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After experiencing 99 traffic deaths last year, Prince George’s County announced plans to implement a Vision Zero program, joining the District, Arlington County and Montgomery County.
The program aims to reduce the number of traffic-related incidents and fatalities to zero.
We sit down with Prince George’s County’s Director of Public Works and Transportation Terry Bellamy to discuss how Prince George’s County plans on enacting the program, and whether or not it will ever be possible to achieve zero traffic fatalities.
Produced by Kayla Hewitt
- Terry Bellamy Director, Prince George's County Department of Public Works and Transportation
- David Cranor Legislative chair, Bicycle Advocacy Council
- Michael Farrell Senior Transportation Planner, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments; Program Manager, Street Smart
KOJO NAMDIYou're tuned in to the Kojo Nnamdi Show on the WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast we check in on the Citi Open tennis tournament underway now in the District. But first Prince George's County has one the highest rates of traffic fatalities in the State of Maryland and that includes pedestrian deaths. Last week the county joined other jurisdictions including the District, Montgomery County and Arlington County in introducing Vision Zero, a program which aims to dramatically reduce the number of traffic incidents and fatalities in the county. Joining me in studio is Terry Bellamy. He is the Director of Public Works and Transportation in Prince George's County. Terry Bellamy, thank you for joining us.
TERRY BELLAMYThank you.
KOJO NNAMDIWe mentioned the high rate of traffic deaths in Prince George's County. What are some of the reasons for that?
BELLAMYSome of the reasons related to it is speed, distracted driving, two of the major factors that we're seeing as far as the fatalities that are taking place in the county.
NNAMDIPrince George's signed on to the Vision Zero program. For those who are not familiar with the initiative, what is Vision Zero?
BELLAMYWell, Vision Zero is a program across the country that realized that any death is one too many. And our goal is to reduce the number of fatalities within Prince George's County. But this is not new to Prince George's County. We have been a part of Toward Zero. And we were one of the first counties in the State of Maryland to do a strategic roadway safety audit program in the state. So this is just a follow up to the activity that's been taking place. Our goal now is to see some reductions.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Michael Farrell. He is the program manager of Street Smart and the Senior Transportation Planner for the Washington Metropolitan Washington Council of Government. Michael Farrell, thank you for joining us.
MICHAEL FARRELLThank you.
NNAMDICan you talk a little bit about Street Smart and what you do?
FARRELLSure. I would say Street Smart tries to fill kind of a niche within the regional transportation safety picture specifically education of drivers, of pedestrians, of bicyclists with respect to pedestrian safety. So trying to tell pedestrians what they can do to keep themselves safer. Tell motorists what they can do to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safer.
NNAMDIThe idea is to increase awareness among drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. How effective are those awareness campaigns at changing attitudes and behavior of commuters?
FARRELLI think when we look at whether people are hearing and remembering our messages we found that they do. I mean, we've got very high what we call campaign awareness. In other words people are able to tell us what our ads are without even being prompted. So we're very encouraged by that. That said, education by itself is generally not effective, which is why we have partnered with law enforcement agencies, with our various member jurisdictions, and why the other components of safety specifically engineering of the streets to make them safer, law enforcement to make people pay a little bit more attention to those rules. Other aspects of education like classroom education of school children that we don't really deal with at the regional level. Those are all important. And --
FARRELLIn budget terms, I would say engineering is by far the most expensive. Like if you look at the Montgomery County's pedestrian safety initiative, which was launched in 2009. That has been a fairly successful pedestrian safety campaign. Eighty percent of the budget is engineering changes to the street, treatments to make them safer, another 10 percent enforcement, another 10 percent education, and that includes both our regional Street Smart campaign in kind contributions to it and also the various school based education safety efforts that Montgomery County has done.
NNAMDIOne can't help noticing there are several bicycle advocacy groups in the area, but not a lot of organized pedestrian focused safety groups in the region. Why is that?
