By Joshua Feldmark - January 9, 2019
It’s that time of year again. Today is the first day of the Maryland Legislative Session. As you no doubt know, the 90 days when the Maryland legislature meets every year is prime-time for Bike Maryland. We represent you before your Delegate and Senators.
Our legislative agenda largely revolves around two key bills that we first introduced last year but, as is common with legislation, we could not get them all the way passed and so we are coming back this year.
As we did last year, we would like to give a specific note of thanks to the Delegates and Senators we have been working closely with on the drafting and moving of bike and pedestrian friendly legislation:
Current Maryland law has a large gap in punishment between a standard traffic ticket and gross negligence. Therefore, when a vulnerable road user (like cyclist or pedestrian) is struck and injured by a motorist who has violated the law, the punishment (unless there is cause for gross negligence such as intoxication) a traffic ticket. This legislation provides that if a motorist breaks the law and seriously injures a vulnerable road user they are subject to this law which requires a court appearance and a larger collection of potential penalties including; fines, license suspension, community service, and driver education.
As stated by the League of American Bicyclists, Vulnerable Road User (VRU) Laws provide important legal protection to bicyclists and other persons who are not protected by steel cages. VRU laws operate on the principle of general deterrence – by providing an increased penalty for certain road behaviors that lead to the serious injury or death of certain road users people will be deterred from doing those behaviors around those users. The proposal would increase the potential penalties under existing traffic laws for killing or seriously injuring a vulnerable road user and require an appearance in court.
Vulnerable road users are all of us — walkers, cyclists, wheelchair users, children on training wheels, a parent pushing a stroller, or someone with a disability. These users don’t have the safety protections that a vehicle affords and are therefore especially vulnerable to death or serious injury when struck by a car. Nine States (CT, DE, FL, HI, OR, UT, VT, WA) have VRU laws and since we fully expect Maryland to be the bike friendliest state in the country, this law is necessary moving forward.
Last year this proposal passed the House Subcommittee, Committee, and the the whole House of Delegates — unanimously, We expect similar results this year. The bill stalled in Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee but, due to some key changs, we are optimistic for passage this year.
Current Maryland law requires that motorists give a cyclist three feet when passing unless there is not three feet to give (known as the narrow road exception). In that case the motorist, in order to follow the law, must either wait behind the cyclist until there is sufficient room to pass or “buzz” the cyclist, which is not safe. We are proposing eliminating the narrow road exception and allowing drivers to cross the double yellow line if it is safe to do so. If this legislation passes, drivers MUST give three feet when passing a cyclist. .
Last year the bill passed the committee and nearly passed the whole Senate but got hung up on a technicality. We are working with both our Senate and House supporters to put this bill in a better position to pass.
Besides these two highest priority bills we have other initiatives we will be pursuing through budget hearings, legislative sessions, and bills initiated my members or allies of Bike Maryland. Currently, that includes:
As explained by Smart Growth America, A Complete Streets approach integrates people and place in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of our transportation networks. This helps to ensure streets are safe for people of all ages and abilities, balance the needs of different modes, and support local land uses, economies, cultures, and natural environments.
In the last legislative session we passed two Complete Streets Bills. The first required most state transportation agencies to adopt complete streets policies and the second provided technical assistance for local governments to adopt and implement complete streets policies. We are working to expand these as well as looking to receive an analysis of how well state agencies are doing in the implementation of their policies.
The Maryland Bikeways program provides state funding to expand bicycle facilities in communities across Maryland. Funds can be used for a variety of projects including connecting existing bikeways to shopping, employment, and transit, and bike-sharing programs. We, along with our partners and allies, feel strongly that this program has been underfunded for far too long and needs investment if we are to become a state that truly believes in intermodal transportation.
In order for cycling to be truly safe, we need the proper infrastructure. In order for us to get proper infrastructure, we need cycling to be considered when roads are designed, constructed, and repaved. Therefore we are advocating at the state and county level to revise design standards and all road construction guidelines so that they incorporate everything from cycle tracks (separated protected bike lane) to standards for when sharrows are allowed. Additionally we are working to manage difficult crossings where standard bike routes become problematic because of crossing major interchanges, which have not considered bicycles/pedestrians. We would also like more resources dedicated to providing training for staff as well more bike/pedestrian experts throughout the government.
Most importantly our Annual Symposium and lobby day will be in Annapolis February 19th. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for details and registration information.