Thanks to a County Council resolution approved Tuesday, Montgomery County must come up with a plan and deadline for preventing all traffic-related deaths.
The council unanimously supported adopting a Vision Zero action plan, the name of an initiative that began in 1997 in Sweden that combines legislative action, police enforcement and public education as a way to end driver, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.
“It is time to stop thinking of these fatalities as accidents,” said County Council member Roger Berliner, whose staff drafted the resolution. “These are crashes that we can and must prevent.”
There were 44 traffic-related deaths last year in the county, according to police Chief Thomas Manger. There have been approximately 30 collisions involving pedestrians and vehicles in 2016 and one death—a 67-year-old Rockville woman who died after being struck by a Ride On bus while crossing the street Jan. 5 in Bethesda.
Berliner, who in November held a “Day of Action” in Bethesda to bring attention to pedestrian and bicyclist safety on state roads, said expanding the State Highway Administration’s safety engineering options remains one of his top priorities. The resolution also urges the state to adopt its own Vision Zero initiative.
Council member Hans Riemer said the final plan, expected to be completed in about a year, could include expanding the county’s speed camera program, designing county roads and intersections for slower vehicle speeds and increasing fines for those deemed at fault in collisions.
The county executive branch will work with the county’s Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee to come up with specific measures of the plan and a deadline by which to reduce traffic deaths to zero.
The council will then review and approve the plan. Berliner said the council could start to consider funding for any of the measures during next year’s budget cycle.
Last year, Washington, D.C., initiated its Vision Zero plan and set 2024 as its deadline to reduce the number of traffic-related deaths or serious injuries to zero.
At a press conference Tuesday in Rockville before the resolution was adopted, family members of Tim Holden—the former Navy SEAL and Bethesda resident killed in August while riding his bicycle on Massachusetts Avenue—lent their support to the effort.
“If I could relay the feeling of what happened, I don’t think we’d be meeting here,” said Ray Holden, Tim Holden’s brother. “When people get on the road, nobody thinks they’re going to get in an accident, and I think with this initiative, it’s going to hold people accountable and people are going to be more aware.”
Charles Atwell, Tim Holden’s brother-in-law, said the family is working with county police and state legislators in an effort to increase state penalties for negligent driving. The driver who struck Holden was found to be at fault and was cited for the negligent driving infraction but faced no criminal charges.
“The council is really going to have to be the watchdog on this to make sure it really happens, to make sure that these good ideas are implemented,” Atwell said. “You make the laws tougher, so that if somebody does something they’re held accountable for it. In the case of Ray’s brother, the guy paid the fines and that was it.”
Council member Marc Elrich, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said the Vision Zero plan should include a strong educational component because all traffic-related deaths are preventable.
“We’re trying to get the folks to understand that this does not have to happen,” Elrich said. “This is not an inevitable part of life in a suburban-urban setting.”