When you get off the northbound bus at Route 355 and Shady Grove Road in Rockville, it takes 8½ minutes to cross legally to the other side of the street. Along the way, you traverse 28 traffic lanes.
Just last week, two pedestrians were severely injured crossing the street at this intersection. I went there Saturday to look around. When I explained what I was interested in, people waiting for the southbound bus immediately pointed me to the bus stop on the other side.
I walked there, taking care to obey the law, and timed the return trip. It took 8½ minutes one way.
From the northbound bus stop (off the picture past point A on the picture below), I proceeded along the Route 355 sidewalk and reached the intersection at B. There I walked across a wide turn lane designed for high speeds that has no traffic signal — fortunately weekend traffic in the turn lane is light — and reached the traffic island at C.
Photo from Google Earth.
There is no crosswalk across the south side of the intersection (because there’s a traffic light here, there’s no unmarked crosswalk). Therefore, I had to wait for the walk signal to cross the 9 lanes of Shady Grove Road. The wait was substantial, because this is a slow light; the signal cycle is 2½ minutes.
When I reached the next traffic island at D, I found a “beg button” — a button that you press to get a walk signal. Cars made left turns for a little while, the through lanes began to move, and I got my signal to proceed across the 8 lanes of Route 355. The walk and flashing don’t-walk phases, together, lasted 23 seconds.
I walk briskly, so I was able to finish the 104-foot crossing before the signal became a solid don’t-walk. But a slower, and strictly law-abiding, pedestrian would have had to stop in the median. There is no beg button in the median, so they would have had to wait — who knows how long — until another pedestrian came along who follows traffic rules so punctiliously that they bother to push beg buttons.
Having finally reached point E, I had to wait again for a walk signal. This time I had 10 lanes to cross, but here there is a long green that gives you plenty of time. Finally, I walked along the sidewalk from F to G, and after 8½ minutes I arrived at the southbound bus stop.
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation is not ignoring this troubled intersection. It has installed 4 new beg buttons, not yet operational. But the way MCDOT is using these devices almost flaunts the low priority it assigns to pedestrian safety and convenience.
One of the new buttons is at location C. That’s where pedestrians cross a high-speed turn lane that has no traffic light. The turn lane won’t change at all. It still won’t have a light; you will still take your life in your hands to cross during rush hour. The beg button will only control the through lanes, making you wait through the 2½ minute light cycle if you arrive when the light is already green. Walking will be even slower; a few more cars will get through.
MCDOT is willing enough to spend money on walk signals. Here and there, as at this intersection, it will make traffic islands prettier and improve curb cuts. But getting people where they want to go on foot, quickly and safely, is never as important to the department as moving cars.
Route 355 and Shady Grove Road, as envisioned in the 2006 master plan and as it is today. Left, rendering from MNCPPC; right, photo from Google Earth.
Ironically, this is a place the county has designated for transit-oriented land use. It is only ¾ of a mile from the Shady Grove Metro station and on a future Bus Rapid Transit route. According to the master plan for this area, “Residents will find walking along tree-lined streets and using bike paths as convenient as driving.”
The master plan, which the County Council enacted in 2006, specifies that road builders must “provide four-way crosswalks at all intersections.” Seven years have passed, and MCDOT can’t seem to find a can of paint. It takes as long to cross the street, at Shady Grove and 355, as the Purple Line will take to go from Silver Spring to Bethesda.