SILVER SPRING—Downtown Silver Spring is the first location on the East Coast to receive a “protected intersection,” which will make four-way crossing safer for pedestrians.
The intersection is on the corner of Spring Street and Second Avenue.
Matt Johnson, a project manager for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), explained that protected intersections are common in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. Although this is the first one on the East Coast, protected intersections have existed in the United States for the past decade or so. There are protected intersections in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Oregon and Texas, among others.
Montgomery County Councilmember Evan Glass was involved in advocating for local transportation projects. Glass also sits on the county council’s Transportation and Environment Committee.
Glass said that over the past several decades, many communities in the United States were being designed with single-occupancy vehicles in mind.
“It’s going to take some time for us to retrofit our streets to make them safer for all users, and this intersection shows we are making progress,” he said. “As more jurisdictions commit to implementing Vision Zero, I expect more features like this to pop up throughout the region.”
Safer intersections could also increase the number of people who choose bicycling for their commute, according to Johnson.
“In addition to providing a safer pedestrian environment, these intersections are important because they provide additional safety for cyclists with separated bike lanes,” he said. “The additional safety contributes to lower-stress cycling routes, which in turn attract more commuters traveling by bike.”
The redesign of the intersection will make it safer than a traditional intersection, because it forces cars to slow down as they’re turning. Cyclists traveling straight through the crossing will be forced to slow down, and there will be better visibility of bicycles and pedestrians for drivers.
“The main feature of the intersection is the corner island,” Johnson said. “The four-corner islands in this intersection reduce the turning radius, which makes drivers turn more slowly. The islands include truck aprons that allow larger vehicles to turn, while still keeping the radius small for passenger cars. The corner islands also create a “lateral shift” for bicyclists, which slows them down, and also puts them in a position where they are more visible to drivers and where the cyclist also has better visibility of the turning vehicles.”
He explained that the new design of the intersection also reduces the amount of time that pedestrians are exposed to cars by reducing the width of the roadway.
“Since drivers and cyclists are approaching more slowly and have better visibility, they have more time to stop and avoid a crash, and because everyone is moving more slowly, if there is a crash, it is less likely to be severe or fatal,” Johnson said.
In his first term in office, Glass brought Vision Zero projects to the attention of the State Highway Administration (SHA).
“I experience pedestrian safety issues firsthand, and regularly I have to cross six lanes of traffic just to access my bus stop,” he said. “Here in Montgomery County, we need to do a better job designing our communities so that they are safe for all residents, pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, everyone who needs access to our roads.”
Glass noted that research shows that lower speeds, wider roadways and pedestrian infrastructure like pedestrian-activated walk signals all contribute to fewer accidents and fatalities.
“Back in 2018, four high school students on Georgia Avenue were seriously injured when they were waiting for a school bus,” Glass said. “These improvements cannot come fast enough.”
Johnson also noted that redesigning intersections like this one is becoming increasingly important as the use of bicycles and popular electric scooters is also on the rise.
“It is important for the county to make sure that all roadway users can get where they want to go safely and comfortably. Increasing biking and walking is also critical for the county to meet its Non-Auto Driver Mode Share goals, so that people have alternatives to get to our urban areas,” he said.
Johnson and Glass said they see this project as a way for the county to reach its Vision Zero goals.
Glass described this first protected intersection as a test case of sorts before the county implements similar designs at other crossings.
The redesign of the crossing is part of a larger project in the neighborhood called Second Avenue/Wayne Avenue Cycle Track Project. The plan includes more than half a mile of separated bike lanes, floating bus platforms and improvements to the sidewalks and crosswalks along with the resurfacing of the roadways.
“The total cost for the entire project is approximately $1.5 million,” Johnson said. “The resurfacing is the largest cost element.”
The Bicycle Master Plan which was adopted in 2018, calls for protected intersections to be standard for all intersections that have a separated bike lane, according to Johnson.
“Right now, we are working on designs for protected intersections at Cameron and Fenton in Silver Spring as part of the Dorsey Mill Road Bridge project,” he said.
Johnson explained that the intersection is still under construction. Work began in 2017 to design the crossing, and construction began in the fall of 2018. Work on the project was suspended last winter but is expected to be completed next month in September, weather permitting.