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Design Baltimore County streets for people, not just vehicles, to make everyone safer

On a late July morning, an out-of-control SUV speeding down Girdwood Road in Lutherville veered off the road and onto the sidewalk, careening into the bodies of an intensive-care nurse and her 5-year-old granddaughter out for a morning walk, killing both.

This tragedy was no anomaly. Just 10 hours after the out-of-control SUV killed two on Girdwood road, a WJZ reporter witnessed another out-of-control car hopping the median and driving over a sign, at the exact same location. In the past year alone, nine car accidents have been reported along this one-mile stretch of road. Long-time neighbors know that Girdwood, despite being steps from two public schools is “a dangerous street,” as one said. They regularly hear the sound of speeding cars crashing into the trees lining the road and launching off the speed bump.

For too long, our streets have been designed primarily for cars, not people. They are used by drivers to speed through on their way to someplace else. The entire community suffers as a result. Accidents, often serious and even fatal, increase. Parents are afraid to let their children walk to school or play outside, and neighbors feel unsafe lingering on the corner to chat. Residents retreat indoors. As the streets empty out, the less secure they feel.

Despite years of complaints about the dangers of Girdwood Road, public officials have done little to address the problem. Instead, residents have been forced to simply pray for the best, forbidding their children to play in their own front yards and planting yard signs reading “Drive like your kids lived here,” which are routinely ignored.

Now, in the wake of last month’s tragedy, policymakers are pulling out the usual proposals about traffic lights, medians and traffic circles. We need to move beyond these old ideas, which require significant investments in time, logistics and funds. There are plenty of innovative, inexpensive, short-term interventions we can adapt to our needs in Baltimore County, from the Project for Public Spaces’ Traffic Calming Toolbox to the World Resources Institute’s “Cities Safer by Design” to the Gehl Institute’s work around the world making “cities for people.” Consider the transformation that occurred in places such as Times Square in New York City, when the city’s transportation commissioner temporarily closed Broadway Avenue to car traffic and set out some hardware-store lawn chairs and planters instead. Crashes declined, business improved, and people loved it.

These short-term interventions can start to transform our streets into places where everyone can walk, play, bike and chat, alongside cars, safely and without fear. And they set the foundation for long-term solutions: designing our streets for everyone — pedestrians, bikers, young kids, the elderly, public transit commuters and car drivers — not just cars.

We can do better, and we need to start now. Grieving residents in Lutherville and elsewhere across Baltimore County, where residents live in fear of their own streets, cannot wait.

Colleen Ebacher,, is the Democratic candidate for Baltimore County Council in District 3. Policy consultant Silvia Golombek provided research assistance.

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