a crosswalk on the way to Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda.
- On February 27, a 3-month-old baby in a stroller was struck by a car while in a marked crosswalk during the walk signal, next to Bethesda Elementary School in Bethesda.
- On March 12, a 16-year-old was struck by a car while in a marked crosswalk next to Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg.
- Also on March 12, an 8-year-old, a 10-year-old, and their mother were struck by a car while on the sidewalk one block from Gaithersburg Elementary School in Gaithersburg.
To make walking to and from school safer for children in Montgomery County, the Safe Walk to School campaign calls on the Montgomery County Department of Transportion (MCDOT) to take the following low-cost but effective steps:
Expand school zones: Amend the county's criteria for school zones to include all county roads within a half-mile radius of a school. This would allow MCDOT to reduce speed limits and increase fines on roads near schools.
Lower speeds and limit unsafe right turns: Change the following rules in the amended school zones and post new signs to inform drivers:
- Establish a maximum speed limit of 20 miles per hour during school hours, including arrival and dismissal. This could decrease the risk of child pedestrian crashes by up to 70%.
- Double the fines for speeding violations, to motivate drivers to slow down.
- Prohibit right turns on red during school hours to reduce conflicts between pedestrians and drivers at traffic signals.
Retime traffic signals: Change traffic signal timing in the amended school zones in the following ways, to make it safer for pedestrians of all ages to cross the street:
- Put in leading pedestrian intervals for traffic signals at intersections where at least one of the roads is an arterial, to allow walkers to get a head start crossing busy streets.
- Use a walking speed of 2.5 feet per second to calculate the minimum pedestrian clearance interval, to give everyone, including children and adults pushing strollers, sufficient time to cross.
- Have the walk signal appear during every signal cycle during school hours at intersections with traffic signals, without pedestrians having to push a button. This can be done either by putting the signals in pedestrian "recall" during school hours (including arrival and dismissal) or by removing the pedestrian pushbuttons altogether.
- Shorten traffic signals during school hours (including arrival and dismissal) so kids don't have to wait longer than 40 seconds for a walk signal on any leg of an intersection. This would lead more pedestrians to wait for the walk signal to cross.
Change road markings: Add paint to the pavement in school zones in the following ways:
- Mark all crosswalks with a "ladder" or "zebra" crosswalk, using material embedded with retroreflective glass beads. This increases the visibility of crosswalks, raising driver awareness and encouraging pedestrians to cross at crosswalks.
- Narrow traffic lanes to 10 feet, to reduce vehicle speeds, increase drivers' compliance with the 20 mph speed limits, and reduce the length of pedestrian crossings across traffic lanes.
Washington DC has made great strides over the past decade towards creating a vibrant bicycle culture. How well does this extend to families so far? How can bicycling be more appealing to families?
Recent research has found that children who bike or walk to school perform better. A Danish study found that exercise, including from biking or walking to school, helped kids concentrate better, while chauffured children had a poorer grasp of geography, another study found.
In spite of the benefits, there are a number of reasons why families may not choose to or be able to bike. The reason I most often hear from parents is safety (even when biking is convenient). I feel the same way. Too often, I have found myself biking with my children, following all road and safety rules, only to be overrun by a driver who sees my small children as obstacles, not a family.
Mayor Gray's sustainability plan sets goals for "safe, secure infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians" with a target to "increase biking and walking to 25% of all commuter trips."
Part of this needs to be a concerted effort to focus on making it easier for children and families to commute to school and get around in general, by bike.
The city has programs aimed at stimulating families to bike. For families with school age children, the District Department of Transportation's (DDOT) offers the Safe Routes to school program, run by Jennifer Hefferan. She works with schools to support various types of active transportation models, including biking.
At my own children's school, Jennifer has designed more efficient drop-off and pick up processes, helped us to get appropriate signage, and worked with us to develop a comprehensive longer-term safe routes plan for our school. On biking, DC's Safe Routes program coordinated with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) to triple the number of bike racks for the school, as well as advise and support us on efforts like Bike to School Day and Fuel Free Fridays.
There are also advocacy organizations like WABA, who offer safety and skills education opportunities, including Bike Rodeos for children. KidicalMassDC promotes "safe, fun family biking in the Greater Washington area" by holding regular mass family rides and teaming up with DDOT, WABA and bicycle shops like BicycleSpace and the Daily Rider to host the ABC's of Family Biking.
Personally, I find programs like ABCs of Family Biking particularly compelling, because they bring together a comprehensive community of stakeholders invested in promoting family biking. There are opportunities to learn from each other, practice skills, and discover gear that makes sense for individual needs and lifestyles.
