Monday, February 29, 2016

Petition and thoughts on how to make now-deadly River Road/Pyle Road intersection near Whitman safer

The tragic accident that cost three out of four members of a Bethesda family their lives on Saturday night has renewed calls for updating safety at the intersection where the crash happened. Many nearby residents and members of the Walt Whitman High School community have long complained about the potential dangers of the uncontrolled River Road intersection, where many students and others turn in front of 45 MPH traffic onto Pyle Road (or Braeburn Parkway).

Maryland's State Highway Administration was not commenting to media the day after the crash, but the agency has in the past dismissed calls to signalize the intersection. A petition has been launched to ask them to reconsider the possibility.

The intersection lies not far from another traffic signal, at River and Wilson Lane. During rush hours, cars headed towards the Beltway often back up to the Pyle Road intersection and further east. That can create additional hazards in itself, as drivers cross lanes where some cars may stop, but others continue to approach at speed if their lane has room ahead.

The SHA historically has been very judicious about adding signals, and they often have sound traffic engineering reasons to back up their decisions. If the new signal was correctly timed with the others along River, it potentially could be added without impacting traffic flow, which is already poor during rush hours (although with Montgomery County's poor record on syncing its traffic lights, maybe I'm being too optimistic).

If the SHA denies the request again, it's not the only solution. A second option would be to simply close off the existing turn option, by sealing off the median altogether. If there are emergency vehicle access requirements for Braeburn Parkway, for example, it may be possible to install a mountable median that can be crossed by emergency vehicles only.

The SHA could then examine adding additional left turn capacity from eastbound River to Whittier Boulevard, if more students would be funneled into that far safer turn to get to school.

Does anyone else have additional ideas on how safety could be improved at this River Road/Pyle Road intersection? Add your thoughts in the comment section below:


Anonymous said...

MD SHA bases their decision on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices detailed here:

Fatality _rate_ is factored into that decision, along with lots of other data. The number of people who signed a petition is _not_ part of the decision-making process.

My guess is they chose not to install a traffic light here because the traffic from the side streets (Pyle Road) is insufficient. As it is, coming from Pyle Road to River Road, there is already a sign prohibiting making a left onto River in the afternoon when Whitman lets out.

Even with a traffic light, it's unlikely this tragedy would have been prevented. It would only have been prevented if there was a left-turn light cycle, and when the adjacent (through) traffic lanes have a green light, the left turn has a red left turn arrow. This IS how it is configured at River and Wilson, but it's NOT how it is configured at River and Goldsboro. At River and Goldsboro, it used to be that way (only left with green arrow) but it was changed so when both directions of through traffic have a green, the left turn arrow changes to flashing red (stop, then proceed when clear). I think River at Goldsboro is a good sample case, because it has a similar layout -- oncoming traffic is coming down a long hill and easily visible.

The driver of the Volt made a mistake, with tragic consequences. I'm not convinced we need to restructure this intersection because of it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Reporting......on this whole tragic story.

Your site has become an great source for information.

You should be proud.

Cordell Pugh said...

Install rumble strips, a reduced speed limit, and speed cameras on River Road. This will protect the mid-block crosswalk as well as this dangerous intersection

G. Money said...

I wonder if something other than a full traffic light - maybe just a flashing yellow - would be enough to alert drivers without impeding traffic flow?

Anonymous said...

There should be no left turn. I visit Whitman HS often but only turn at the light.

Robert Dyer said...

2:29: I agree. This was not a teen driver, but to in any way encourage novice drivers to use that entrance to Whitman was always a huge mistake, even before this happened. What were they thinking when they set that up?

Anonymous said...

SHA and the County will ALWAYS be about moving cars. It's their mantra---"moving cars moving cars moving cars"...THIS is what they base their decisions on, and the rest of us could just sit and fester until something happens. If people drive,they better be prepared to STOP more often, and not use our residential areas as bypasses that are devoid of any human and animal life. The intersection in question is a mess and to be near a high school makes it even messier. I see nothing wrong with some green arrow lights, or even doing away with it. The pedestrian crossing is also ridiculous at Pyle and River---it needs better visibility. I am looking at it from a 2014 google street view where the lines are half gone, along with the ped-x crossing warning painted on the asphalt. Can we not improve on this type of thing? Has it been improved since 2014??? These issues need retrofitting to serve ALL the populations not just the cars! To see money allocated to new, stupid car oriented roads and interchanges like Montrose Parkway East, and to see existing neglected, unsafe pedestrian crossings and intersections never change----it just strengthens my view on the politics of roads. It's like money being appropriated by Congress for these sexy war machines, yet the foot soldiers go without body armor. SAME THING.

This is not the only intersection if its kind near high schools in Montgomery County. The county along with the state want to "grow" yet their Transportation Departments are still living in the past and refuse to look at some other city models for progressive ideas. Once in a while you see something worthy, but for the most part they are "business as usual". Do a sweep and hire some fresh people for both.

My heartfelt condolences to all involved here---It is not up to any of us to judge. It's up to the officials to factor in ALL of the components and to not take the easy way out by referring to their outdated crooked doctrines...