Latino Community Targets Pedestrian Deaths


I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're talking race and ethnicity. And this next story is about the relationship between ethnicity and cultural norms and how those norms can affect our lives in unusual and dramatic ways. In Montgomery County, Md. a striking number of Latino residents are involved in fatal pedestrian accidents. And now community leaders and police are working to change that. Jonathan Wilson has more in our weekly transportation segment, "From A To B."


At first glance, there's nothing particularly unusual about the intersection of Piney Branch Road and University Boulevard. Yes, it's usually packed with cars, but that's hardly a novelty for an intersection in the Washington metropolitan area. Michael Petrick with the Latino advocacy group Casa de Maryland points to the four bus stops along University Boulevard all only about an eighth of a mile from the traffic light. He says people hopping off or onto buses just don't see the value in walking up to the crosswalks to get across the street.


You also have a lot of low income Latinos who work and live around here who don't have cars and need to get to work, so they'll cross the street as quickly as possible in order to get the next job opportunity, to catch the next bus.


Buses stop here every few minutes and you can see people strolling or jogging across the road six lanes of traffic almost as often. We even watched two women pushing strollers scurry across the road nowhere near a crosswalk. Petrick says pedestrian safety has been an issue here as long as Casa's had its building near this intersection.


We've been here for about 25 years and we've seen a lot of the incidents where people are crossing the street, either they're not paying attention, the cars aren't paying attention, and accidents happen. And unfortunately it happens a lot to Latinos in this community.


The number of pedestrian accidents has been down in Montgomery County over the past several years according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. But Latinos continue to be overrepresented as victims of pedestrian fatalities. AAA MidAtlantic says of the 11 pedestrian fatalities in the county last year, five of the victims or 45 percent were identified as Hispanic or Latino. That's even though the group only makes up approximately 17 percent of the county's population. Through an interpreter, Guatemalan immigrant, Christian Molina (sp?) , who has just walked across University Boulevard himself smiles and says he doubts thing will change any time soon.


(Through translator) It's a culture thing. Latinos are just used to taking the short way and it doesn't matter if the crosswalk is on the other side.


Even if that's the case, Casa and Montgomery County's Department of Transportation say a culture change is in order. Michael Petrick holds up one of the new reusable grocery bags Casa started handing out around Thanksgiving. On the bag is a new pedestrian safety motto in Spanish and English.


(Speaks foreign language), which is be safe, be smart and be visible or be seen. They're in bright green which is important because a lot of the incidents that happened especially in this year are early morning or late afternoon.


The county is doing its part by adding new bilingual messages on sidewalks reminding pedestrians where and where not to cross. And recently installed beeping pedestrian signals should help as well. Casa staffer Jose Velasquez (sp?) says he's been trying to warn more people at bus stops about darting across the road. But through an interpreter, he says pedestrians and drivers need to be more careful.


(Through translator) Drivers are not careful of pedestrians. They don't let pedestrians cross even on the crosswalks. And people just run through the road and that's a big problem and a big risk for the pedestrian also.


Michael Petrick says, while people running across six lanes of traffic is obviously a bad idea, there are little things even pedestrians native to the area do that add to the risk of a collision.


People crossing five, six, seven feet out of the crosswalk, people crossing too late, people waiting to cross the crosswalk with one foot in the street. These are little incidents that if the wrong set of circumstances happen could lead to very disastrous consequences.


Whether pedestrians are longtime residents or Spanish speaking immigrants, Casa and the county are hoping to create more like Lila Molina (sp?) , who says she doesn't mind taking a few more steps even when she's in a hurry.


I like to respect the law and go through the crosswalk.


I'm Jonathan Wilson.
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