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Maryland struggles with reducing pedestrian deaths

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Local,Crime,Ben Giles

Maryland transportation officials lowered the bar when they set new goals for reducing pedestrian fatalities after the number of deaths continued to climb despite a nearly $50 million effort to make roads more walker-friendly.

The Maryland Strategic Highway Safety Plan set five-year goals in 2006 for reducing injuries and fatalities on Maryland roads to a maximum of 85 by 2010. There were 93 such deaths in 2006. In 2010, there were 101.

So last year, a new plan included a less ambitious pedestrian fatality goal for the state. Maryland officials now hope to reduce pedestrian fatalities to 92 by 2015.

Pedestrian safety has been a challenge for the state, but officials are "cautiously optimistic" they can meet their new 2015 goal, Young said.

"They want to set a goal that they can reach, and if they're too far away from their goal, then they make their goal less ambitious," said Michael Farrell, transportation planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Maryland has made strides in nearly every category examined by the strategic plan, such as reducing distracted and aggressive driving-related fatalities and injuries, but pedestrian deaths remain an anomaly, according to Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck.

The state's struggles can in part be traced to Prince George's and Montgomery counties, which rank first and third, respectively, for the number of pedestrian deaths between 2007 and 2011. Roads in Maryland's D.C. suburbs struggle to find ways to safely share space among drivers, bikers and walkers, according to Lora Rakowski, a spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration.

"Even though the driver has a right of way, that doesn't necessarily translate to, there should be crash -- especially a fatal crash," Rakowski said.

The state has spent $47 million in the past five years to improve pedestrian and bicyclist access to Maryland roads, according to Rakowski.

Montgomery County has shown signs of progress thanks in part to a county-funded pedestrian safety initiative, officials said, which saw $5 million initially set aside for the program.

Prince George's officials finally joined the Washington region's 10-year-old Street Smart campaign in March after remaining for years as one of the only jurisdictions to opt of the program. And the Prince George's County Council adopted a bill last week that states that all road, sidewalk and transit projects must include facilities for pedestrian and bicycle access.

"Obviously the goal in all this is zero [deaths]," Buck said. "But you have to make sure they're realistic too, and they do get adjusted in general based on the trends."

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

Goals vs. reality: Maryland pedestrian fatalities
Year Deaths
2006 93
2007 110
2008 115
2009 111
2010 101
2011 103

Buel Young, spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, said Friday that the adjustment was based on the latest figures available on pedestrian fatalities, which climbed back above 100 annually after reaching a low of 93 in 2006.

Source: Maryland State Highway Administration
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