By Bike Maryland - April 24, 2023
We are excited to present to you a recap of the 2023 legislative session. Bike Maryland was extremely active all 90 days to pass legislation making cycling (and walking) in Maryland safer and more accessible. As in past years, Bike Maryland led and coordinated a coalition of local and regional bike advocacy groups from across Maryland leading up to and during the 2023 session. The group convened weekly, interacted with legislators and staff, and prepared and delivered both written and oral testimony at bill and budget hearings. It was overall a positive session and we are very encouraged by the positions on active, multimodal transportation by both the Moore administration and the Legislature.
This bill, as proposed, would have required the Department of Transportation (MDOT) to recommend and implement certain design elements for pedestrian and bicycle safety when developing projects and require the State Highway Administration (SHA) to submit reports including pedestrian and bicycle safety data, analyses, and plans. Additionally, they would have to implement all possible incremental, near–term safety improvements if a newly approved pedestrian or bicycle safety construction or improvement project is projected to take more than a certain number of months to complete.
In other, more simple words, it would have required MDOT to use “context-based design” and safety/crash data to make various trouble spots around the states safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
Although HB 70 was dramatically amended, this was a major victory for changing the culture in Maryland toward safety for all. MDOT SHA, in a formal letter, agreed to voluntarily do most of what was articulated in the original bill. This represents a very positive movement as MDOT/SHA have expressed a strong desire to work with us to help guarantee safe roads as well as sufficient funding for safety and accessibility projects. Additionally, the main section omitted from their letter, implementing near-term improvements while longer-term projects wait for funding, was left in the legislation that passed both chambers and sits on the Governor’s desk for signature.
This a bill that passed the General Assembly last year but was vetoed by then-Governor Hogan. The bill delineates several requirements in the transportation funding and planning process to help guarantee equity and justice are properly accounted for in all of Maryland’s transportation projects. A large and diverse coalition led the process to get this passed and on to the Governor’s desk. Bike Maryland was a minor player in this Coalition but enthusiastically supported the passage of the bill and submitted testimony to express that.
At the advice of Senator Sarah Elfreth in her opening address to the Maryland Bike Symposium, we testified at several Budget Hearings in both Senate and House budget subcommittee hearings. This is the first time the coalition of local bike advocates led by Bike Maryland engaged in this process. It is especially timely now that the legislature has more control of the budget and there is new leadership at MDOT and DNR. Testimony at these hearings pressed for more and safer infrastructure for vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, people with disabilities, etc), and more staff and policies that promote multimodal active transportation. New MDOT Secretary Paul Wiedefeld and DNR Secretary Josh Kurtz attended and spoke at these hearings together with department heads. This provided an excellent opportunity to deliver our message to these leaders as well as the legislators on the subcommittees. Both Wiedefeld and Kurtz engaged with us, received our message positively and opened the door for more direct engagement.
Lowering speeds on roads is an essential element in reducing the incidence of crashes and the resultant fatalities and serious injuries stemming from such crashes. Furthermore, lower speeds in turn lessen the severity of injuries due to crashes. This bill would have authorized local authorities statewide to decrease the maximum speed limit to not less than 15 miles per hour, among other provisions, however, it was withdrawn by the sponsors because of issues identified with how the bill was handled. We will advocate for reintroduction in 2024, hopefully with an additional provision, to allow a jurisdiction that has created a Complete Streets policy and plan to lower limits on a given class of streets area- or jurisdiction-wide.
Maryland is among the minority of states that prohibit bike riding on sidewalks. Current state law prohibits bike riding on sidewalks by people of all ages unless permitted by local ordinance. Several jurisdictions including Montgomery, Howard, and Anne Arundel counties and cities of Rockville, Frederick, and Annapolis have already permitted it, typically with a provision to yield to pedestrians. This bill flips the state’s default to permit bikes on sidewalks statewide unless prohibited by local ordinance (which hopefully would be confined to very specific locations). The bill received extremely positive bipartisan support and passed the House 135 – 2. It received a very positive hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee but never got a committee vote. The bill is well-positioned for passage in 2024.
Last year, via the Climate Solutions Now Act, the General Assembly allocated millions of dollars to electric vehicle tax credits. We’d love for Maryland to promote a much more cost-effective, equitable, and environmentally friendly step: e-bike rebates for low- and moderate-income households and for business and nonprofit activities. E-bikes cost far less than EVs – generally, electric cars – and the rebate will cover a high proportion of the cost, making this form of transformative transportation accessible to a wide set of households that can’t afford an EV even with a tax credit. Unfortunately, Del. Lewis’s bill didn’t advance out of committee, likely because the cost, while modest, made the bill infeasible in the state’s current financial climate. But we’re looking forward to supporting a strong bill in next year’s session.
A growing number of states and most recently D.C. have enacted “Stop as Yield” laws which permit cyclists to treat Stop signs as Yield signs (also known as the Idaho Stop or Delaware Stop). This practice is counterintuitive to drivers but is proven to be a safer way for cyclists to cross or turn at Stop signs. Cyclists have better sight lines and can cross faster and more steadily by continuing to roll if the intersection is clear and there is no approaching traffic. A moving cyclist is also easier for a driver to notice than a stationary cyclist. NHTSA published a paper on this practice. The bill was introduced late in the session and our goal was only to start explaining the concept to legislators. With no surprise, it did not make it through the House Environment & Transportation Committee and we aim to press it again in 2024.
After a several-year COVID hiatus, we resumed the annual Bike Maryland Symposium to bring advocates from across the state to discuss statewide initiatives, and current bills and to meet with legislators. Space limitations precluded meeting at the Miller Senate as we have in past years so we convened at nearby Annapolis City Hall with coffee and breakfast snacks provided by The Big Bean. 73 attendees from across Maryland attended to network and hear about bills in session, statewide trail networks, an update on Bike Maryland, and other topics. Our kickoff speaker was Senator Sarah Elfreth (Annapolis) who also chairs the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety, Transportation, and Environment. Senator Elfreth embraced the idea of a Maryland Trail Network as other states have done and also encouraged us to testify at budget hearings. Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley, who typically travels around Annapolis by bike, welcomed the group to Annapolis, encouraged our work, and expressed his support. Following the morning program, attendees participated in dozens of successful meetings with legislators and then met for lunch at Annapolis Market House. Watch for the announcement of the next Symposium in February 2024!