What seems to be lacking, however, is education (and skill-building) directed at drivers. Those who bike spend time learning how to co-exist with drivers, but until drivers learn to co-exist with cyclists, families will continue to face safety-related obstacles when considering whether or not to bike.
What obstacles do you see to getting your family or other families to bike?
Only in Clarksburg would it cost $27 million to get a marked crosswalk so that children can walk to school safely and conveniently. That's because the Montgomery County Department of Transportation refuses to install one until it spends $27 million on road construction.
Clarksburg, Montgomery County's last master-planned development in the I-270 corridor, is an on-going planning headache. One reason is that the 1993 Master Plan envisoned Clarksburg as a "transit- and pedestrian-oriented town", but there is little to walk to and almost no transit.
12 years after construction began in Clarksburg, the planned shops and supermarket at Clarksburg Town Center are still vacant land. There will be no library in Clarksburg until after fiscal year 2018, if then, according to Montgomery County's Capital Improvement Plan .
While the residential part of Clarksburg's Cabin Branch development is proceeding, the future of the associated 2.4 million square feet of commercial development is uncertain since the Maryland Health Commission ended Adventist HealthCare's plans to open a hospital in Clarksburg.
Although the County Council recently put the next phase of Clarksburg development on hold, this was not because the Clarksburg built to date falls so far short of the 1993 Master Plan's promise. Instead, the County Council worried that construction would degrade the Ten Mile Creek watershed and further reduce water quality in WSSC's Little Seneca reservoir.
And earlier this year, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) turned down a request from Clarksburg parents to mark a crosswalk at Stringtown Road and Observation Drive. Parents in the Gateway Commons development use the unmarked crosswalk to walk their children to the elementary school that is literally within sight of their homes.
The parents persisted, asking Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett to reverse MCDOT's decision. But last week, Leggett instead supported MCDOT's denial. Why?
Because, he explained in an e-mail, the county will not install a marked crosswalk at this intersection until the county has built a 2-mile, multi-lane, divided road (Observation Drive Extended) between Germantown and Clarksburg.
It's bad enough that Stringtown Road did not include a marked crosswalk when the road opened in 2007. After all, the Montgomery County Planning Board approved the site plan for the Gateway Commons development in 2003, and the elementary school has been there since 1909.
Did nobody think that people living on the southeast side of the road might want to walk to the school on the northwest side of the road? Was the road's $8.8 million budget too small to pay for a marked crosswalk?
But Leggett's explanation actually makes it worse. The Stringtown Road construction project did include curb cuts and pedestrian refuges at the intersection with Observation Drive. The parents assumed, reasonably, that the county had included these pedestrian facilities so that pedestrians could use them.
But this assumption was incorrect, Leggett's e-mail explained. Rather, the reason the Stringtown Road project included the pedestrian facilities was "to minimize the expense and operational impacts on the roadway when Observation Drive [Extended] is constructed".
Observation Drive Extended is not on the county's Capital Improvement Plan. But it is possible to get a rough estimate of its construction costs, if the county were to build the road today. The similar 1.2-mile extension of Father Hurley Boulevard in Germantown opened in 2011 and cost $10.9 million, or roughly $9 million per mile. So Observation Drive Extended might cost roughly $18 million.
$8.8 million for Stringtown Road plus $18 million for Observation Drive Extended adds up to $27 million that must be spent before parents and children, in a town planned as pedestrian-oriented, can cross at a marked crosswalk on their safe, convenient walk to school.
At that cost, it's no wonder that, as Leggett's e-mail said, "[t]he County simply does not have the resources to provide crossing guards or other control measures at every potential crossing location to make them as safe as possible for everyone who wishes to use them."
Instead, these parents will have to continue to choose between crossing safely at an inconvenient, marked crosswalk and crossing conveniently at an unsafe, unmarked crosswalk.
As Leggett's e-mail explains, "When in the judgment of our engineers and school transportation professionals it is better to compromise the convenience of a pedestrian...than to potentially compromise their safety, I will back that decision. Like them I believe that installing a marked crosswalk at this location may not improve the safety of those who wish to cross there."
But why must there be this trade-off between pedestrian convenience and pedestrian safety? Surely MCDOT is capable of designing a marked crosswalk at this intersection that would allow pedestrians to cross both conveniently and safely. Such a crosswalk would, however, compromise the convenience of drivers.
