WHEATON — The Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee (PBTSAC) hosted an audit walk to highlight areas of needed improvement for pedestrian and traffic safety.
The Make Wheaton Walkable! Safety Walk took place on May 18 and allowed members of the community and local officials to note dangerous intersections and provide feedback about unsafe areas.
Attendees were provided with water and snacks by a local Girl Scout troupe, along with a checklist of things to look for and take notes.
Issues to look out for on the checklist included the condition of sidewalks, traffic safety on the streets around Wheaton, and the experience of walking in the area with conditions such as available shade or width of medians.
Kristy Daphnis, chair of the PBTSAC, explained why traffic is often so heavy in Wheaton.
“One of the biggest challenges that we have in Wheaton is that we are flanked by three state highways,” she said. “The initial purpose of those highways was to move a lot of cars, and now we have neighborhoods and people who want to walk to the metro, people who want to walk to grocery stores, or walk to restaurants. And the infrastructure is just not set up for that.”
William Jelen, the chair of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee, and Director of the Mid-County Regional Services Center Luisa Montero-Diaz led one walking group of about 15 people.
Jelen noted in the first block of the audit, a telephone pole’s guy wire, which helps stabilize the pole, placed in the middle of an already narrow sidewalk.
“This is probably problematic for people who are seeing impaired,” Jelen said.
He also noted the broken sidewalks on the corner of Georgia and Blue Ridge Avenues, which would make traveling by wheel exceedingly difficult and not ADA compliant.
As the group walked along Georgia Avenue, members observed cars taking corners too quickly and often stopping in the crosswalk instead of behind the painted lines.
Vanessa Miranda from Wheaton attended the walk audit with her two kids. She stated that drivers need to have their attention drawn back to the roads they are driving on. In Bolivia, the government put together a program where teenagers dressed up in zebra costumes to help people cross the road, Miranda said. This helped get drivers’ attention, she said.
Miranda explained that the costumes are easily recognizable by motorists and have helped reduce the number of collisions with pedestrians.
She also noted that many members of the Latino population in Montgomery County are struck just trying to get to bus stops that are often placed mid-block. For a person trying to get to a bus stop, it is often a shorter distance to cross where the stop is placed as opposed to walking down to a corner and then back to the stop.
She suggested adding painted lines, so motorists recognize these as informal crossings.
Maryland Delegate Alfred Carr Jr. (D-18) also attended the audit walk. While walking down Georgia Avenue, he noted the width of the sidewalks by using his footprints to measure it.
“This area is less than five feet wide,” he said, “so it is substandard.”
Many of the sidewalks along Georgia Avenue are very narrow, and, in some places, rough.
Another specific area that the group felt needed attention was the intersection in front of the site of the new Wheaton Library and Recreation Center.
“I’m worried about the library here, because (kids) will have to cross about eight lanes of traffic,” Miranda said.
While standing in front of the library, located on the corner of Arcola and Georgia Avenues, the group noted several concerning issue including narrow crosswalks, which cars often enter while pedestrians were crossing and an allotted crossing time that was far too short.
Shawn Magnuson, who also lives in the Wheaton area, pointed out that its lack of walkability makes growth difficult.
“I think that the lack of walkability in Wheaton is basically the number one thing holding it back as being a prosperous downtown,” he said. “I just think most of the concerns I have are related to how scary and dangerous it is to cross Georgia Avenue. It is going to be hard for this area to eventually become a nice place where people want to walk around to restaurants and shops if you fear for your kids’ lives.”
Local officials such as County Council President Nancy Navarro and Councilmember Will Jawando also attended the walk.
Attendees were encouraged to note problem areas on printed maps with sticky notes. The information gathered at the audit walk will aid in making recommendations for safety improvements in Wheaton.