University of Maryland, city officials urge pedestrian safety on U.S. 1

Three pedestrians have died in six months on busy College Park road

July 07, 2014|By Colin Campbell and Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — Three University of Maryland students crossed U.S. 1 this weekend, hours after a fatal hit-and-run on the same stretch of road.

The students said they know jaywalking on the major thoroughfare is dangerous — three people have been struck and killed by drivers there in the past six months — but they said they've become accustomed to drivers yielding to them on campus.

"Because on campus the cars have to stop for you, we all are so used to it," said Elizabeth Steidl. "So we just walk wherever we want."

College Park and university officials say they are focused more than ever on changing that mentality. University President Wallace D. Loh said he wants to expedite initiatives, such as improved signage and lighting, already underway in partnership with the State Highway Administration, which has jurisdiction over the road.

"All I'm urging them to do is expedite the process," Loh said. "We cannot have more deaths and injuries of young people."

Loh said he has arranged to meet Tuesday with SHA administrator Melinda Peters to discuss the problem. He pointed out that while College Park is largely deserted right now, students will return for the fall semester in a matter of weeks.

College Park City Councilman Robert W. Day said the pedestrian deaths have been "heartbreaking to everybody in College Park" and called for an "ideological change of mindset" to prevent further tragedies.

"It's got to be a consistent message from all sides," he said. "We need to develop a message reaching out to say, 'Yes, this is a college atmosphere, but we have a major state highway coming through our town.'"

Janelle Marie Oni, 21, of Randallstown was crossing U.S. 1 near Hartwick Road about 3 a.m. Sunday when she was struck and killed by a minivan, police said. Jacky Luangraj, 33, of Manassas, Va., who police said was driving the car, was charged with negligent vehicular homicide, driving under the influence and reckless endangerment. Luangraj's blood-alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent at the time of his arrest, police said.

Corey Hubbard, a 22-year-old Maryland student, was killed in a hit-and-run on U.S. 1 near Knox Road in January. In April, George Washington University student Carlos Pacanins, 23, was killed crossing near the same intersection.

The highway administration has made several changes on U.S. 1, including installing warning signs for drivers that read "State law — stop for pedestrian crosswalks" and "Do not block intersection."

For pedestrians, there are now "No pedestrian" signs in the median facing sidewalks, "No pedestrian crossing" markings along curbs and repainted crosswalk markings at intersections.

SHA crews also trimmed trees and modified traffic signal timing so there is a shorter wait time for pedestrians and a longer time for them to cross.

By fall, officials plan to switch traffic lights to LED lights and install a flashing yellow light with a sign warning of the pedestrian area. In addition, the SHA has done a speed analysis and plans to review lighting in the area, design new median barriers to discourage people from crossing in the middle of the block, and add countdown signals to pedestrian crosswalks.

The work so far has cost tens of thousands of dollars, according to the highway administration, which did not have a specific estimate for the total cost.

Loh praised the changes that have been made. But he's also pushing for a lower speed limit, brighter streetlights and more traffic signals on the stretch of U.S. 1 through the heart of College Park's downtown.

Students and businesses also have proposed measures, such as adding officer foot patrols and speed traps, and making the road pedestrian-only on weekend nights, to make U.S. 1 safer. The stretch includes many bars, restaurants and stores frequented by students.

Lauren Luecking, a junior English, government and politics student, said she sees drunken people walking in the street at night when she's working at R. J. Bentley's Restaurant.

"I always encourage people to cross at the crosswalk," Luecking said. "I'll stand at the hostess stand and yell at people on the street and tell them to cross at the crosswalk when I feel like they're being drunk or stupid."

Chris Wood, who has worked at Cornerstone Grill & Loft for more than 9 years, said he wants to see U.S. 1 closed from Knox Road to Guilford Road on Thursday through Saturday nights, when he said most accidents happen. Caution tape that was put up in the spring didn't deter pedestrians from spilling into the street, and reckless drivers often do 50 mph in the bar area, he said.

"There's a lot of jaywalking going on, and a lot of people speeding through here," he said. "It's a combination of people not watching where they're going and people speeding through here."

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