Since the death of Oscar Mauricio Gutierrez Osorio of Silver Spring in the Matthew Henson Trail crossing of Viers Mill Road, which came less than a year after a similar fatal crash in the same place, activist have been encouraging the State Highway Administration to add a HAWK beacon to the crossing. Unfortunately, the SHA seems to think the problem is user error.
The highway administration said it has installed additional flashers on both sides of the road, as well as in the median. The problem, said David Buck, an SHA spokesman, is that engineering solutions alone cannot prevent all fatalities. Enforcement and education are also needed — catching speeding drivers and encouraging cyclists and pedestrians to activate the flashers.
Unfortunately, Buck said, citing a crash report and Montgomery County police officials, the two cyclists in the deadly collisions did not push the button to activate the flashers.
Sigh. When Frank Towers went through, there were no flashers or button to press, so yeah, I can't say I'm surprised that he didn't push it.
“Not only do we want them to push the button to engage the flashers . . . we also want them to dismount the bike and walk across,” Buck said.
That seems unreasonable to me, and I'm not sure how walking their bike makes them any safer. Pedestrians are at risk here too. But that really is their policy, they should get rid of this sign, which confusingly shows someone riding their bike across.
Bike Maryland has a petition which you can sign asking for a HAWK beacon
Bike Maryland strongly urges the State Highway Administration to install a HAWK beacon, not only at this crosswalk but as needed at other crosswalks throughout the state.
A 2010 FHWA study found that HAWK Beacons, also known as pedestrian hybrid beacons, reduced total crashes by 29%, reduced severe crashes by 15%, and reduced pedestrian crashes by 69%. http://tinyurl.com/hawkbeacons
Locally, both Virginia and Washington, DC use HAWK Beacons effectively. Virginia has effectively deployed them at the crossings along the W&OD Trail. Field data from Washington, DC reported a driver compliance rate of 97.1%. http://tinyurl.com/hawkeval
Bike Maryland had asked for the installation of a HAWK beacon before this crash, back in May when they held a vigil and installed a ghost bike at the site. One big problem
Maryland law does not permit the use of the pedestrian hybrid beacon.
Seriously? Maryland law says that its not illegal to crash in a cyclist in the crosswalk and now that they can't install a HAWK beacon. Does Maryland have the worst laws in the country or what? [They also have a straight contributory negligence standard].
Cedric Ward, director of traffic and safety at the SHA, said that “concerns from a safety standpoint” dissuaded Maryland officials from approving the use of the beacon. Because the beacon changes to a flashing red light at the end of a pedestrian’s crossing, there were fears that a pedestrian would get halfway out through the crosswalk only to have a vehicle proceed when the red light begins to flash, Ward said.
“There would have to be a change in . . . the law for a HAWK to be installed,” Buck said.
Meanwhile the Montgomery County Council, after sending a letter last January asking for SHA to expedite the installation of flashing lights, is now calling for a HAWK as well.
[Hans] Riemer, the council member, said there is a need to “fundamentally change the dynamic” at the crosswalk. As he sees it, “the State Highway Administration is prioritizing long trips. They want to move cars quickly over long distances.” Instead, Riemer wants the needs of the local community prioritized — the first step being the installation of a stop signal.
They also asked that the law that allowed the driver in the Towers case to walk away without so much as a fine be amended
WABA has also called for a HAWK beacon here as well, as they had done before
WABA pleaded with engineers to design and constructed a traffic light or HAWK signal which would require drivers to come to a full stop. The request was denied, now with deadly consequences.
Fixing the Matthew Henson Trail crossing at Viers Mill Road is just the beginning. This needs to happen now to prevent future injuries and death at this location. But there are dozens of other trail crossings in the Montgomery and Prince George’s County that need attention too.
The delegation from Maryland’s 19th District sent a letter to SHA that did not prescribe a solution but calling on the SHA to "execute a thoughtful solution."
Still SHA sticks to the position that this really dangerous crosswalk that you shouldn't even bike across is for some unknown reason not attracting a lot of traffic and so no new safety features are warranted.
The SHA said that there are not enough pedestrians using the crossing to justify a pedestrian-activated stop signal.
There are so few pedestrians and bicyclists at the crosswalk during the week and at night, Buck said, that drivers probably would ignore a stop signal.
“We have to make sure . . . are we encouraging people to run red lights?” Buck said.
We can't install a traffic light because drivers would just learn to ignore it? Remember that next time the scofflaw cyclist meme comes out.
Riemer broached the idea of building a flyover or a pedestrian tunnel as a longer-term solution, but Buck cautioned that either alternative would be difficult to implement.
The bridge would need additional space on either end to allow for a gradual gradient, he said, but a stream traversing Veirs Mill Road poses problems. And a tunnel, he said, would be “very rare” and similarly difficult to build.
“It’s a combination of everybody . . . doing the right thing 100 percent of the time,” he said.
Perfection? Why hasn't anyone thought of that? Yeah if everyone would just do the right thing 100% of the time that would make the roads much safer.