FARRELLWell, I would say that bicyclists tend to form clubs to go on rides, and it creates kind of an institutional structure there that enables more bicyclists' advocacy. Now, while we do have organized disability groups that advocate for pedestrians, people don't really form clubs. They might form clubs to go hiking in the wilderness, but they don't really form clubs to go get a cup of coffee down the street.
NNAMDIThere are a few, though, pedestrian advocacy groups in this area. There's All Walks D.C. and there is Alexandria Families for Safe Streets. It's my understanding.
NNAMDIBut we got a tweet from Andy who writes, Vision Zero in PG, give me a break. That will take a century. It would require complete driver retraining throughout the entire county plus a total redesign of the drivability and walkability of county infrastructure before we can even approach that target. Michael Farrell, as we mentioned before Prince George's County is joining a long list of other cities and counties that have implemented Vision Zero programs in the U.S. and around the world. How effective have those other programs been?
FARRELLWell, we have had some very effective Vision Zero programs on a national level. I'd say New York City is probably the leader. I don't have all the numbers, but they've seen big decreases in traffic fatalities in the time that they have implemented their Vision Zero program. There's also the Montgomery County Pedestrian Safety Initiative, which I mentioned. It wasn't -- it was more focused on pedestrians, and it wasn't under a Vision Zero umbrella for most of it I believe. But there are definitely things that you can do to bring fatalities way down. And as far as the subject of zero being impossible, we do have smaller interjurisdictions in our region namely Arlington and Alexandria that in terms of pedestrian fatalities do sometimes achieve zero or very very close to zero.
FARRELLSo when you look at those kinds of places it's possible to really move the needle in a way that's much more aggressive than what we've seen in the past.
NNAMDINevertheless, Terry Bellamy, it's clear from our previous tweet that there's still a lot of skepticism. So what is Prince George's County actually doing to move closer to the goal of zero traffic incidents and what are the biggest challenges that you safe in implementing Vision Zero? Our tweeter seemed to feel that you needed to change a whole lot of the county infrastructure in order to achieve this.
BELLAMYAs you know, Prince George's County is a very very large country. Twenty-seven municipalities within the county and it would require everyone to participate in it, and design of our roadways is just one part of it, the improvement of our network for pedestrians, the implementation of bike lanes and protected bike lanes. The challenge is not one that you would see happen overnight. But with those different types of improvement with complete street program, I think that you would see a major change as it relates to the number of fatalities.
BELLAMYWhat's kind of unique, our bicycle community. We've seen some very low numbers in our bicycle communities as far as fatalities. What's big in Prince George's County has been the number of motor vehicle fatalities. Our number one goal is to reduce the amount of pedestrians, because we are seeing double digit numbers with our pedestrian fatalities.
BELLAMYAnd then we're looking at those trends. And so it's, again, it's education, enforcement, engineering. It also requires equity. Looking at where these crashes are taking place. And going to that point and educating and using enforcement to get the community to look out what they're doing. Distractive walking is just as bad as distractive driving. We want to make sure that everybody is watching what they're doing when they're on the roadway.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is David Cranor. He is a Legislative chair on the Bicycle Advisory Council for the District. David Cranor, thank you for joining us.
DAVID CRANORThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou serve as I said as a Legislative chair for the District's Bicycle Advisory Council. What does the council do?
CRANORWell, the Bicycle Advisory Council is setup to advise the District government and the Council on matters of importance to bicyclists. For example, this week I'll begin working on a Vision Zero bill working group, which Mary Shay setup to rework the Vision Zero bill that she's working on.
NNAMDIWhat is the District's current deadline for the Vision Zero goal and just how attainable do you think that deadline is?
