The Montgomery County Planning Department recently presented to the Planning Board an update on the Pedestrian Master Plan, including a summary of initial efforts to educate the community about the plan and inform the board of the community members chosen for the plan’s Pedestrian Advisory Group. The Pedestrian Master Plan is a comprehensive project to improve pedestrian safety and comfort across Montgomery County.
You can read the entire Staff Report here, but here are a few highights:
State Highways: Meeting attendees are generally aware that there are jurisdictional issues pertaining to the roads in the county and have made the connection between state highways and unsafe pedestrian conditions. Many people asked how the PMP will handle these state roads and what can be done about them.
Utility Obstructions: The role of utility companies in creating and maintaining obstructions in sidewalks came up frequently, as did businesses – particularly café seating – encroaching into pedestrian spaces.
Funding: Funding for sidewalks and other pedestrian infrastructure was identified as a major issue. Attendees were very supportive of the plan and its ambitions but were concerned that there would not be sufficient funding provided to make progress.
Maintenance: Maintenance of existing pedestrian infrastructure and missing pedestrian infrastructure were both decried. Snow and vegetation removal were seen as problematic. In many places, with the responsibility for maintenance incumbent on adjacent property owners, pedestrian ways are maintained in a piecemeal fashion or not as all, while roads are maintained and cleared by the county and state.
Sidewalk Gaps: There were also several comments in meetings and through correspondence about missing pedestrian facilities generally and how gaps in the pedestrian network limit access to schools, parks, and other amenities.
Traffic Laws: Several meeting attendees expressed confusion about the rules of the road, specifically related to when people driving are supposed to yield to people using crosswalks. Others, aware of the rules, advised that roadway signage doesn’t improve drivers yielding to pedestrians.
Engineering: Others focused on the role traffic signals and intersection design play in pedestrian safety and comfort. Some recommended the plan look at how there often is not enough time allocated for people to safely cross the street. Attendees were concerned about intersections designed to minimize driver inconvenience at the expense of pedestrian travel time and safety – particularly those locations where crossing a street actually means crossing three streets due to missing curb ramps, pedestrian signals and crosswalks. People recommended more pedestrian scramble intersections, grade-separated pedestrian crossings, prohibiting Right Turns on Red, adding Leading Pedestrian Intervals at busy intersections and addressing pedestrian/left-turning vehicle conflicts. There was skepticism about the efficacy of flashing yellow lights for pedestrian crossings and concerns about construction closing sidewalks.
Lighting: Meeting attendees considered the lack of pedestrian-scale and intersection lighting to be both a personal safety issue and a traffic safety one.
Electric Scooters: Electric scooters were discussed at nearly every meeting. Concerns abounded about sharing pedestrian spaces with silent, fast-moving vehicles not yet governed by well-respected norms for courteous use and public storage.
Transit Access: Pedestrian transit access was front of mind for many people, particularly ensuring that pedestrian infrastructure exists to allow people to safely access Purple Line stations before it begins service. Other people called out bus stops that were either so small that people waiting for the bus blocked the sidewalk or bus stops that had been relocated to midblock locations to improve vehicle throughput at the expense of pedestrian safety and convenience.
Accessible Design: Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and creating an accessible public realm were issues regularly raised by meeting attendees.
Education/Enforcement: Education and enforcement were also frequently mentioned. Specifically, public safety announcements about stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk was mentioned. Speeding enforcement and pedestrian education were also seen as important, as was trucks and other vehicles blocking sidewalks and crossings.
Shade: Both at meetings and through written feedback, attendees voiced concerns about lack of tree canopy along sidewalks in the face of more frequent extreme heat events.