Friends Sheryl Grossman of Pikesville and Cheryl Gottlieb of Towson sometimes have trouble navigating the sidewalks and streets of their own neighborhoods. The “S/Cheryls from Baltimore, Your Disability Rights Duo,” as they call themselves, get around in power wheelchairs. So, if the sidewalks aren’t shoveled, or there aren’t enough curb cuts to safely motor onto the sidewalks, they wind up traveling in the streets.
“There’s no way around it,” said Grossman. “I get honked at constantly. I take my life in my hands every time I go to synagogue.”
Gottlieb said a number of apartment complexes near her home never clear their sidewalks after a snowstorm. And often when walks are shoveled, snow is piled onto the curb cuts, leaving her no access to cross the street.
“Sometimes when it snows I can’t leave my apartment for a week,” she said.
Grossman and Gottlieb joined about 40 others on Sunday at a Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition neighborhood and pedestrian safety meeting at Congregation Ohel Moshe on Smith Avenue in Pikesville to share concerns about broken sidewalks, bicycle safety and safely crossing busy streets on Shabbat.
“In Judaism, there are a lot of commandments. There is only one commandment that tells you that you have to heed it very much,” Rabbi Zvi Teichman of Ohel Moshe said to open the meeting. “And that’s to take heed to preserve your safety.”
Steven A. Walsh, director of the Baltimore County Department of Public Works, gave a quick rundown of department duties, including road resurfacing, tree trimming, grass cutting, signage, traffic signals, traffic calming and sidewalk construction, all of which can come into play with traffic and pedestrian safety. He urged the group to get in touch with local officials, such as Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who represents District 2, where the meeting was held, as soon as they see a problem arise.
David Feldman, co-chair of the PGCC’s traffic and safety committee, said while fatalities from pedestrian-involved traffic accidents are not frequent in the area, he noted that in 80 percent to 90 percent of pedestrian-related accidents, the pedestrian is at fault. He pressed people, whether walking or driving, to be extra vigilant of their personal safety.
“Distracted driving is becoming a much more difficult problem all the time,” he said.
And while he said the Pikesville-Greenspring area has a relatively low crime rate, he urged residents not to be “easy pickins’” for burglars and thieves. He said many police reports show that people often don’t lock their front doors and leave cars unlocked and property unsecured, such as bikes on the front yard.
“We’ve really got to recognize that as wonderfully safe as it is here, we have to look out for each other and look out for ourselves,” he said, telling people to call 911 if they see a problem. “When you’re walking or jogging, keep an eye on what’s going on around you. The police urge all of us to be situationally aware. Don’t zone out.”
People walking to shul where there were no sidewalks was a concern for Jeffrey Forman, president of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation.
“We have a need and had a need for safety issues, because my people walk to shul,” he said. “With the help of Vicki Almond we got sidewalks. People were walking in the street. It was very dangerous.”
In addition, Forman said a traffic circle was installed near the synagogue, following a number of severe accidents at the intersection of Old Pimlico Road and Rockland Hills Drive, which “made a big difference.”
“I don’t believe there is a problem we can’t find a solution or compromise for,” Almond said. “When you have an issue with your quality of life, that’s what we’re here for. But we can’t do it without you. We need your help to get the job done.”
For Howard Simons of Wellwood, there are too many busted sidewalks in the community. He suggested the county start an annual process of identifying and repairing cracked, broken and misaligned sidewalks and notifying the homeowner responsible.
“Some of these sidewalks are in such bad shape, sometimes people would be better off without sidewalks,” he said.
Walsh said the county is in the process of inventorying its sidewalks, and that if the sidewalk is a safety issue, it will be repaired. “If we’re made aware of a trip-and-fall hazard, we will look into it and fix it,” he said.
Bicyclist Paula Guttman Sharfman of Pickwick has stopped biking in the streets in the area. “I stopped because a number of people have had really bad accidents,” she said. “I’m not going to put my life in [someone else’s] hands.”
Sharfman added that the neighborhood has a lot of walkers on Shabbat, and in the evening when it gets dark, it’s difficult to see people dressed in black or dark clothing. She suggested reflectors might help with visibility.
Michael Gershen, also of Pickwick, agreed. He wondered if rabbis could suggest the use of reflectors to congregations. “On Friday, walking home, our people, God love ’em, they’re all in black, and you can’t see them.”
Another concern, from people walking on Shabbat, is difficulty crossing the intersection of Smith Avenue and Sanzo Road. Orthodox Jews are not allowed to operate electrical items on the Sabbath, so they can’t push the traffic signal button to cross the busy street.
Other suggestions for increased safety in the community included mid-block crosswalks and longer traffic- signal intervals for walkers so people have more time to cross. A pedestrian bridge was also suggested.
The PGCC, founded in 1998, is an umbrella group for 15 Pikesville and Greenspring neighborhood associations. Maxine Seidman, its president, urged residents to get involved to help keep the community safe. “We’re looking for interested people now living in the area to garner their participation and interest in helping the area to grow,” she said.
For more information, go to pgccinc.org.