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Pedestrian advocate creates watchdog television program

by Tricia Thompson, Staff Writer
Reprinted with permission of the
Bethesda Gazette, Bethesda, MD. Published December 24, 1997. Page A-9.

John Wetmore of Bethesda misses the good old days when a mother could send her 15-year-old to the grocery store for a loaf of bread.

Where he grew up in Illinois, there were sidewalks on every street and it was safe for people to make their way through town on foot. But in Bethesda, and many other American towns, he said, pedestrians often must risk their lives to walk.

Last year, he put his skills as a freelance videographer to work and began reporting on pedestrian issues for his original television program, "Perils for Pedestrians" on Montgomery Community Television.

The show examines issues associated with pedestrians, bicyclists and disabled walkers. Wetmore reports on-site in perilous places and interviews advocates, planners and public officials about the problems pedestrians face everyday.

"It's a way to reach the public and let them know that things can be done to improve the pedestrian environment," said Wetmore, 41, who has lived in Bethesda for 30 years and is a 10-year member of the Montgomery County Coalition for Sidewalks.

Wetmore obtains ideas about pedestrian trouble spots largely from telephone calls and e-mail, but also on his own. One perilous place for pedestrians in Bethesda, Wetmore said, is the intersection of Woodmont and Bethesda avenues, where walkers traveling west on Bethesda Avenue must cross five lanes of traffic at Woodmont Avenue. He said the intersection should be re-built with shorter pedestrian crossing distances.

While Wetmore said there have been significant pedestrian-friendly improvements to Bethesda such as newly-built sidewalks on Rockville Pike between Cedar Lane and Pooks Hill Road, Bethesda still needs more sidewalks, longer crosswalk times and shorter crossing distances.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan along with County Director of Public Works and Transportation Graham Norton, Maryland Secretary of State John Willis and U.S. Rep. Connie Morella (R-Dist. 8) of Bethesda recently honored Wetmore with the "Award for Achievement in Public Information" to recognize his support and promotion of alternative transportation through his show.

Wetmore's work is supported by volunteer camera technicians, donated video tapes, loaned editing equipment by the Fairfax Cable Access Corporation, and free air time on Montgomery Community Television.

"This is an issue that has received a lot of attention nationwide," he said, as evidenced by a new pedestrian advocacy concept called, "new urbanism," which encourages building of walk-able communities where people are not forced to drive each time they go out.

He said pedestrian advocates exist in many cities around the United States including well-organized groups in Boston, Philadelphia and Portland, Ore. His web site provides links to six other pedestrian advocacy groups in the United States. "There are some major initiatives on the national level because people have realized that when people don't walk anymore, you run into a whole range of health problems," he said. "We've created a lot of problems by not making it possible for people to walk in their own neighborhoods."

Pedestrian sign from the
Manual of Traffic Signs,
by Richard C. Moeur

Updated October 07, 1999


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