Prince George's County roads are the deadliest in the region for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists alike, a problem that has persisted for years while county officials have been slow to react.
There were 553 traffic fatalities in Prince George's from 2006 to 2010, for an average of 111 deaths a year -- more than double the number of deaths in any other jurisdiction in the Washington region, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Among those fatalities, Prince George's also led the region in pedestrian and bicyclist deaths by a wide margin -- 136 people were killed during the same period, compared with 84 in Montgomery County and 91 in the District.
|2010 traffic fatalities|
|Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration|
Yet until this year, the county was one of the only jurisdictions in the region to opt out of a pedestrian safety program that has been running for 10 years.
Street Smart, an annual campaign led by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, seeks to educate residents about safety issues. While Montgomery County participated in 2010, Prince George's racked up 23 pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.
Joining the program this year is a start, but Prince George's officials must do more to address a frightful lack of sidewalks and dilapidated roads that make travel difficult for motorists and pedestrians, experts say.
"We're definitely making strides now, but there's clearly a lot more that we can do," said County Councilman Eric Olson, D-College Park.
The council recently passed legislation, sponsored by Olson, that would require just as much scrutiny of pedestrian safety as officials already give to traffic impact when analyzing new developments.
Safety is essential to new development but also must be looked at along many older high-speed roads in Prince George's. Some lack sidewalks, forcing residents to walk on the shoulders of major routes such as Branch Avenue or wait at bus stops along busy stretches of Central Avenue without safe passage.
"It's very difficult to see a pedestrian in time to stop at 40 or 50 mph," said Pete Farrell, transportation planner for COG.
Residents like Mike Little say they have been lobbying the county for road improvements for decades, to no avail.
Little was just a few cars removed from a vicious five-car crash on Oxon Hill Road in February that left one woman dead from a head-on collision.
The road has been deadly for decades, with speeding cars and traffic gridlock creating a dangerous stretch that also lacks a sidewalk for pedestrians, he said.
County officials planned to widen the road and add amenities under former County Executive Wayne Curry, but the plans fell apart in later administrations.
"It's unfair for the county to walk away from its commitments and obligations," Little said. "And it's the county's obligation to make roads safe."