|Strangers often approach Bethesda
resident John Z. Wetmore to gripe about problems in
getting around, but he doesn't mind.
Instead, the 40-year-old freelance videographer uses their complaints about intersections or sidewalks (or the lack thereof) in a monthly TV series, "Perils for Pedestrians." The show airs on community access cable channels all over the Metro region.
"I know from my activities as a pedestrian advocate that a lot of people are unhappy with situations, but they suffer in silence because they think that's the way it's always been, there's no other way," he said. "I'm trying to show there are alternatives."
Last year, Wetmore decided to combine his interest in community access TV -- the public channels on cable systems -- with his passion for pedestrian issues and came up with the show.
The first segment was on a protest for sidewalks on Brookville Road. In October, the Chevy Chase Village board of managers watched a videotape of the segment before voting to install the sidewalks.
Other segments have included trail etiquette for bikers, walkers and skaters, and places where lack of planning has produced "perils" for people who aren't driving cars.
The "Intersection of the Month" features a particularly dangerous crossing and explains how the problem can be alleviated.
"Highway engineers are clever people, and if pedestrians are put on their list of priorities, they can generally design an intersection or road that works for everyone," he said. "But if it's not made a priority, it doesn't get done, and the cost to fix the problem after the planning stage is generally prohibitive."
One loyal watcher is Karen Seibert of Bethesda, who was featured in a segment last year on efforts to get more sidewalks in the East Bethesda neighborhood.
"I think it's a great show," she said. "He has a real small operation, but comes out with a professional product. I have a whole series of his tapes that I pass out to people."
Wetmore doesn't confine his series to the Washington area. He takes personal time when he's sent out of town on assignment as well. As a result, viewers can find out about problems and solutions in cities as far away as Los Angeles.
Wetmore, a former government economist who has a master's from Yale and bachelor's from Princeton, believes sidewalks are necessities, not amenities, especially when it comes to traffic control.
"In a situation where the county would prefer that residents do something other than drive, it makes no sense that sidewalks aren't part of the discussion," he said. "Pedestrian traffic and mass transit go hand in hand. If it's not easy to walk to and from the Metro or bus stop because there are no sidewalks, it's costing riders and putting more cars on the road."
Walking has health benefits, he said, and is an important issue for senior citizens.
"Senior citizens in general can walk a lot longer than when it's no longer comfortable for them to drive," he said. "If they have access to what they need and can walk to it, that helps them stay independent."
Too often, he said, sidewalks are an afterthought with transportation officials and developer. He cites an example of a townhouse development on Route 29, which is a 15-minute walk from a Metro stop but has no sidewalks on the way.
"Metro thinks their responsibility ends at the top of the escalator," he said. "But that's not the case. They need to communicate with local governments."
Watching Wetmore's show may be a challenge in Montgomery County, since the show doesn't have a set time slot. But the sixth episode airs at 9:30 p.m. Friday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday on cable channel 23 (converter box 49). Starting this week, show times will be posted on the "Perils for Pedestrians" Web site at http://www.pedestrians.org
Ultimately, he says, his goal is to make residents and government officials think about how to make travel safer and easier for walkers.
"I can't be in Rockville looking over the engineer's shoulder when he draws up the plans," he said. "But maybe I can make pedestrians more of a priority."
Suggestions? e-mail Wetmore at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write him at Perils for Pedestrians, c/o Fairfax Cable Access Corporation, 2929 Eskridge Road, Suite S, Fairfax, VA 22031.