Ongoing residential construction on three projects in Silver Spring needlessly closed sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to either navigate confusing, circuitous detours or to walk in the roadway. For neighbors, it’s been an ongoing nightmare.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has put Silver Spring pedestrians in danger by failing to uphold its own standards for pedestrian safety at the construction sites, at the intersection of East-West Highway, Newell Street and Blair Mill Road.

Silver Spring resident William Smith started Montgomery Sideways, a blog dedicated to pedestrian safety in the county. “Passage through this intersection is horrible if you’re trying to get across East-West Highway, because it’s been neglected,” he tells us.

Image from Google Street View.

“It’s encouraging people constantly to take risks,” Smith explains, “because you really don’t have a choice if you want to get across the street here.”

Even the signs indicating sidewalk closures are poorly placed. Rodney Elin navigates the neighborhood in his wheelchair. “Construction and temporary signs,” he says, “are actually placed in the pedestrian pathway,” forcing him to double-back. On the northern side of the intersection, the nearest alternate crosswalk is almost 1,000 feet from the sidewalk closure.

“If these road closed signs were placed in a more thoughtful way,” Elin says, “I would actually be able to get by these signs that are supposed to help me.”

SHA’s own guidelines for “Accommodating Bicyclists and Pedestrians Through Work Zones” state:

Completely closing a sidewalk for construction and rerouting pedestrians to the other side of the street should only be done as a last resort. To the maximum extent feasible, the alternate pedestrian route should be provided on the same side of the street as the disrupted route.

As SHA’s guidelines suggest, there is a better way to handle construction than simply shutting down sidewalks. Three years ago, the District announced new standards for temporary sidewalks at construction sites, putting an end to the practice of closing sidewalks in busy urban areas. State roadways go through urban areas, including Silver Spring. SHA must recognize the necessity of sidewalks to the state’s walkable communities.

It may too late for this intersection, but SHA needs to start upholding its own standards when construction results in long-term closures and detours. It is unacceptable for SHA to permit a sidewalk closure that forces pedestrians to choose between backtracking nearly 1,000 feet or dashing across a busy highway.