Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why no crosswalk at Crestmoor?

Last year, Woodmoor resident Ted Henson requested that the SHA make a few safety improvements to Route 29 between Lorain Avenue and Northwest Branch.  Included in this request, which was made via Councilmember Hucker's office, was a marked crosswalk and traffic light at the intersection of Route 29 & Crestmoor Drive.  The SHA denied all of his requests.  This was their explanation for rejecting a traffic light and crosswalk at Crestmoor, where America's Sorriest Bus Stop is located:
"Thirteen hour turning movement counts of the intersections did not reveal significant volumes of motorists exiting from the side streets to warrant traffic signals or significant pedestrian activity at the intersections. Peak hour reviews at the intersections suggested that observed delays and queues were not unlike similar intersections in Montgomery County. A review of the most recently available three year police reported crash at both intersections history did not indicate a pattern that is correctable by installing a traffic signal at either location or a pattern of pedestrian related crashes. In addition, our review of the sight distance indicated that adequate sight distance exists for motorists approaching US 29 (Colesville Road) at Crestmoor Drive to allow pedestrians to cross safely and legally. ...For these reasons, a marked crosswalk is not justified at this time at US 29 (Colesville Road) at Crestmoor Drive."
Safe by engineering standards?  Sure.  Safe in anyone else's opinion?  Not even close.  Photo by the author.



Before the SHA provided that explanation, they wrote the following disclaimer in the preceding paragraph (the email was written to Councilmember Hucker's office, hence the reference to "your constituent"):
"In regard to your constituent’s request for a traffic signal, pedestrian signal, and marked crosswalk at US 29 (Colesville Road) at Crestmoor Drive and traffic signal US 29 (Colesville Road) at Lorain Avenue the SHA follows the nationally-accepted Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) as a guideline to determine when and where traffic control devices should be installed. These guidelines are nationwide in scope and are promulgated by the Federal Highway Administration. The application of these guidelines is not without considerable and deliberate forethought, with the primary reason being safety. As a highway operations agency, the SHA assumes an obligation to follow these guidelines."
It's almost as if the SHA is invoking the MUTCD's guidelines to protect their decisions from scrutiny.


Even marked crossings such as these feel dangerous without a traffic light.  Photo by the author.


So was it the MUTCD that caused the SHA to deny Ted's request, or something else?  Since the entire MUTCD is available online for your reading pleasure, let's take a look a Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, which deal with pedestrian crossings and signals.  Keep in mind that this is a book of guidelines, not regulations...

Section 3B.18 Crosswalk Markings:          
"Crosswalk lines should not be used indiscriminately. An engineering study should be performed before a marked crosswalk is installed at a location away from a traffic control signal or an approach controlled by a STOP or YIELD sign. The engineering study should consider the number of lanes, the presence of a median, the distance from adjacent signalized intersections, the pedestrian volumes and delays, the average daily traffic (ADT), the posted or statutory speed limit or 85th-percentile speed, the geometry of the location, the possible consolidation of multiple crossing points, the availability of street lighting, and other appropriate factors.

New marked crosswalks alone, without other measures designed to reduce traffic speeds, shorten crossing distances, enhance driver awareness of the crossing, and/or provide active warning of pedestrian presence, should not be installed across uncontrolled roadways where the speed limit exceeds 40 mph and either: A. The roadway has four or more lanes of travel without a raised median or pedestrian refuge island and an ADT of 12,000 vehicles per day or greater; or B. The roadway has four or more lanes of travel with a raised median or pedestrian refuge island and an ADT of 15,000 vehicles per day or greater."

The MUTCD finds that crosswalks like these shouldn't exist without additional safety features.  Photo by the author.


The MUTCD says that an unsignalized crosswalk shouldn't be installed on a wide, heavily traveled road like Route 29 without other measures.  This makes sense, because crosswalks across wide 6 lane roads without a signal can be dangerous and uncomfortable, such as the one at Indian Spring Drive pictured above.  So the natural step is to install a pedestrian signal or full traffic light.  Here's what the MUTCD says about that:

Section 4F.01 Application of Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons:
"For a major street where the posted or statutory speed limit or the 85th-percentile speed exceeds 35 mph, the need for a pedestrian hybrid beacon should be considered if the engineering study finds that the plotted point representing the vehicles per hour on the major street (total of both approaches) and the corresponding total of all pedestrians crossing the major street for 1 hour (any four consecutive 15-minute periods) of an average day falls above the applicable curve in Figure 4F-2 for the length of the crosswalk."    
Route 29 carries far more than 1,500 vehicles per hour.

