After a particularly disturbing number of pedestrian accidents in Montgomery County including four deaths in the last two months, elected leaders and concerned citizens came together on Tuesday, January 19, 2016, to support Montgomery County joining the Vision Zero Network, a group of cities and towns committed to stopping the deaths of pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.
Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner, chair of the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee; Marc Elrich, chair of the Public Safety Committee; and Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced a resolution calling on the County to adopt a “Vision Zero Action Plan” with the intent of ending all traffic-related deaths. The resolution was introduced in the Council’s regularly scheduled session later that morning.
Vision Zero is an international movement to improve the safety of roads using data to improve the engineering of roads, to target enforcement, and to educate the public. Plans are also put in place to stop speeding and drunk/distracted driving. Boston, New York and Washington DC have already adopted Vision Zero and the initiative is spreading throughout the world.
“It’s time to stop thinking about these fatalities as accidents. These are crashes that we can and must act to prevent. And we must say to ourselves, ‘Zero is our goal’,” declared Councilmember Berliner, “Our community is united. This resolution is co-sponsored by every one of my colleagues. You can see the administration is here in force too, and you see and will hear from community members that say enough is enough.”
Describing the issue as one that has long plagued Montgomery County, Councilmember Elrich described how he began as a community activist and he would petition to get stop signs and signals on State roads and they would say there wasn’t a sufficient number of accidents. He explained that when somebody would get killed, then the State would engage in a discussion as to whether a light or traffic control was needed. “We literally need a body count in order to be taken seriously. That’s the culture,” then he concluded, “At some point every single accident is preventable and shame on us if we don’t take the steps to bring this under control.”
The other lead co-sponsor, Councilmember Riemer, also spoke, “We need to bring a real culture change to the County and that is the hardest thing to do. We have to create behavior change, not only for our residents but for our employees of our County and also our State organizations in how they conduct their affairs, and that is not going to be easy. But we know what the solutions are. They are well known.” He pointed to intersection and roadway designs, lowered speed limits, fines, and bike networks. With many of the deaths on our roads happening on State highways, he advocated for the alignment of County and State policies, perhaps even to the point of allowing the County to have control of State roads, which he said is something he favors even though it might not be realistic. At the very least, he hoped the County and State would get on the same page.
Councilmembers Berliner, Elrich and Riemer plan to work with the County’s delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to develop a strategy to make traffic safety a priority in Annapolis this year.
When he spoke Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger pointed out that in the last year there had been 38 fatalities investigated by the County but there had actually been 44 killed if you include State investigations. This is down from figures in the 50’s and 60’s. He pointed to distracted driving as the most common reason, noting that people are paying attention to something other than their driving, but he also blamed speeding and driving while impaired. “If we could get those offenses down closer to zero, it will result in fewer deaths and fewer collisions on our highways.” Whether it is drunk driving or an underage drinking party, he declared, “We are looking to strengthen the County’s enforcement of these laws so we can get more drunk drivers off the road and if you are caught driving drunk the consequences are significant enough that you will think twice.” He concluded with a promise, “The County can certainly count on the Montgomery County Police Department to be a partner.”
Although he was overcome with grief and couldn’t describe the cycling accident which took the life of his brother, Timothy Holden, last August, Ray Holden was finally able to speak, “If there was some way to convey the impact which these accidents have on a family, a neighborhood, and a community, I don’t think we would have to have meetings like this. But I can’t, so we need to get out there. We need to do something.”
During the Press Conference, Councilmember Sidney Katz explained that he had spoken with Rockville officials at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration to garner support. Last year Rockville City Councilmember Julia Palakovich Carr campaigned on the issue of joining the Vision Zero Network. The Mayor and Council added Vision Zero to the Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan, but the Planning Commission did not include it. Since the State has mandated that the Mayor and Council now have the final word on such plans, this could be reversed again. For the most part, Rockville already uses the basic premises of Vision Zero while planning, but it does not directly fund education programs.
Vision Zero needs to be the basic foundation of every decision we make as a City. Although traffic must keep moving, losing a life is never acceptable. As a pedestrian accident survivor, I will continue to have full coverage of this issue on Rockville View.