Should We Pursue Traffic Signals at Philadelphia & Holly?

I had a constituent request to explore getting flashing red lights at the intersection of Philadelphia and Holly Avenues. That location is just downhill from Takoma Park Elementary School. Traffic is regulated by stop signs and, during to-/from-school hours, by a crossing guard. The constituent wrote, “There have been so many crashes there with people running the stop signs on Philly. Our neighbors have been hit twice in their car even inching across cautiously.”

Police Chief Ron Ricucci provided data on accidents and on enforcement. According to the chief, “of all the intersections in the city, I’ve seen that one run more than any other.” Also, I researched Maryland State Highway Administration standards since Philadelphia Avenue is (for now) a state highway (Route 410).

Start with standards, for a flashing red light. The SHA references the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Section 4L.02 of the manual gives standards for signal installation. It says —

02 Application of Intersection Control Beacon signal indications shall be limited to the following:

Red for all approaches (if the warrant described in Section 2B.07 for a multi-way stop is satisfied).

Taking a look at that section —

Section 2B.07 Multi-Way Stop Applications

03 The decision to install multi-way stop control should be based on an engineering study.
04 The following criteria should be considered in the engineering study for a multi-way STOP sign installation:

B. Five or more reported crashes in a 12-month period that are susceptible to correction by a multi-way stop installation. Such crashes include right-turn and left-turn collisions as well as right-angle collisions.
C. Minimum volumes:
1. The vehicular volume entering the intersection from the major street approaches (total of both approaches) averages at least 300 vehicles per hour for any 8 hours of an average day; and
2. The combined vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle volume entering the intersection from the minor street approaches (total of both approaches) averages at least 200 units per hour for the same 8 hours, with an average delay to minor-street vehicular traffic of at least 30 seconds per vehicle during the highest hour…
D. Where no single criterion is satisfied, but where Criteria B, C.1, and C.2 are all satisfied to 80 percent of the minimum values. Criterion C.3 is excluded from this condition.
05 Other criteria that may be considered in an engineering study include…
B. The need to control vehicle/pedestrian conflicts near locations that generate high pedestrian volumes;

Regarding the Philadelphia-Holly intersection, Chief Ricucci reported —

2010: 4 accidents, 14 police traffic details, 8 traffic stops + 8 nearby traffic stops
2011: 7 accidents, 21 police traffic details, 31 traffic stops + 25 nearby traffic stops

Chief Ricucci said this is proportionately a lot of enforcement. He also offered the opinion that he doesn’t think we can justify a light — a flashing red — at that location, in part because of proximity to the Piney Branch Road intersection, but he’s willing to make a request to the State Highway Administration. Because Philadelphia Avenue is a state highway, Route 410, for now, it’s the SHA that would measure traffic and pedestrian use of the intersection and install and pay for signals and maintenance.

I thought I’d post this information for residents’ reactions. My guess is that residents will support moving ahead with a request for signals. My next step after that would be to consult my city-council colleagues given that there are multiple SHA-related city priorities and the city is in negotiations, supposedly close to wrapping up, to take over Takoma Park Route 410 ownership from the state.

Please let me know any reactions you have to all this. Send me a note at or phone 301-873-8225.

Addendum: The city-council chartered Safe Roadways Committee (SRC) submitted a recommendation to the council on March 21, 2005:

Install pedestrian-operated traffic lights at the 410/Cedar crosswalk and at 410/Holly, replacing the 4 way stop there. These lights would be very similar to the pedestrian operated light at Tulip/Carroll. The light at Holly /410 would also have a trip mechanism embedded in Holly allowing drivers crossing 410 there to get a green light. The SRC proposes such pedestrian operated lights be reviewed as a model for working with SHA’s goal of maximizing traffic flow and the City’s goal of maximizing pedestrian safety. Consistent use of such pedestrian operated lights on State roads in the City could enhance pedestrian awareness of how /where/when to safely cross streets and also minimize traffic back-up and/or driver confusion caused by regular stop lights and/or stop signs (particularly 4 way stop signs as at Holly and 410).

A February 1, 2005 memorandum presents the SRC’s suggestions.

Regarding the stop signs currently in place at Holly & Philadelphia, according to Mayor Bruce Williams, whose remarks at the November 8, 2010 city-council meeting are summarized in the meeting minutes, “When stop signs were installed at Philadelphia and Holly, the City worked with SHA on the design and implementation of the project.”

