Walking the Walk?

Walking the Walk?

Berliner, parents discuss pedestrian safety for local students.

Weeks before school starts again, local parents Lynn Verboncoeur and Carrie Witkop have concerns about the safety of children who walk to school. Montgomery County Traffic officials and local PTA representatives met on Monday at the Council Office Building in Rockville to discuss pedestrian safety issues around local schools. Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-1) hosted this meeting in order to give the PTA representatives in Montgomery County a chance to voice their concerns about student safety while walking to and from school on local roads.

"The whole [purpose] of this conversation is to allow the community to express what it experiences on a day-to-day basis and for county officials to take those comments into consideration," said Councilmember Roger Berliner.

County officials emphasized that one of the main reasons all of the concerns can not be addressed immediately is because of resource constraints, such as a budget of $80,000.

"The problem is a resource problem, we can’t build our [streets] big enough to accommodate the number of cars, as hard as we try," said John Matthews, director of transportation John Matthews for Montgomery County Public Schools.

ONE OF THE CONSISTENT concerns raised at the meeting was the lack of enforcement around crosswalks, and the need for more crossing guards. Many of the PTA representatives advocated more crossing guards at local intersections.

"On the morning of May 7th I witnessed an almost-collision between my daughter and a driver as she was crossing the Bells Mill and Gainsborough intersection," said Lynn Verboncoeur PTA representative of Cabin John Middle School. "Not that I wanted my daughter almost to get hit…but this gave me a great opportunity to begin my letter campaign to get a crossing guard at that intersection."

"Our crossing guard has been able to use cones, which has been highly effective. It really has slowed cars down because they have to manage their way through the cones," said North Chevy Chase Elementary School PTA representative Carrie Witkop.

Witkop is another PTA representative with a terrifying pedestrian incident involving her child fresh in here mind. Witkop’s son suffered a concussion after a run-in with a car at the entrance of a nearby apartment complex.

"The major problem is with cars not stopping when they are coming in and out of the apartment buildings. They go full speed ahead without even stopping," said Witkop.

Other PTA representatives promoted putting more stoplights in to allow children to cross the streets, such as on Democracy Boulevard near Walter Johnson High School and on Massachusetts Avenue near Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Many of the PTA representatives voiced frustration about the progress they’ve made with the issues they have raised.

"We’ve done all that we can do and we’re getting nowhere, so we are really open to your assistance at this point," said Liza Durant, PTA Representative for Potomac Elementary School, who voiced concerns about the need for a light on River Road near the school.

The issue of pedestrian safety invariably brought about many factors that cause the ignorant drivers which endanger the students.

"Ultimately the people driving don’t always want to cooperate, so a lot of that rests with the school community and really working together with the parents," said Matthews.

"I really feel like the problem is the drivers, they’re not paying attention when they’re driving. I think the state should do something about handheld phones," said Witkop.

"I’m a one-person office. I try to coordinate various officers to make them aware. I also play an advocacy role for pedestrian safety; I’ve loved all of your suggestions," said Matt Greene, the county’s pedestrian safety coordinator. "I’ve heard enforcement used many times today. … If you want more enforcement everywhere let your officials know that you need it countywide. … If we do a lot of these things we’ve discussed it may have an effect on people’s behaviors."

In response to the various concerns Emil Wolanin, chief of traffic and engineering operations at the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation mentioned the School Transportation Efficiency Planning (STEP) committee and the safe route to school program, and how using them can help increase pedestrian safety.

"I think almost everyone was able to make a connection with one of the appropriate officials today," said Berliner. "One of the things I am hoping to get from this is what area we talking about in terms of a crossing guard budget. … The goal of this was to begin the conversation, not to make any promises, but I feel like we’ve made some progress."