On a warm evening last spring, in deep dusk, a car motored along Ritchie Avenue toward Takoma Park and toward Ed Bordley, who was returning from choir practice at the Church of the Ascension on Sligo Avenue. Ed was walking with Elizabeth, his daughter, and Kaleb, his black Shepherd guide dog.
Credit the wary ears of a blind man to determine in a flash that the hard-charging motorist was not going to slow down.
“I’ve walked the same way a hundred times, and I’ve heard a hundred cars come up behind me, but this one was different,” Ed said at breakfast time the other morning in his brick cottage on Ritchie Avenue, one block from where the hit-and-run occurred.
In those extra seconds won by high vigilance he had pulled Elizabeth away from the car, which nonetheless knocked her down, a double whammy of metal and pavement that cut up her face and banged up one leg. “I was lucky,” said Elizabeth, just out of bed and sleepy-eyed. “It wasn’t serious.”
But why were they in the middle of the street in the first place?
“That’s the only place to walk,” Ed replied. “There are no sidewalks.”
Chris Llewellyn, his wife, spoke up passionately. “That’s the way it was when we moved here in 1999, and it’s never changed. Every morning Ed has to walk in the street, right out there with all the cars, because that’s the only way he can get to the bus stop and catch the bus to the Metro to get downtown.”
This was a morning that Ed, an attorney with the Justice Department, was due at his job, but he was delaying for a few minutes to talk about a topic of much anxiety in the neighborhood.
Vie Vie Wang, a neighbor, had stopped by. “Our street is dangerous,” she said. “And, in winter, with snow banks, it’s really dangerous. And it isn’t like we haven’t tried to get sidewalks. We’ve tried really hard.”
Letter-writing and phone-calling – and the still-aching memory of Brooke Williams, a seventh-grader killed by a drunk driver near Ed’s bus stop while she was walking home from Takoma Park Middle school the day before Christmas Eve in 1995 – resulted in wider sidewalks and a speed camera on Piney Branch Road and a new traffic light on Potomac Avenue, but nothing changed on Ritchie Avenue.
“It’s frustrating because this is one of the main streets that kids use to walk to Takoma Park Middle, and we’re part of Safe Routes to School,” added Vie Vie, an activist in the PTAs when her children were younger.
On the night of Elizabeth’s accident, Ed had shouted after the driver, “Stop, stop!” in such a maddened tone that Ana Rodriguez, already dressed for bed, came running out of her house. She called the EMTs, and in the following days a what-should-we-do-next conversation spread up and down the street.
On July 11 about 30 neighbors gathered at the home of Jeff and Richelle Meer. It was not a sympathy party for Ed, however. He is a virtuoso at getting around, even on the water. He rows in dragon boat races on the Potomac River. Except for the coxswain, everyone on the crew is blind. They match their oar strokes to the cadence of a drum, and they call themselves Outa Sight Dragons.
“What happened to Ed and Elizabeth could happen to any of us,” Vie Vie said.
The person who called the July meeting to order was Hans Riemer, a member of the Montgomery County Council. Hans walked over. He is another neighbor.
Bruce Johnston, representing the County Executive’s office, was in attendance, along with two associates. They tried to make everyone understand the logistical, legal and topographic realities that stymied previous attempts to install sidewalks. Steep embankments, a pervasive lack of right of ways and a number of driveways that might be rendered useless have always stood in the way.
“They did make it seem truly onerous,” Ed said.
Chris found a lining of optimism. “Some of the people who had been opposed before, or were lukewarm, were more supportive this time.”
Hans came away believing that half the news was positive. As the County representatives outlined it, the 700 block of Ritchie from Sligo Avenue to Takoma Avenue, might qualify for sidewalks in an expedited process. “There are few potential engineering issues, the County owns a lot of right of ways, and there is general support,” he explained.
On the other hand, the 600 block of Ritchie from Takoma Avenue to Piney Branch Road, where the families of Ed, Vie Vie and Hans all live, is the height of difficulty. “Our block would not likely be accepted into the easy process,” Hans cautioned.
“We know that’s the case, but we’re not going to give up,” Ed said. He stood and called for Kaleb. The dog immediately responded. Ed swept his fingers across the fur on Kaleb’s neck and attached a harness. They then stepped together into the street and began their morning route.
Featured photo: Elizabeth Bordley and her dad Ed, shown with guidedog Kaleb, were traumatized by a hit-and-run accident on their block of Ritchie Avenue, which has no sidewalks. Photo by Diana Kohn.