The North Bethesda neighborhood of White Flint is in the midst of transition from car-oriented suburb to a vibrant, mixed-use community. But the area still has a ways to go. Here are eight ways to make walking around White Flint safer and easier to walk around that wouldn’t require major investments.
Around the Pike District, which is the area of White Flint near the Metro, there are a number of examples of how the built environment doesn’t make it easy for people to get around on foot, which is increasingly common. There are six-lane roads with no crosswalks, places where people walk but there’s no visible lighting, and crosswalk signals that simply don’t turn on unless you hit a button.
These are some simple ways to make the Pike District more inviting to pedestrians:
1. Make it easier to see people who are walking
More lighting for sidewalks and crosswalks, clearly-visible crosswalks, and trimming trees and vegetation on drivers’ sight lines would all make it easier for people driving and walking to see one another.
Drivers on Rockville Pike and on many of the major streets in the Pike District area aren’t used to people walking alongside them. For decades, a pedestrian in that area was almost as rare as a really great $5 Bordeaux. For the cost of a bucket of paint, cool crosswalks would draw attention to the fact that people now walk in the Pike District. (They’d also add some much needed beauty and pizzazz.)
2. Make sure there are crosswalks on all sides at all intersections
When crosswalks are missing from one or more sides of an intersection, it forces people walking to go out of their way to cross in the existing crosswalks.
In reality, many people continue to use the most direct route to cross the intersection, only without the safety of a marked crosswalk and walk signal to alert drivers to their presence.
Several intersections in the Pike District, where huge residential buildings have recently gone up, are missing crosswalks on one or more sides: Montrose Parkway and Towne (Hoya) Road, Nicholson Lane and MD-355, Grand Park Avenue at Old Georgetown Road, and MD-355 at Edson Lane.
3. Make pedestrian signals automatic
Beg buttons — so called because they require pedestrians to press them in order to receive a walk signal rather than providing one automatically with a green light — make walking more complicated and inconvenient.
Except for the intersection of Marinelli Road and Rockville Pike, all major intersections within the Pike District feature beg buttons in at least one direction.
Rather than actually making it easier to walk places, these buttons often cause confusion among pedestrians. Not realizing they must press the button to receive a walk signal, pedestrians often tire of waiting and cross against the signal, making things less safe for everyone.
While there’s a lot that goes into making sure traffic flows smoothly, it costs nothing to flip the switch to make pedestrian signals automatic like they are in nearly every urban area.
4. Add places for people to wait in the median
Rockville Pike is wide: between six and eight lanes throughout the Pike District. For many, this distance can be too far to cover on foot in one light cycle. When that happens, people are stranded on a narrow concrete island between fast moving traffic.
Pedestrian refuges provide a safe place for those who cannot cross the full distance in one turn. On Rockville Pike, they could be implemented in the short term by narrowing traffic lanes slightly at intersections and using that extra room to expand medians.
5. Make signs better
Improve signage so that drivers are more aware that pedestrians will be crossing the street and so that pedestrians know the safer places to cross. Wayfinding signs could be invaluable in directing people to cross where it’s safest.
These following three projects are a bit more complicated and they be more expensive than the ones above, but they’re doable if officials get started soon.
6. Eliminate slip lanes
Hot rights, or slip lanes, are dedicated right turn lanes at intersections that allow drivers to make the turn at higher speeds by reducing the angle of the turn versus a typical perpendicular intersection. It also allows cars to turn right without stopping, although they do need to yield to cars and pedestrians.
Slip lanes make intersections less safe by placing walkers directly in the path of fast-moving cars and increasing the distance they must travel to cross the road.
7. Add mid-block crossings on really long blocks
Mid-block crossings are dedicated pedestrian crosswalks between signalized intersections on very long blocks. A crosswalk at Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike by North Bethesda Market is just one place where a mid-block crosswalk would help.
8. Fill in missing sidewalks
Several areas of high-pedestrian traffic in the Pike District lack formal sidewalks, and instead have only well-worn dirt paths, or desire paths, that develop from foot traffic. Where there are desire paths, there should be real, paved sidewalks.
Around the Pike District, members of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Friends of White Flint, who teamed up to create the Pike District Pedestrian Safety Campaign, recently put up signs that point out the existing conditions.
The signs also invite people who walk in the area to share their own suggestions for making the Pike District more pedestrian-friendly on social media with the hashtag #pikepeds or at pikedistrictpeds.org.