Prince George's County has struggled with some of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in Maryland, prompting it to finally join the Washington region's Street Smart campaign this year, county officials announced Wednesday.
The county has been one of the only local jurisdictions to opt out of the annual, 10-year-old campaign despite leading the metro area in pedestrian deaths.
But Prince George's police officers took to the streets Wednesday to educate residents on pedestrian safety and will begin an enforcement surge next week, at last uniting the county with the regional initiative.
"We're ramping up our presence on our streets and highways -- to not only inform residents of the pedestrian rules of the roads, but to also enforce those rules," said Police Chief Mark Magaw.
The county posted 23 fatalities in 2009, edging out Baltimore for the most in Maryland, according to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"The county has a lot of wide, high-speed roadways and spread-out land uses where you might have an apartment on one side and a store that people need to get to on the other," said Cheryl Cort, policy director with the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "So when you mix high-speed traffic and big, wide roads to cross, you're creating a dangerous situation."
Neighboring Montgomery County logged nine deaths in 2009, while Prince William and Fairfax counties in Virginia recorded five and two, respectively. The District saw 14 pedestrian deaths.
"A lot of people are getting hurt and unfortunately fatally hurt, and we just want to do our part as a police department," said police spokesman Cpl. Larry Johnson.
The Street Smart program is an annual campaign to educate local residents about safety issues. Newspaper, radio and transit ads are posted throughout participating counties to promote awareness. Two federal enforcement initiatives are coordinated in the fall and spring.
But Street Smart is only a complement to local infrastructure initiatives, like repairing roads and building sidewalks, which some observers say the county hasn't focused enough on.
"That's all good to do, but we need to design our communities to be safer to walk," Cort said. "We need to do a lot of things to make our community safer."