Parents, advocates push for better safety after 3 Montgomery County students hit by cars

The incidents were logged into the school district’s reporting system, but there wasn’t a letter about the incidents sent to families.

Brigid Howe, a parent of a fifth-grader at Pine Crest Elementary School in Silver Spring, has been pushing administrators to notify parents each time a pedestrian-related collision happens. Howe, 49, first became involved in the issue of pedestrian safety roughly 20 years ago, after a student was killed walking to Northwest High School in Germantown, Md.

Howe told administrators that the case notifications could urge parents to drive cautiously around school grounds, while also telling parents about risks to their students on the way to class.

“We really just need everyone on the same page to communicate the importance of safety,” Howe said.

Chris Cram, a spokesman for Montgomery County Public Schools — which is Maryland’s largest school system with roughly 158,000 students — said it has launched multiple campaigns focused on teaching drivers how to navigate school grounds carefully. the latest, Safe Routes to Schools, outlines safety tips for walkers and bikers, along with drivers — like avoiding doing U-turns near school grounds.

“The bottom line is, yes, it’s a problem because we have very busy roads and lots of kids walking to school,” Cram said. “We need people to realize what they need to do to be safe — put the phone down, watch what you’re doing.”

The school system also regularly analyzes traffic routes around its buildings. If routes are too dangerous for students to walk safely, the system will add a bus route in that area, Cram said. While there have been a few incidents reported of pedestrian collisions, there hasn’t been a surge in reports, Cram said. The school system did not provide data on the number of incidents reported at this school year.

Action Committee for Transit, an advocacy group for public transportation in Montgomery County, has pushed for the school system and its county partners to build more infrastructure that would be pedestrian-friendly, such as more sidewalks. The issue became especially important after a student at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Md., was struck by a driver and killed on a walk to school in 2012.

Miriam Schoenbaum, who has been a member of the group for about 15 years, said there’s been an improvement in how the cases are discussed. Back in 2012, police investigated whether the student — Christina Morris-Ward, 15 — was using the crosswalk. They noted she was wearing dark clothing as she crossed the southbound lanes of busy Route 118.

“There is now sort of a shift in rhetoric to the idea that kids are kids, and they walk to school being kids,” Schoenbaum, 54, said. “The streets have to be safe for kids being kids on their way to or from school.”

But the school system still needs to make more key changes around its infrastructure, Schoenbaum said. The schools are designed to prioritize students who arrive by bus or car, rather than by biking or walking, she said.

Plus, the school system doesn’t have a public central reporting mechanism in place that shows which routes are particularly dangerous, she said.

“I don’t think this school system has really come to grips yet fully with the idea that kids walking and biking to school are getting hit on their way to school,” Schoenbaum said. “It’s really a MCPS issue and a MCPS priority.”

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