Monday, February 25, 2013

Crosswalk Area Problematic Configurations in Wheaton: Inquiry to State and Response

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I have been concerned about the pedestrian crosswalk situation in Wheaton since moving here. Some intersections have the type of setup where one has to press a button for the walk signal to turn from red to white (which first requires noticing that a button press is required and making it to the button). Others lack marked crosswalks at all, have them near the intersection but not at the actual intersection, or have crosswalks that are simply disregarded by cars at busy intersections.  A lot of pedestrians cross against the signal or at unmarked spots (which can be dangerous) when intersections are designed in either of those ways.

Today I want to write about Amherst Avenue and University Avenue -- which is an intersection with press button crosswalks and obstacles obstructing one of the buttons -- and Amherst Avenue and Arcola Avenue -- an intersection with a painted crosswalk covering only one of three possible crossings.

SW corner, Amherst & University Ave, Feb 2013.
In November 2012 I submitted an online request to the Maryland State Highway Administration alerting them to these situations and in mid-January got a response (both are below). 

It is nice to learn that they did a traffic study in response to my request.  Unfortunately their study didn't count enough people walking across that intersection to warrant an automatically changing crosswalk signal.  Too bad for Wheaton.  When the big new residential building at Georgia and Reedie is finished, I think the pedestrian traffic will increase.  Hopefully they'll do another study then and give us an automatic signal.

Another good solution for pedestrian issues on that stretch of University would be to add a crosswalk (despite there being no traffic light) at University Ave and Fern Street or Elkin Street.  Walking from the metro to the many restaurants and stores north of University Ave (between Amherst and Georgia) is currently a struggle.  With the sidewalk closed on Georgia from Reedie to Price Ave (that annoyance deserves another post), many people cross University in the middle of that block to get to those destinations.  

Also interesting from their response is that the Univ & Amherst intersection is scheduled for some improvement (to make it ADA compliant), to begin in December 2014.

My request that they improve our intersections:
1 - at University Blvd W and Amherst Ave, the pedestrian crossing signals only turn white if the buttons are pressed. This is an outdated system and I've seen people wait for a "walk" signal a long time, then cross without one after waiting too long. Those crossing signals should be updated to change automatically every time the traffic lights change.  Also, right now the button to press for a walk signal on the southeast corner of that intersection is not ADA compatible. People have to go behind a huge guard rain and step in a flower garden to press the button.  Making a button press not necessary would take care of this problem.
2 - There is only a marked crosswalk on the west side of the street at Amherst Ave & Arcola Ave. One should be added to the east side of the street too, as that would be much more convenient for many people's walking routes.  I've seen many people cross on the side with no crosswalk & drivers are not polite to them.  People turning right don't want to stop for pedestrians because there's no painted cross walk.  Please add one.  Ideally it would change automatically with the traffic light, not be controlled by button press as the pedestrian signal is currently at that intersection.  
Having crosswalk signals change automatically shows that the city values and promotes pedestrians as a mode of transport.  Making us walk off the sidewalk to press a button shows to opposite. More people will walk and stop driving/clogging up the roads if walking is clearly valued and supported.  
Their response:
Dear [me]:

This is in further response to your traffic and safety concerns at the subject intersection in Montgomery County. The State Highway Administration’s (SHA) District Three traffic engineering staff has completed its review, and is writing to provide you with the results.

An analysis of the subject location was performed including a review of the continuous 13-hour turning movement count conducted recently on a mid-week day between 6 AM and 7 PM to capture the worst traffic conditions and pedestrian activities at the intersection. Our study revealed that pedestrian volumes across MD 193 at this intersection were not high enough to warrant a pedestrian recall phase. A pedestrian recall phase is phasing that does not require a pedestrian to push the pedestrian push buttons for a walk indication to be activated.  This is usually reserved for locations with high pedestrian activity in downtown environments.  As a result, we do not recommend any changes to this intersection at this time.

The relocation of the pedestrian signal push button located at the southeast corner of the intersection is going to be completed as part of a project which is currently in the design phase.  The project includes upgrading the pedestrian signals to provide Accessible and Countdown Pedestrian Signals (APS / CPS) and upgrading the pedestrian ramps to be compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.  The project is scheduled to be in construction by December 2014, weather and scheduling permitting.

In regards to your request for an additional crosswalk at the intersection of Amherst Avenue and Arcola Avenue, the subject intersection is under the jurisdiction of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT).  You may reach MCDOT via email, at or by phone, at 240-777-6000.

Thank you again for your concerns.  If you should have any other questions, please feel free to contact my Team Leader for Traffic, Ms. Maria Bhatti, at 301-513‑7465 or1800‑749‑0737.  Ms. Bhatti will be pleased to assist you.

Anyesha Mookherjee
Assistant District Engineer –Traffic (Montgomery County)

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That is quite a legal disclaimer, but I am the intended recipient and you haven't viewed it by error, so think it is legal for me to post their response on my blog.


  1. It would be great to compile a list of, say, the ten worst crosswalks in your "jurisdiction" to help the authorities prioritize their work. (And, to be fair and encouraging, the ten "best" as well, so they know what people are aiming for.) The Action Committee for Transit has focused on this, concentrating on safe walks to school:
    Thanks for your blog, Wendy Leibowitz, member, Action Committee for Transit