Where Colesville Road (US-29) passes through the Montgomery County neighborhood of Four Corners, it’s a six-lane divided highway, but residents need to be able to cross the street on foot to access homes and businesses. Unfortunately, that can be very dangerous, as Greater Greater Washington contributor Joe Fox found out recently.
The crosswalk. All photos by the author.
Fox was crossing the road with his four-year-old daughter. Fox had just picked her up from daycare after a severe thunderstorm knocked out power. With a light rain falling, they approached this crosswalk, which has no traffic signal, to get to the bus stop on the other side of the road.
After waiting for several minutes and seeing no gap in traffic, Joe waved a book in the air to try to catch the attention of passing drivers. As one slowed to a stop, Joe stepped gingerly into the crosswalk, carrying his daughter tightly.
A large SUV (a Yukon or Suburban) in the left lane had stopped, and a small SUV following it rear-ended it with enough force that it folded its hood, and pushed the larger SUV more than 50 feet straight ahead.”
If I had been crossing either the middle or left lane (I would have, at a normal walking pace after the right lane car stopped, but I waited, seeing what might happen), one or both of us would have sustained very serious injuries.
Because I had my daughter still holding on, I could not cross (again) back to the northbound lanes to see if she (the driver) was okay. I did not see her emerge from her car for the several minutes I was there. All I could do was call the MCPD and ask them to help.
This crosswalk gets frequent pedestrian traffic, as it is the only convenient way to walk between the neighborhoods of Indian Spring and North Hills of Sligo. To reach the closest signalized crossing, someone would have to walk a half mile out of the way.
The area, from Google Maps. The blue dotted line shows the route to cross the street with a detour to the nearest signalized intersection.
The bus stop which Fox was trying to reach is served by six heavily-used bus routes which travel to and from the Silver Spring Metro. The crosswalk also connects residents with community facilities and parks such as the Silver Spring YMCA, Indian Spring Recreation Center, and the popular Sligo Creek Park.
The crosswalk is a few hundred yards south of the Beltway interchange, along a stretch of Colesville Road with 40 mph speed limits. Here is a video of one attempt to cross. Note how drivers in some lanes do not stop even once I am in the roadway.
Making it even more dangerous, the road crests a hill just south of the crosswalk. That means a driver headed north coming over the hill may not see a pedestrian with enough time to stop.
A HAWK signal would make this intersection safer
This would be a good location for a HAWK signal, which stops traffic when a pedestrian asks to cross. This can let pedestrians cross safely without affecting drivers as a regular signal would.
There are pedestrian-activated signals on nearby University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, so there is ample precedent for one on a six-lane highway like Colesville Road.
Those signals are less-efficient “firehouse style” signals. The below video shows one in operation. Notice how a car runs the red light 10 seconds after it turns red, and just before a grandmother and her grandchildren cross the road.
If officials agree to use a HAWK signal here, as activists are requesting, this would be the first on a Maryland state-maintained road.*
Thanks to the efforts of Joe Fox and elected officials he reached out to, this dangerous crosswalk on Colesville Road may get fixed before anyone else is injured. According to local activist Jeffrey Thames, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), which controls this road, is currently studying the idea of a pedestrian-activated signal at this location, and expects to propose a solution within 90 days.
* The original version of this post said that a HAWK would be the first in the state. There is a HAWK on Gude Drive in Rockville, for example, but this is a county road. The State Highway Administration (SHA) has not installed any HAWK signals to date.