CRANORThat deadline is going to be tough to meet, because we've been backsliding instead of moving forward. So the deadline is 2024. And the District has not put in at this point and time the effort that such an ambitious goal requires. So I think it's going to be difficult to reach that goal.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Let's go to Warren in Fairfax, Virginia. Warren, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WARRENThanks for taking my call, Kojo. I guess my main comment revolves around, you know, this wholesale approach. You know, we're talking about educating pedestrians and bicyclists and drivers. We're talking about spending major money on infrastructure development. And yet the thing that's being omitted in this conversation is the design of the vehicles that are actually on the roads. So this is a major topic of conversation in Europe and in Asia. European cars that are on American roads are now designed to reduce the impact of pedestrian car collisions through various designs to hoods and stuff like that. But there's no conversation of this in the United States, and if we're going to talk about this wholesale approach to a problem then I think everybody should be involved including the vehicle manufacturers.
FARRELLYou're absolutely right. I mean, there has been a shift in the vehicle fleet in the United States towards vehicles that are more dangerous for pedestrians specifically trucks and SUVs. I mean, these vehicles they typically ride higher. They're a lot heavier. Visibility can be worse. And unlike a small sedan, which typically hits people in the legs, which is painful, but usually not fatal, you know, SUVs and trucks hit people right around the chest level causing devastating injuries. They're also more likely to drag people under the vehicle. That's even worse for large trucks, you know, dump trucks, trash trucks, etcetera, which have very poor site lines and where people are likely to be dragged under the wheels, which is usually a lethal injury.
NNAMDIVision Zero, David Cranor, is about pedestrians, but it's also about cyclists. As a bicycle advocate, how do you think public officials could better protect bikers in the area?
CRANORWell, if you're talking about bikes specifically protected bike lanes are the gold standard for protecting cyclists creating places for them where they're protected from cars. Not just a painted bike lane, but, you know, some sort of barrier in between. Bike trails carry the same benefits. But if you think of it from a larger standpoint of Vision Zero, the more that we can get people to drive slower the more than we can get people to drive less, those are the kinds of things that will benefit not just cyclists, but, you know, everybody on the road.
NNAMDIHow about this? Mary tweets, I work in Crystal City and there's seriously upping game on penalizing drivers, who block bike lanes. Would love to see D.C. follow suit.
CRANORD.C. is. There are some bills in the works to increase that. Councilmember Allen has a bill that will allow citizens to report using a phone app people who have blocked a bike lane and get a ticket. So there are efforts underway to increase the amount of enforcement. But it's true, blocking bike lanes is a regular daily occurrence here. And we need more effort if we want to keep them clear.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we will talk about Prince George's County now implementing its own Vision Zero program. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about Vision Zero programs to reduce traffic fatalities. One of them now being implemented in Prince George's County. We're talking with Terry Bellamy. He is the Director of Public Works and Transportation in Prince George's County. David Cranor is a Legislative chair on the Bicycle Advisory Council for the District. And Michael Ferrell is the Program Manager of Street Smart and the Senior Transportation Planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. I'd like to go directly to the phones where Mitch in College Park awaits us. Mitch, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MITCHThank you, Kojo. Big fan of the show. So what I wanted to ask is given the increase traffic planned in the College Park area due to the highway expansion and also the development of a lot of the communities around here, you're expecting a lot more traffic in the next decade. So I guess, my question really is, is A, how is the county looking to either revisit or design it's bicycling master plan, which I don't think has been updated in the past 10 years, but also can it increase sidewalks in the area? Especially looking at southern parts of the county cycling and sidewalks are really lacking also. So it's kind of something that how can they look and do that for the entire county? Thank you.
BELLAMYYeah, that's a great question. A lot of work has been done on U.S. 1 in College Park as we try to address pedestrian and bicycle activities. One of the things with the capital planning as well as the municipalities in the county is looking at the long range bike master plan, and also developing a new bike mapping system so we can direct people to where they can ride and where we have facilities. One of the things that we're seeing in South County is that we are urban, rural, suburban county.
BELLAMYAnd when you get into South County you are really in some parts in the rural. And so what we're trying to do in that part of the county is to develop those trails that will allow cyclists, who cannot ride on the roadway and share the road. But we want to look protection similar to what we talked about earlier is having that freeway of trails that cyclists can use especially in South County.
