Walking along University Boulevard in Silver Spring, Michael Petrick, with the Latino Advocacy Group CASA de Maryland, points to the four bus stops along the road, 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," he says, "So they'll cross the street as quickly as possible in order to get to the next job opportunity or get the next bus."
Buses stop here every few minutes, and one can see people strolling or jogging across University Boulevard's six lanes of traffic almost as often. We even watch 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," Petrick says. "Either they're not paying attention, [or] the cars aren't paying attention, and accidents happen and unfortunately they happen a lot to Latinos in this community."
Pedestrian accidents have been down in Montgomery County over the past several years, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of governments. But Hispanics continue to be overrepresented as victims of pedestrian fatalities. AAA Mid-Atlantic says of the 11 pedestrian fatalities in the county last year, five of the victims, or 45 percent, were identified as Hispanic or Latino, even though the group only makes up approximately 17 percent of the county's population.
Through an interpreter, Guatemalan immigrant Christian Molina, who has just jaywalked across University Boulevard himself, smiles and says he doubts things will change anytime soon.
"It's a culture thing," he says. "Latinos are just used to just taking the short way even if the crosswalk is on the other side."
Even if that's the case, CASA and Montgomery County's Department of Transportation are hoping a culture change is in order. Petrick holds up one of the new reusable grocery bags CASA started handing out around Thanksgiving. On the bags is a new pedestrian safety motto in Spanish and English.
"[It says] 'Be safe, be smart and be visible' or 'Be seen'," says Petrick. "They're in bright green, which is important, because a lot of the instances are in early morning or late afternoon."
The county is doing its part by adding new bilingual messages on sidewalks reminding pedestrians where they can cross and not cross. And recently installed beeping pedestrian signals should help as well.
[Music: "Memento Mori" by Bexar Bexar from Haralambos]
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