A Dance with Death: Pedestrian Safety on Route 1

Route 1 in CPIn preparation for tonight’s Route 1 Corridor Transportation Study special meeting (7 pm, College Park City Hall), we will share with you the design tips we gleaned from a lecture we attended last night on pedestrian safety through good street design.

Last night’s lecture Designing Complete Streets: How to create safe and efficient streets for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers hosted by the National Capital Planning Commission featured a presentation by Michael King, a principal at Nelson\Nygaard planning consultancy. King is widely considered the nation’s preeminent pedestrian crossing expert and has worked on projects for various cities worldwide.

King provided some good insights on designing streets to enhance pedestrian safety, a concern particularly relevant to Route 1 in College Park. Since issues of pedestrian safety usually involve walking along streets or crossing streets, King’s design advice applied mostly to crosswalks and sidewalks. As more development projects emerge in College Park, citizens, planners, and developers should keep in mind these recommendations for sidewalk design:

  • Sidewalks should provide at least three feet of passing room at all times (even the occasional utility pole reduces the width of the passing room).
  • Sidewalks should be intuitive and straight (whimsically serpentine walkways may amuse newcomers, but become a nuisance to regular users).
  • Parked cars, planters, trees, or a strip of grass should buffer all sidewalks from travel lanes.
  • Bus shelters should never be placed so as to obstruct or divert the flow of pedestrian traffic.

As for crosswalks, King made several good points:

  • Each crosswalk should connect on opposite sides of the street to ramps at least as wide as the crosswalk itself. “Why should we need to trip?” King asked, referring to the unnecessary curbs.
  • Wide medians actually slow drivers (as a psychological reaction) and provide adequate crossing refuges for slower pedestrians such as young children and the elderly. (Fortunately, the state’s plan for reconstructing Route 1, as we have reported, includes tree-studded medians.)
  • Though one car may stop for a pedestrian at a non-signalized crosswalk (as is the law), other drivers will often dart around the stopped car, nearly running down the crossing pedestrian who has the right-of-way. Thus, even mid-block crosswalks require traffic signals.
  • Crosswalks should line-up with existing sidewalks and pedestrians paths; pedestrians rarely detour from the most direct path to cross at inconveniently placed crosswalks.
  • Unnecessary delays annoy pedestrians just as much as drivers; crosswalk signals should be designed to eliminate any unnecessary wait-time for pedestrians. A long wait-time for a short cross signal should earn an intersection a failing “level of service” grade with government transportation authorities.

This last point is especially useful for College Park, where light cycles are unnaturally long for both pedestrians and drivers and where the need to press a button to elicit a crossing signal further frustrates the hundreds of pedestrians who cross Route 1 downtown each day. The lights on Route 1 are timed clearly to prioritize traffic passing through College Park to the detriment of the pedestrians (and drivers) within College Park. Facilitating cross traffic and accounting for pedestrian behavior are necessary steps in transforming Route 1 from the its current role as “traffic-sewer” into a pleasant pedestrian-friendly boulevard that all residents desire.

King, like many other architecture lecturers, sprinkled his presentation with photo examples from all over the world, including such places as China, Brazil, Mexico, the UK, Cape Town, Seattle, New York, DC, and— drumroll— College Park! Unsurprisingly, both College Park examples featured bad pedestrian designs, including a picture of an overly wide driveway entrance on Route 1 as well as the ramp between eastbound University Boulevard and southbound Route 1. King used car-pedestrian crash studies to show how the ramp design enables car travel at speeds that would surely kill a pedestrian in a collision at the poorly placed crosswalk (below, green arrow) on the ramp. Thus, even New York-based architectural consultants are well-aware of the sorry state of Route 1! Hopefully, tonight’s Route 1 Corridor Transportation Study special meeting at City Hall at 7 pm will help bring these desperately needed improvements closer to fruition.

2 thoughts on “A Dance with Death: Pedestrian Safety on Route 1”

  1. These studies all merge into one and actually I believe someone from Nelso/Nygaard is going to be at the meeting tonight. It would be interesting to talk to Eric Olson about how these studies relate… Anyway last year’s EPA Smart Growth study (http://www.epa.gov/livablecommunities/pdf/collegepark.pdf)
    suggested that the University Boulevard & Route 1 interchange turn into a diamond interchange with traffic lights. I think a lot of points Eric makes will come up tonight, just as some of them did at the meeting that concluded the EPA study.

    Unfortunately, that particular interchange was recently extensively landscaped and such dramatic investment doesn’t seem to be actually in the works. Her is an excerpt (from the EPA study):

    “The intersections of US Route 1 at the Beltway and MD Route 193 are designed to accommodate vehicles only, with high-speed, free-right-turn lanes, highway-style design, and little or no accommodation for bicyclists or pedestrians. The Greenbelt Road and Paint Branch Road intersections provide for pedestrian crossings at most legs, but are still primarily oriented toward moving cars, with moderate-speed right turn lanes. Stakeholders expressed concern about safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, and the vision is for safe access to campus and corridor businesses by walking and bicycling. To help fulfill this goal, these intersections would need to be designed as urban intersections, with safe and comfortable accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians.
    Redesigning the intersection of MD Route 193 offers great potential, since considerable developable area could be freed by converting the high-speed on- and off-ramps into a more urban diamond interchange. Allowing for a direct connection from northbound Route 1 to eastbound Route 193 would also provide development opportunities along 48th Avenue, and make for a smaller intersection at Greenbelt Road and US Route 1. While this intersection has high potential, it should only be a priority if redesign coincides with reconstruction for other reasons.”

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