4 Replies to “Should We Pursue Traffic Signals at Philadelphia & Holly?”

  1. may i offer an alternative that is sure to slow people down? A raised crosswalk, like we see adjacent to the metro, would induce cars to slow down much more than a flashing light. We could raise the crosswalks at holly and at the crosswalk on Philadelphia ave between the library and cedar avenue. am i being greedy?

  2. I like the idea of a raised sidewalk. I live one house from the intersection and know there are many accidents and near accidents, but I would oppose a red light. Idling cars at a stop light (and trucks are worse) would have a negative impact on air quality. At least with stop signs cars move through more quickly.

    Also would have concerns about the industrial feel that would accompany a traffic light.
    Flashing red lights might be okay, but please consider the neighbors viewshed and the impact a flashing light might have within their home. A flashing light doesn't seem Takoma Park friendly with regards to asthetics, but I would be interested what folks on Phila Ave think as they would be most affected.

    Also, not sure a flashing red light would help stop people from going through the signs. There are numberous signs warning them already and they pay no heed.

    Again, I like the idea of the raised crosswalk. It would have low impact visually to neighbors, but could help with traffic stops.

    Thanks for seeking neighbor imput. Much appreciated.

  3. A raised crosswalk would help during certain times, but not during heavily congested times. When traffic is heavy, drivers can't see road-based clues such as raised crosswalks and road striping (Stop Ahead, etc.).
    Current signs are lost in a visual jumble of clutter: trees, telephone poles, road signs. I can't count the number of visitors to my home who got lost while looking for the stop sign at Holly! Obviously, they ran it and never knew it was there.
    A full street light would be difficult to time with the 2 others that are close by at Philly and Maple.
    Maybe a 4-way blinking red light would work. It would sit above the visual clutter we now have, be in the center of the roadway where drivers are more likely to focus, and would create the same stopping pattern/timing we now have with the stop signs. I think people would be more likely to see it.
    RE: the comment about the "view-shed" for neighboring homes, maybe shields or other devices are available to reduce the resultant glare.
    RE: the industrial appearance of a street light, I would rather have that then being broadsided by a Metro bus (which nearly happened to me last month). Seems like a small price to pay to save lives.
    PS: I live on Holly near the intersection.

  4. Hi Seth, thanks for raising this issue.

    My wife and I recently moved to Takoma Park on Phildadelphia – between the Takoma and Piney Branch intersections.

    We are opposed to the idea of adding additional red flashing lights at Philadelphia and Holly – largely because it would likely further back up eastbound traffic across the Piney Branch instersection. As is, eastbound traffic gets backed up to the top of the hill at the Takoma intersection during the evening commute.

    In our opinion, anything that potentially further contributes to additional traffic congestion and air pollution should be opposed given that this stretch of Philadelphia is a main artery for young children and families commuting to our TP schools – often by foot or bike.

    This is an enforcement issue. If there were more tickets being issued at these peak times where infractions are occurring, the problem would likely self-correct itself.

    Would it be safe to assert that most of the traffic on Route 410 is daily commuters that have become laxidasical with compliance to traffic signs? Take the 30 mph speed limit on Route 410 from the TP city line through the Piney Branch intersection for example. Having lived on Phildelphia for over 8 months, we can attest that the average speed all too often exceeds the posted limit since people are trying to rush to get through the Piney Branch intersection. State highway or not, drivers clearly need a more influential reason to abide by the posted signs (or blinking lights).

    A stronger traffic police presence could very well deal with both of these issues; at a minimum, it will increase pedestrian safety and TP city revenue, as well as save state tax dollars for more effective uses.

    Finally, it just seems redundent when there are 2 nearby intersections with traffic lights – Piney Branch and Maple respectively. Increased enforcement seems like a worthy first step to address the problems. If this ultimately doesn't help change behavior, it will at least help increase safety and revenue while also strengthening the case for more costly interventions with more robust statistics to back up the requests.

    In our opinion, it seems like an added traffic signal that impedes traffic flow through our neighborhood is like placing a band aid on a chronic issue of noncompliance.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and consider my thoughts. I look forward to hearing what other have to say – especially those that live on Philadelphia!

    Marc Santora

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