Nineteen people have died on Montgomery County roadways from car crashes and vehicle collisions with pedestrians and cyclists so this year, according to county data. Families who have lost loved ones and advocates for safer streets, including the Montgomery County Families for Safe Streets, Action Committee for Transit and Washington Area Bicyclist Association are demanding the county to implementing infrastructure and transportation policies favor of pedestrians soon.
Families for Safe Streets organized a rally in remembrance of those lives lost and to advocate for safer streets on June 3. On the concrete bricks of Rockville Town Center Plaza, all 19 names of the victims to traffic violence were etched in green chalk along with more than 50 other names of people who have died on county roadways in 2021 and 2022.
“Remember that each name is associated with a family. These are mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles of someone, and of someone here in your own community here in Montgomery County,” Kristy Daphnis, a member of Montgomery County Families for Safe Streets, said during the rally.
Out of the 19 individuals who have died on Montgomery County roadways this year, seven of them were pedestrians.
In May, there were three fatal pedestrian-involved crashes. The most recent was on May 9 when a car struck Elijah Miles, 14, as he was crossing Wisteria Drive in Germantown. Miles, who attended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, was walking home with a friend when he was hit. He survived the initial impact but died days later.
The concern for pedestrian and cyclist safety in the county is not new. For years, residents have gathered at community meetings, enacted petitions, attended memorial services and launched campaigns to improve safety for pedestrians. The county has responded in several ways since, through its Vision Zero plan and the newly Planning Board approved Pedestrian Master Plan.
Vision Zero was first enacted in 2016 and is a plan that aims to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries by 2030. Stemming from Vision Zero is the county’s Pedestrian Master Plan, which was approved by the county Planning Board on May 25. The master plan will be the guiding document enacted by the county to improve pedestrian safety and community walkability for years to come once approved by the County Council.
While the county proceeds with its current initiatives, families who have lost loved ones continue to speak out for the need for safer roads and look for the long-awaited improvements to the pedestrian experience, such as wider sidewalks, longer crossing times for pedestrians, protected bike lanes, and slower speed limits.
After Mindy Badin’s son, Brett, was killed in January 2020 while crossing Rockville Pike towards IHOP, Badin refocused her efforts on pedestrian safety, turning her sorrow into action.
“I try to do what I can,” she said.
When there are memorials or events for families who have lost loved ones, Badin said that she always tries to speak up.
In February, Badin testified for the Safe Streets Act of 2023 (Bill 11-23), that was introduced by County Council President Evan Glass (D). Currently she is on the transportation committee at the Great Olney Civic Association.
Badin said, there is an “epidemic of aggressive driving” that poses a risk to pedestrians, bikers and drivers alike. She proposed comprehensive driver education that focuses on ways to share the roadways.
At the rally, Badin shared with the crowd of around 40 people, that Brett was just beginning to get the hang of adulthood when he was killed at 32-years-old. Brett loved junk food and attending parties, so much so that he would attend many of the retirement parties for people at his work even if he didn’t know them, she said.
Before Brett died, Badin said pedestrian safety was something completely off her radar.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t do anything until it happens to them,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, but we have a lot of good people who see the need to improve the roads and are working hard to get to that goal.”
Also attending the rally was Dan Langenkamp whose wife, Sarah Debbink Langenkamp, was killed in August 2022 while cycling along River Road in Bethesda near Brookside Drive. She was a mother to two young sons and had been a U.S. Diplomat with the State Department for 17 years. Her work took her and her family places like to Cote D’Ivoire and Ukraine.
Langenkamp’s story is another of transforming pain and heartbreak into action and advocacy.
“Something like this changes everything in your life. And there’s not a moment in the day, there’s not an hour that goes by without me thinking about Sarah. You know, the boys don’t have a mom,” he told MoCo360 in an interview. “And so not only do I have a ton more work to do, which every single parent knows about, but we have this is traumatic event that kind of hangs over us.”
In his wife’s memory, Langenkamp created a GoFundMe fundraiser with an initial goal to raise $50,000 to help organizations working on bike safety. As of June 6, the fund raised more than $304,000. Langenkamp announced that $75,000 of donations were donated to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and $20,000 of which was donated to the Action Committee for Transit, according to the GoFundMe.
Along with the fund, Langenkamp organized the Nov. 19 Ride for Your Life biking event, which had more than 1,800 people registered to bike to Congress. The 10-mile ride began at Wood Acres Elementary School, where Langenkamp’s wife started her ride the day she was killed, and finished on Capitol Hill.
The bike ride reached national attention and helped Langenkamp connect with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
In December 2022, Langenkamp and a handful of other street safety advocates and families affected by traffic violence from across the county met with Buttigieg to share their stories and encourage him to prioritize street safety.
In March, Langenkamp introduced legislation named after his wife to Congress, The Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act, HR 1668. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Rep. Blumenauer (D-Ore.), head of the Congressional bike caucus and Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wis.), who represents the town where Sarah grew up.
Langenkamp is currently working to gather support from Democrats and Republicans, and has been walking the halls of Congress meeting with representatives and senators over the past few weeks.
In an interview with MoCo360, Langenkamp said, “We got an extremely positive response on both sides of the aisle. I think there’s a recognition that safety trends in America are going the wrong way. We’re at 40-year highs of pedestrian and cyclist deaths in America, and people realize that we have to do something about it.”
There is still work to be done to gain more support from representatives in the house, but so far, the bill has more than 30 co-sponsors, Langenkamp said. He hopes a Republican senator will soon agree to cosponsor the bill before introducing it to the Senate in the next few weeks.
“Part of what drives me is just trying to do her justice because she would have made such a big difference in the world,” Langenkamp said. “And so, I hope that I can help to substitute for some of the good that she was going to do with this work.”
Council President Glass also attended the rally, and shared on Twitter that since the beginning of 2023, there had been 238 incidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists in the county.
“We’ve invested more than $200 million in our capital budget to improve road design and safety, but there is so much more we need to do,” he wrote.
Glass shared that later this month the council will take up the Safe Streets Act of 2023, which aims to make roads near school and downtown areas safer. The bill focuses on four improvements:
- Prohibit drivers from making a right turn on red at a red light in downtown areas and town centers.
- Implement new “leading pedestrian interval” devices that allow a pedestrian to establish a presence in the crosswalk before vehicles are given a green light.
- Require infrastructure review for pedestrian-related collisions within a county school zone.
- Require the County Executive to provide an automated traffic enforcement plan.
Peter Gray, a board member at WABA and a 20-year traffic safety advocate, recommended that community members who see a problem in their neighborhood reach out to their neighbors and to local elected officials and council members.
“There’s lots of things that people can do. I know it seems daunting and kind of overwhelming for people,” Gray said. “But I think the individual action is something people can do.”
One example Gray spoke about was the neighborhood along Dale Drive in Silver Spring that banded together to create walking and biking infrastructure along the busy road. The county now has a plan to improve the pedestrian safety and are constructing a shared use path on Dale Drive between Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue. As of December 2022, the project was 90% complete.