NNAMDIDavid Cranor, you see it as more difficult for a suburb like Prince George's County to implement a Vision Zero program than it is for a place like the District. Why is that?
CRANORWell, Director Bellamy is right. Prince George's County is unusual compared to other places that have made Vision Zero work in that it is rural, suburban and urban. And so when you don't have transit available it makes it a lot harder. Transit is big key to getting Vision Zero to work. And so that's a thing that stands in their way. They also need help from the state, which D.C. doesn't need to rely on. And then, the auto improvement thing is a federal level issue. So Prince George's County is going to need help from the federal level. But for a suburban county like Prince George's County they're going to need to figure out a way to make transit work to being biking on the streets that are not typically bike friendly now, and deal with the State Highway Administration in order to do that. So they've really got a tough road to hoe here.
NNAMDIBlack Mascara tweets, I want to know how much of this is attributed to Prince George's County being a commuter district. Love to know the stats of how many residents have to commute daily for an hour plus to get the jobs in Virginia, D.C. and Montgomery County and Howard County. Some of the worst accidents I've seen have been early morning. Care to comment on that, Terry Bellamy and also you Michael Ferrell.
BELLAMYThe region is a commuter region. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 125,000 to 150,000 people that are commuting outside of Prince George's County every day. One of the things that we're working with with our partners is to improve the transit mobility in the county and within the county as well as working with Montgomery County and Metro to encourage people to use other forms to commute. When they're making the same trip every day, you have the ability that you can switch. And one of the things that we're also looking at is having an economic development that encourages job growth within the counties. So more people can actually live and work in the same community.
NNAMDIAnd, Michael Farrell, I've also seen people say that, you know, a lot of those commuters going through Prince George's County are coming from areas that have Vision Zero programs in place already. So that might be in a way an advantage.
FARRELLWell, I think that -- you know, one thing to remember is that when a Prince George's resident leaves Prince George's if they get in a traffic crash that is counted in the jurisdiction in which it happens. So the fact that Prince George's has perhaps a smaller day time population relative to its population compared to the District would in some way favor it in terms of traffic fatalities. But I think, you know, the bigger issue is like any county that contains even semirural areas exurban areas. Traffic moves faster and it's just harder to get to zero on, you know, on those kinds of facilities.
CRANORIt's also important to note -- I'm sorry to jump in.
NNAMDIThis is David Cranor.
CRANORIt's also important that a lot of these fatalities aren't happening during commute times. Commute times tend to be some of the safest times of the day. The real challenge is late at night, weekends, when people can really open up on the road and go as fast as they want. And right now what we see is, you know, Metro scaling back service late at night at the times when the roads are the most dangerous.
NNAMDII'll take about one, two or three calls that are similar. And we get a lot of this. We'll start with Brian in Alexandria. Brian, you first.
BRIANHey, thanks for taking my call. It was interesting listening to this. I work and live in Alexandria, Virginia. Actually my office is in Old Town Alexandria. And I inadvertently set off a firestorm a couple of years ago when I wrote a simple letter to our local paper chronicling my observations on a busy weekend down along the Old Town waterfront. When I was sitting there for a few hours and watching the Union Street, which is actually part of the bike trail there, when virtually every -- I mean, 98 percent of the cyclists going on there ignored all the traffic laws, blasting through stop signs, blasting through intersections. I watched pedestrians jumping out of the way, people having to get out of the way as cyclists not even slowing down, just at full pedal going through.
BRIANThere was a series of letters back and forth. Several bike organizations finally came out to observe for themselves what was going on there. And I certainly support safety across all boards pedestrians, motorists and cycling. But in this particular instance I was pointing out a very real problem that others have noted as well about this sort of an aspect of cycling of where there was just complete and utter disregard for -- at least in our section. I can't speak for the whole area, but at least in Alexandria for cyclists going through intersections, and basic traffic laws, just stopping at stop signs.
NNAMDIBrian, thank you very much for your call.
BRIANI know that's part of the problem.