The Clarksburg Master Plan says that it will "carefully guide the growth of Clarksburg from a rural settlement into a transit- and pedestrian-oriented town". Ike Leggett says that he supports "mak[ing] our area more pedestrian-friendly". MCDOT says that the county supports improvements to "the walkability of our communities".
Why is it so hard to get Montgomery County to do what it says?
Buster Keaton was being funny when he drove across the street to propose marriage in his 1924 movie The Navigator. But the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) was completely serious last month when they told children in Clarksburg to take a school bus 4 miles out of the way instead of walking across the street.
Many parents in the new Gateway Commons development in Clarksburg walk their children 5 or 6 minutes to Clarksburg Elementary School. They cross Stringtown Road at Observation Drive, the development's main street, and then use a pedestrian path that leads to the back of the school grounds.
The intersection at Observation Drive is the rational place for people from Gateway Commons to cross Stringtown Road on the way to or from school. Unfortunately, however, it is not a safe place. Yet MCDOT denied the parents' request for a crosswalk.
Why is the crossing unsafe?
First, many drivers go faster than the 35-mph speed limit. This is not surprising, given the design and purpose of this section of Stringtown Road. The county built the road, which opened in 2007, to move motor vehicles between Clarksburg and I-270. It's an arterial highway, four lanes wide plus turning lanes and a median, and designed for a posted speed of 40 mph.
Second, the two crosswalks across Stringtown Road at Observation Drive are completely unmarked. There are no signs, either on the side of the road or in the median, to alert drivers to the possibility of schoolchildren crossing. There isn't even paint on the pavement. And though the law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians in unmarked crosswalks, they don't, even when children are standing in the median obviously waiting to finish crossing.
Parents in Gateway Commons wanted the unsafe street crossing to be made safe. So they asked MCDOT at the beginning of this school year to install a pedestrian crosswalk across Stringtown Road at Observation Drive.
But MCDOT said no. They gave four reasons.
First, according to the MCDOT traffic engineer who first denied the request, the crossing at Observation Drive is in "close proximity" to the marked, signalized crosswalks at Frederick Road (MD 355), 550 feet to the northeast, and Gateway Center Drive, 650 feet to the southwest.
From a windshield perspective at 35+ mph, these crosswalks are indeed in close proximity. But they are not so close from the perspective of Gateway Commons parents and children walking to school. For them, crossing at these crosswalks instead of at Observation Drive means an extra ¼ of a mile out of their way and double the travel time.
Second, if MCDOT marked the crosswalk, then people might use it, and that would be unsafe. According to an e-mail from Emil Wolanin, chief of MCDOT's Division of Traffic Engineering and Operations, "inappropriate crosswalk installations" dangerously "encourage pedestrians to cross at a less than optimal location".
This is an odd reason, given that the request for the crosswalk came about specifically because pedestrians are already crossing there, and the crossing is already unsafe.
And for whom is the location less than optimal? Not for pedestrians, or else they wouldn't have asked MCDOT to mark the crosswalk there.
Third, not enough people cross at the crosswalk. MCDOT's study found "little or no pedestrian activity", according to an e-mail from an engineer at MCDOT. And, again according to Mr. Wolanin, "[i]nstalling marked crosswalks at locations with very low pedestrian volumes diminishes their overall effectiveness. When motorists cross [marked crosswalks] rarely if ever seeing a pedestrian they are "trained" to not expect someone to be using them."
The people who asked for the crosswalk installation are walking evidence that there are pedestrians at this crossing. And, by the logic of Mr. Wolanin's previous argument, a marked crosswalk might even increase their numbers.
In addition, it's not as though drivers were currently stopping at the unmarked crosswalks. Is it worse if a driver blows past pedestrians at a marked crosswalk, rather than an unmarked one?
Fourth, the safe way to get across Stringtown Road is to take the school bus that Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) provides to Gateway Commons because crossing Stringtown Road on foot is not safe.
The school bus stops on the south side of Frederick Road, at the entrance to Gateway Commons. It then goes 2 miles southeast on Frederick Road to pick up children from another development, turns around, and goes the same 2 miles back, plus another half a mile, before finally dropping the children off at school. The bus trip takes about 20 minutes. Walking takes about 5.
In short, MCDOT's message to Gateway Commons parents is clear and simple. If they want to get their children safely to a school many can see from their windows, they should either cross the street where it causes the least inconvenience to drivers, or put the children on the bus.
Using a motor vehicle to cross the street is as ridiculous today as it was in 1924. Isn't it time for Montgomery County to join the Complete Streets Coalition and tell MCDOT that streets are for everyone, not just people in cars?
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