ASPEN HILL – The Vision Zero study intends to improve road safety for pedestrians, bikers and drivers in Aspen Hill. At a community meeting on Feb. 26, members of the Montgomery County Planning Department explained the recommendations they have received so far from data collection and community input.
The goal of the Vision Zero study is to drastically decrease the number of traffic fatalities and severe injuries to zero by changing roads and infrastructure to better meet the needs of the community.
“We were delayed by two car accidents on the way here [to the meeting],which is a good indication of the changes that need to be made,” said Casey Anderson, a member of the Montgomery County Planning Board.
Maren Hill, project manager for the study, explained that traffic deaths are a preventable problem.
“Human life should always be a priority,” Hill said in her presentation.
The Vision Zero study was adopted in 2017 by Montgomery County, which set a goal of eliminating traffic-related deaths for the Aspen Hill neighborhood by 2030.
“We want to see an increase in pedestrian safety; I think there’s a consensus on that,” said Sunil Dasgupta, a community member.
Hill went on to explain that the Aspen Hill has higher rates of crashes than other parts of the county. In fact, Aspen Hill has two roads that rank in the top-20 of traffic-related incidents in Montgomery County, according to the planning department.
The neighborhood has many residential streets that are surrounded by high- speed roads like Connecticut and Georgia Avenues. This, coupled with many school bus stops and destinations near the community, creates a dangerous situation for residents.
Results of the study have found that people often cross busy roads at locations where there is no crosswalk, because there is a popular destination on the other side. Hill explained that even if there is a crosswalk, people are less likely to use it if it’s inconveniently placed.
Through community engagement, the planning department has found that residents often do not feel safe walking or biking in many parts of Aspen Hill. Factors such as a lack of adequate sidewalks, roads with no island for pedestrians to wait on, and high rates of speed all contribute to a feeling of insecurity.
“No one uses the bike lanes, and the bike lanes themselves are very dangerous for cars opening doors,” said Sam Nasios, an area resident.
The planning department also put together a type of game for the meeting to help community members prioritize where money should be spent for safety measures. Each resident in attendance was given Zero Vision Money and asked to tape it onto a map to illustrate which areas needed the most attention.
Studies such as Zero Vision rely heavily on community input to recommend what changes need to be made.
“Only people who know their neighborhoods best can tell us what they need,” Hill said.
Hill added that when the planning department conducted speed testing for cars on major roads like Georgia and Connecticut Avenues, it found that on average, drivers are going below the posted speed limits. Still, residents report not feeling safe.
Hill said that results like these are a good indication that the posted speed limits are too high and should be lowered to make residents more comfortable walking in the area.
Hill further noted that projects such as Zero Vision always come with trade-offs. A slower speed limit might make residents feel safer walking down their streets, but it might also contribute to traffic jams that slow them down getting home from work.
In the coming months, the phases of the Zero Vision study involving community engagement and data collection will wrap up as the planning department will review and develop the recommendations.