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Pedestrians on Rockville Pike

Letter to Elected Officials, December 21, 2017

Dear Council President Riemer, Councilmembers Berliner, Elrich, and Leventhal, and Delegate Korman,

Could you please help one of your constituents with a pedestrian issue on Rockville Pike in North Bethesda?

David Schoenbaum is an ACT member who is 82 years old and walks once a week from his home, at 6050 California Circle, to Bagel City, just on the other side of Rockville Pike. He recently asked SHA for more time for pedestrians to cross Rockville Pike at Bou Avenue.

Unfortunately, it appears that SHA is still operating this intersection on the obsolete assumption that roads are only for cars. This assumption is dangerous for pedestrians, as well as an obstacle to the county’s transportation sustainability policy, plans for North Bethesda, Vision Zero plan, and commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

What's more, SHA has known about the dangers of this intersection since at least 2011, when MCDOT and SHA released a pedestrian road safety audit of Rockville Pike between Hubbard Drive and Halpine Road. The audit found 4 pedestrian injury crashes that occurred at Rockville Pike and Bou Avenue between 2003 and 2007, of which 2 resulted in serious, disabling injuries. 38% of pedestrian crashes in the audit area involved a person aged 65 or older, suggesting that elderly pedestrians are particularly at risk for crashes here. The audit specifically cited long crossing distances and significant pedestrian activity in the corridor.

The Action Committee for Transit will be grateful for any help you can provide to lengthen the crossing time for pedestrians at this intersection.


Ronit Aviva Dancis

Action Committee for Transit

Letter from State Highway Administration

Dear Mr. Schoenbaum:

This is in further response to your concerns at the subject location in Montgomery County. The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) District Three traffic engineering staff appreciates the opportunity to be of assistance.

You voiced concerns regarding pedestrian timing at the intersection of MD 355 (Rockville Pike) and Bou Avenue in Montgomery County.

The pedestrian timings at an intersection are based on the requirements set forth in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD is a federal document that provides guidance, recommendations, and requirements for all traffic control devices (traffic signals, signs, and pavement markings), and helps to establish consistency between jurisdictions.

The MUTCD states that the WALK interval "should be at least 7 seconds in length so that pedestrians will have adequate opportunity to leave the curb or shoulder before the pedestrian clearance time begins." The MUTCD also states that the "pedestrian clearance interval (Don't Walk) should be sufficient to allow a pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk who left the curb or shoulder at the end of the WALKING PERSON (symbolizing WALK) signal indication to travel at a walking speed of 3.5 feet per second to at least the far side of the traveled way or to a median of sufficient width for a pedestrian to wait."

The total distance to cross MD 355 at the subject location as measured from curb ramp to curb ramp is 99 feet. At 3.5 feet per second 29 seconds of pedestrian clearance time would be required. The MUTCD does permit the required pedestrian clearance time to be reduced by the amount of the yellow change intervals and all-red clearance interval for the traffic signal phase that is associated with the pedestrian movement. At this location the yellow change interval is 4.0 seconds and the all-red clearance interval is 3.0 seconds. The 29 seconds of required pedestrian clearance time could be reduced to as low as 22 seconds. The Countdown Pedestrian timers that you see at signalized intersections do not count through the yellow change and all-red clearance intervals, meaning once the timer has reached "0" there would still be 7 seconds of time remaining for a pedestrian to complete the crossing of Rockville Pike before conflicting traffic is released.

The reason for the discrepancy between what you saw on Rockville Pike and what you observed on Independence Avenue in D.C. is related to the leg of the intersection that is being crossed. In the case of Independence Avenue the pedestrian movement you observed was to cross a minor side street leg of the intersection. That pedestrian movement would be served along with the main street vehicular movements (those two movements would be parallel to each other). Since the main street movements typically have significantly more time available the pedestrian timers will count down for a much longer period of time to make use of the additional time that the main street is allocated. The pedestrian movement that you cited on Rockville Pike was to cross the main street, so it would be served with a minor traffic movement, in this case Bou Avenue. Bou Avenue is allocated significantly less green time than Rockville Pike, so the pedestrian intervals are set to satisfy only the minimum requirements as set forth in the MUTCD.

The traffic signal at the subject location is maintained for the MDOT SHA by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. We have verified the pedestrian timings at this location with County personnel, and the existing timings do meet MUTCD requirements.

Thank you again for sharing your concerns. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at 301-xxx-xxxx or 1-800-xxx-xxxx. I will be happy to assist you.


Derek L. Gunn
Acting Assistant District Engineer for Traffic
Maryland Department of Transportation
State Highway Administration
District 3 Office