To summarize the excerpts above, the MUTCD recommends that a marked crosswalk on a road the size of Route 29 be installed only in conjunction with other measures to mitigate speed and increase driver awareness of the crossing.  Furthermore, a pedestrian beacon (like a HAWK signal or the SHA standard pedestrian signal) should only be installed on such a road if 20 pedestrians cross the road in a one hour period.   

This is why the SHA denied Ted Henson's 2015 request for signal at Crestmoor Drive.  It is also the reason that they denied Joe Fox's request for a signal at Indian Spring Drive in 2014 (another notorious crossing).  The SHA determined that the recommended threshold of 20 pedestrians per hour simply weren't present, so they denied both requests.  

This sounds like it doesn't bode well for a pedestrian signal on Route 29... until we realize that the SHA has already installed an "unwarranted" pedestrian signal right here in Four Corners. 

Pedestrian signal on University Boulevard at The Oaks, just west of Four Corners.  Photo by the author.


The SHA installed the above pedestrian-activated signal at The Oaks a few years ago.  According to MUTCD guidelines, this should only be installed if there are 20 pedestrians per hours crossing University Blvd at this spot (one every three minutes).  There aren't.  If there were, there would be at least one hour of the day during which the signal was activated 20 times.  Anyone who uses this road regularly knows that that doesn't happen.  Why was it installed?  Because residents of The Oaks couldn't reach the bus stop safely without it (sound like a familiar predicament?).  

So while the SHA says that pedestrian signals on Route 29 at Crestmoor and Indian Spring Drives are unwarranted to provide safe passage to those bus stops, they broke their own argument by installing this signal on University Blvd (in a location with relatively low pedestrian counts).

The SHA simply uses the MUTCD as a veil to conceal their real reason for rejecting pedestrian signals and marked crosswalks: they don't prioritize pedestrian safety.  Nothing prevents the SHA from installing pedestrian signals (such as the one above) at every currently-unsignalized intersection on Route 29, except their own dogma.  The MUTCD excuse doesn't work when the SHA blatantly ignores the MUTCD's guidelines at one location, yet refuses to do the same under similar circumstances one mile away.    

To ask the SHA to make Route 29 safer by doing what they did on University Boulevard, it is best to contact our elected officials.  I have been told by more than one SHA employee that contacting elected officials is a highly effective way to get the SHA to take action.  I encourage anyone reading this to write Councilmember Hucker's office at Councilmember.Hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov to  express support for pedestrian signals at Crestmoor Drive and Indian Spring Drive (might as well get a two-for-one deal).  Also contact State Senator Raskin (jamie.raskin@senate.state.md.us), Delegate Moon (David.Moon@house.state.md.us), Delegate Smith (will.smith@house.state.md.us), and Delegate Hixson (sheila.hixson.annapolis@house.state.md.us).  

If we involve elected officials, Route 29 will get the pedestrian safety improvements it needs.                       

4 comments:

  1. And I agree with all of this, but I have to make 2 observations about the signalized crossing at University and The Oaks:

    1. There is a playground nearby, and I've seen a lot of parents (attempt to) use it in nicer weather.

    2. It isn't REMOTELY safe. I've attempted to use it a handful of times and finally stopped because people DON'T stop for the red light. They're not looking for it, they don't notice it, and at least one person blows through the light every time.

    So a signalized intersection doesn't necessarily solve the problem, unfortunately. It makes it easier to prosecute someone in the event of a crash, but I have seen for myself that it does not necessarily make a crossing safe.

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    1. I agree. I too have seen motorists run the red signal at The Oaks. I caught one flagrant red light runner on video two years ago.

      It would seem that this is a strong argument to get a full red-yellow-green signal at Crestmoor and other locations.

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  2. The particular solution isn't as critical to me as SHA acting substantively and promptly; not only here, but at Viers Mill and the trail near Turkey Branch, the intersection on River Road that Councilmembers actually wrote the State about and multiple other locations on state roads across the County and State.

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