In July 2019, a bicyclist and a pedestrian died in crashes in Montgomery County. Jacob Cassell was biking on the sidewalk on Old Georgetown Road on his way to the YMCA and fell into the road while trying to avoid an obstacle on the sidewalk. Unable to stop in time, a driver fatally struck him in the road. Jennifer DeMauro was walking on the Bethesda Trolley Trail and was hit and killed by a driver who failed to stop at the uncontrolled crosswalk of the Trolley Trail and Tuckerman Lane. Both deaths could have been prevented.
In response WABA, Action Committee for Transit and Potomac Peddlers, and over 100 community members, friends, and neighbors came together for a memorial and rally on August 17. The group squeezed onto narrow sidewalks and spilled into yards and driveways to share memories and talk through the heartache. Some State and County officials attended. Hundreds signed a petition and sent emails calling for concrete action to prevent future deaths and serious injuries on these corridors. Though it will never be enough, we are glad to report that both agencies responded and are making needed changes.
Changes to Old Georgetown Road
The State Highway Administration, which controls all State Highways like Old Georgetown Road (MDA-187), held a community walk-through and did a traffic study. In February 2020, MDOT announced its decision to put Old Georgetown Road on a road diet between Johnson Ave. and I-495. After planned repaving this spring, SHA will narrow the car travel lanes, remove one lane in each direction and add a “dedicated bike lane with a 5 foot buffer” between the bike lane and car traffic on MD-187. This change will help reduce speeding and give walkers a substantial buffer from fast traffic. And while far from low-stress, the dedicated, buffered bike lanes will offer more confident bicyclists a far safer option for biking on Old Georgetown Road. Read the full press release here.
A New Crossing at Tuckerman
At the end of 2019, Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation placed a pedestrian activated HAWK signal at the intersection of Tuckerman Lane and the Trolley Trail. People walking and biking on the trail may now stop traffic with the push of a button to safely cross Tuckerman Lane.
Both of these changes will make the corridors much safer for people getting around by biking and walking. These improvements would not have happened without advocates showing up and calling on State and County elected officials and agencies to step up.
We commend MCDOT and SHA for taking concrete steps in the wake of tragedy and in the case of SHA stepping far outside its historical comfort zone. But, these agencies need to set the bar far higher and step beyond reactionary safety improvements. Both Montgomery County and the State of Maryland are years into a commitment to completely eliminate traffic fatalities on county and state roads. Before July, there was ample evidence that Tuckerman Ln and Old Georgetown Road were unsafe. Yet despite crashes, and speeding data, and community pleas, it took tragedy to get a response. That’s a glaring failure.
We are grateful for all the community partners for their hard work and commitment to making the County’s roads safe and accessible for everyone. There is much more to do in order to reach our goal of zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries from crashes.