Montgomery County Seal. (Courtesy Photo)

SILVER SPRING—On Sept. 6, the Montgomery County Planning Board unanimously approved a proposal to create the county’s first Pedestrian Master Plan.

This new master plan will recommend practices, change design standards and prioritize infrastructure allowing residents to travel safely in Montgomery County so it is safer for all pedestrians.

According to the Montgomery County Planning Department, the Pedestrian Master Plan will be designed to complement the most-recent Bicycle Master Plan which was approved in 2018.

“The purpose of the Pedestrian Master Plan is to enhance the pedestrian experience in Montgomery County. Walking should be the preferred means of travel for all trips within a short distance, and accessibility for persons with disabilities must be paramount,” wrote the planning department in their description of the project. “Walking and rolling on a mobility scooter or wheelchair should be comfortable, convenient, safe and direct. The plan will strengthen the existing culture of walking and expand it in the years ahead…”

Eli Glazier is the project manager overseeing the Pedestrian Master Plan.

“The county has never consciously planned for pedestrians (before), and it really shows in our build environment,” Glazier said. “Pedestrians were not in the front of mind when the county was developed, but there are a ton of people walking here. We understand that the pedestrian experience is multifaceted, and this plan won’t only be about building or rebuilding sidewalks and street crossings; it’s about shade, it’s about how pedestrians are treated when there’s construction, it’s about shoveling snow, (and) it’s about smooth and flat surfaces for people to walk and roll on.”

He explained that taking into account those who use tools for adaptive mobility like wheelchairs, will be important to the plans and should be read as a way to promote inclusivity.

According to the planning department, they expect the new pedestrian plan to exceed guidelines from the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This plan is really an opportunity for the county to take serious and necessary steps to improve pedestrian safety, comfort and access in all the communities they account,” Glazier said.

While the Pedestrian Master Plan will be designed to complement the 2018 Bicycle Master Plan, it is also expected to bolster the county’s Vision Zero goals.

Vision Zero refers to a program that originally began in Sweden and aims to eliminate traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by redesigning the roadways to make them safer for cyclists, pedestrians and auto drivers alike.

In Montgomery County, the goal is to reduce severe and fatal collision by 35% by November 2019 and to eliminate them by 2030, according to the county.

Within Vision Zero, changes usually include altering the shape of roadways, broadening sidewalks, altering and often lowering the speed limit for cars and creating designated lanes for bicyclists.

The county has been conducting studies and gathering feedback from community members in neighborhoods such as Aspen Hill and Wheaton, among others, for a better understanding of the changes and infrastructure improvements that need to happen to reach its goal.

“The 2017 Vision Zero plan had an action item to do a pedestrian master plan,” Glazier explained to the planning board. “(It is meant to) address the unique issues faced by pedestrians and people with disabilities. Vision Zero and pedestrian safety are in the news a lot these days in Montgomery County, and this plan will help make progress on achieving our goal by prioritizing important sidewalk and crossing deficiencies and in addressing systemic issues like sidewalk lighting and crosswalk lighting that are real and perceived safety issues.”

Engaging with the public is also a major part of the process in the pedestrian master plan, Glazier said. As part of the outreach portion of the plan, Glazier and his team are rolling out a social media campaign called Walking Here which will take place on Twitter and uses the hashtag #WalkingHere. The hashtag allows residents to tweet or send photos or video to the planning department at @montomgeryplans with their experience walking around Montgomery County.

Glazier explained that later in the planning process, his team will connect with some of the people who shared their experience getting around the county on Twitter and create video projects highlighting a day in the life of walking around Montgomery County.

Before approving the plans on the Pedestrian Master Plan, planning board members made recommendations of what they would like to see come out of the plan.

Board Member Tina Patterson recommended to Glazier that that plan not be one size fits all. Instead she said, she would like to see that the plan be different, depending on the needs of each area. She also noted that improving connectivity between modes of transportation, like using the Ride On Bus, Metro and walking would also help residents.

Planning Board Member Natali Fani-Gonzalez recommended improving pedestrian connectivity to shopping hubs like grocery stores and shopping centers.

If the master plan process goes according to schedule, Glazier and his team will be before the planning board again in summer 2021 for approval.

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