If you take the Metro to White Flint, Montgomery County welcomes you with a large and unfriendly wall. The county Department of Transportation built the wall several years ago to stop pedestrians from using a popular, existing crosswalk.

White Flint didn’t always look like this. In 1988, four years after Metro arrived in the area, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission opened across the street from the station. The Planning Board required a “traffic mitigation” program. As part of this program, the sidewalk in front of the NRC building was set back from Rockville Pike so that it led directly to the Metro. A marked crosswalk connected the sidewalk to the station entrance.

The Metro station, the crosswalk, and the NRC building in 2002. Image from Google Earth.

The traffic mitigation program worked very well. Today, 36% of NRC employees commute by transit. As a result, the crosswalk was heavily used. But the Planning Board requirement expired in 2004, and just one year later, MCDOT removed the crosswalk and built a wall to stop pedestrians from making their way across the road at that location.

Now, pedestrians are forced to detour 40 feet to the left, where they must wait at a very slow traffic light. The county claims that the crosswalk was eliminated in the interest of pedestrian safety.

Unfortunately, this claim does not stand up to scrutiny. The only hazard to pedestrians in the crosswalk was that of drivers who violated the law by failing to yield. But this hazard exists at all crosswalks in the county; at crossings without traffic lights, drivers rarely yield to pedestrians.

In fact, the White Flint crosswalk was often full of people, so drivers obeyed the law and stopped more often than elsewhere. From the pedestrian’s point of view, this was likely one of the safest unsignalized crosswalks (given the amount of car traffic) in the county.

The White Flint crosswalk was not removed because it was in the best interests of the pedestrians, but rather, because it was in the best interest of the drivers. Throughout the county, MCDOT encourages drivers to violate the law by leaving crosswalks unmarked, even where there is heavy pedestrian traffic.

Sadly, this is not a unique situation. Another wall was built with a similar goal in mind at New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard. In both locations, MCDOT could have made it safer to cross the street by redesigning the road to slow traffic and ticketing drivers who failed to yield. But it appears that this is not the approach the department has embraced. Instead, pedestrians take a backseat to the county’s drivers.