NNAMDIThank you for your call. I'd like to go directly to Denise in Washington D.C. Denise, your turn.
DENISEYes. Well, thank you. And I'm following up on the last comment, because I have observed the same kind of behavior with cyclists in Washington D.C. Cyclists should have their bicycles registered with a tag just as motorists have their automobiles registered with a tag. And they should be required to observe traffic rules and laws, because they have no regard for people walking. They have no regard for people driving. They weave in and out of traffic. They speed up. They just keep going. The light is red. They just go right through the red light. They just never stop. So there should be laws in place for cyclists that they must observe since they now have dedicated lanes that one must follow and not get into for fear of receiving a ticket. They should follow the same rules as motorists follow, because they are using a vehicle on the street just as motorists are using vehicles on the street.
CRANORYes. So this comes up a lot. There's several issues here. One is that cyclists statistically follow the law more than driver's do. But every user of the road breaks the law. And when we look at cyclists breaking the law it's mostly running stop lights and stop signs. And there's been a lot of research into this. In some places starting with Idaho, they made it legal for cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs, and what they found is that it made the road safer for cyclists.
CRANORThere's a lot of reasons why without going into them, why it is that it makes sense for cyclists to behave in this way. And so much so that Oregon has followed suit. Arkansas has followed suit. Delaware has done the same. So what we're seeing is a movement of accepting that the way that bicyclists naturally ride may be the best and safest way. In addition, I'm just going to say you're statistically even for the few number of cyclists much less likely to be hit by a cyclist. And if we were to get cyclists to follow every single law and never make a mistake we would reduce traffic deaths by about one percent. So the big place where we're going to get improvements is making drivers drive safer.
NNAMDIOn now to Andelie in Fort Washington, Maryland. Andelei, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDELEIYes. Great program as usual, Kojo. I have a question and a comment about the Prince George's County for the Prince George's County official. He mentioned that the major accidents -- cause of the accidents in Prince George's County is he said is speed and distraction in driving. Yes, it is the major problem. But the main major problem he didn't mention is the construction of the roads, especially many fatal accidents happen in Indian Head Highway. That construction has been there for the last seven, eight years. I don't know when it's going to be finished. Why doesn't it have a the lane mark and the (unintelligible) the potholes, all that contributes for the accident. And so he didn't mention that and that's a responsibility of the county. That's the major, more than the distracted driving and the speed. That's the major problem.
BELLAMYYes, 210 Indian Head Highway. That is a project we're working on with State Highway, a State Highway project. I'm glad that the listener made a couple of points that I will reach out to the state highway concerning the marking in the construction zone. Right now what they're basically trying to do is improve the intersection there. That has been a high crash location for the county and for the State of Maryland. And so we will continue to work on it and hopefully within the next couple of years this phase of the construction will be complete.
NNAMDIDavid Cranor, in your view are public officials and for that matter residents prepared to make really fundamental changes in how we get around and how we view cars and roads together?
CRANORI'm worried that we're not just from what I've heard from Director Bellamy today. For example, Vision Zero is more than a goal of getting to zero. It's the idea that zero is obtainable. And it's philosophically the ideal that no fatality is acceptable, which Director Bellamy said. But he said that the causes were of most crashes were speeding and distracted driving. And Vision Zero is about saying that the user is not held responsible. That it goes back farther to the planners, to the way that we make roads, to the way that we make cars, to the way we design our whole transportation system. That that is where change has got to made. And until, you know, the people who make these implement these changes see it philosophically that way that the crash happened long before the two cars hit, till they start to see it that way I don't think we're going to make the kind of progress that we need to make.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. David Cranor is a Legislative chair on the Bicycle Advisory Council for the District. Terry Bellamy is the Director of Public Works and Transportation in Prince George's County and Michael Farrell is the Program Manager of Street Smart and the Senior Transportation Planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Thank you for joining us. Going to take a short break. When we come back we'll check in on the Citi Open tennis tournament that's underway now in the District. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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