By Sophie Gorman Oriani
In July, Hyattsville City Councilmember Danny Schaible (Ward 2) was featured on the podcast The Bottom-Up Revolution for his work creating and running the Hyattsville Street Design Team, a roughly 40-member group focused on improving street safety in the city.
The Bottom-Up Revolution is one of three podcasts created by Strong Towns, a nonprofit media group advocating for cities large and small to be safe, livable and inviting. The organization focuses on limiting development, ending highway and parking lot expansion, and expanding pedestrian safety measures.
Schaible learned about Strong Towns when a Hyattsville resident sent him a link to its website and the Strong Towns podcast. He then read Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, by Strong Towns founder Charles Marohn. The book, which grew out of a blog post (also by Marohn), describes how engineers often design roads primarily for vehicle speed and volume, with safety and cost as second-tier considerations.
Schaible started the street design team in fall 2021. The team meets monthly to discuss traffic issues in the city. Some members of the team have professional expertise in relevant areas, including urban planning and transportation, and others are residents who share a concern for the city’s street safety.
Hyattsville commissioned a transportation study in 2018. While many of the study’s recommendations have been implemented, others have not, in part because the city does not have jurisdiction over a number of roads that are problematic.
The city’s roads where the most crashes happen tend to be what Marohn calls stroads. According to Marohn, a road connects one place to another, while a street contributes to a place “where humans and human interactions flourish.” A stroad — a portmanteau of street and road — tries to be both of these things and accomplishes neither: The cars are a hazard to pedestrians, and the pedestrians make it difficult for cars to travel efficiently.
There are many stroads in Hyattsville. In November, the city council authorized the city administrator to negotiate with the State of Maryland to potentially acquire for the city the stretch of Hamilton Street that runs from 38th Avenue to Queens Chapel Road. This segment of Hamilton Street, which the transportation study noted as problematic, has inconsistent sidewalks and crosswalks that are hard to see.
Hyattsville has 13 advisory bodies, including the Education Advisory Committee and the Hyattsville Environment Committee, that work on specific issues within the city and make recommendations to the mayor and council.
The street design team is different, though, as it isn’t formally affiliated with the city. Schaible said although the city used to have a transportation committee, they no longer do.
In the July podcast, Schaible noted that being an independent team has advantages and disadvantages. The street design team doesn’t have to follow all the city’s procedures and protocols when they meet, but they also don’t have official standing to talk to other organizations or governmental bodies, such as the county and state who control many of the problematic roads in the city. In an interview, Schaible confirmed that the team members are leaning towards remaining independent, although they will discuss the issue in more detail at their September meeting.
The street design team will also discuss focusing their mission and choosing priorities to work on. In February, Schaible sponsored a motion for the city council drafted by the team to replace the five-way intersection near the main entrance to Driskell Park with a traffic circle. Schaible said in an interview he would like to submit other practical recommendations to the city council. He also expressed interest in having members of the team trained to perform walk audits, which evaluate a particular stretch of roadway for its walkability and accessibility.
The street design team is a loose organization and is always accepting new members. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.