By Joshua Feldmark - September 5, 2017
The first meeting of the task force was at Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) headquarters, which is just up the street from the BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport rental car facility. I don’t know why, but it took me a minute to realize this is literally right around the corner from where Jeremy Pope was struck and killed. I didn’t know Jeremy, but our proximity to where he was killed put this task force into perspective for me and underscored how important the work of this group can be. With that recognition, I went into the first meeting hopeful that this task force will be a catalyst for real change.
I don’t want to spend much time summarizing presentations from the meetings. Summaries like that are usually inadequate or inaccurate, and the Chair of the task force committed to posting all presentations on the website. We will post links when the presentations are available online. There were three presentations to set the stage for the work of the task force:
We will let you know when the presentations are online.
After the presentations, there was a facilitated discussion on the key issues facing the task force and recommendations for how to focus their work. In my post before the meeting, I indicated a concern that there would be a push to focus on finding places other than roads for cyclists as the easiest and quickest way to achieve “bike safety” by pushing cyclists off the roadways. I am overjoyed to report that my concerns were unwarranted. In fact, near the beginning of the discussion, Jon Korin from Bike Advocates for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County (Bike AAA) raised this precise point and made clear that he was advocating that the task force expressly reject this focus. His statement was met with what appeared to be universal agreement.
The first meeting, from my perspective, was overwhelmingly positive and showed a group committed to moving bicycle safety issues forward in a substantive way. In fact, there was only one statement that gave me any pause at all. Tom Gianni, the Chair, during the discussion mentioned that he felt the group needed to focus, at least in part, on education, outreach, and awareness. While I don’t in principle disagree that these are a crucial part of bike safety, that comment gave me pause for two reasons.
First, when those strategies come up they often turn into victim blaming, focusing on what we as cyclists should be doing to protect ourselves from getting hit by cars. There are plenty of things cyclists can and should do, but focusing on this aspect dramatically misses the point and inappropriately shifts the responsibility. To be clear, I don’t think Mr. Gianni was implying this. In fact, any specifics he mentioned were about driver education and awareness, but I have seen enough conversations about this issue to recognize the risk of devolving into how to better educate cyclists.
The bigger reason I was mildly concerned about this being a focus is that, while driver education and awareness are very important issues, a task force such as this one would be hard-pressed to make specific meaningful recommendations around education and awareness. Rather, their time is better spent looking into areas in which they can have specific programmatic, regulatory, and legislative recommendations. As Delegate Cassilly put it, “Legislating behavior change is extremely difficult, but legislating changes to our infrastructure is relatively easy.”
The conversation revolved largely around the issues of building our state’s cycling infrastructure and making our roads truly intermodal. Delegate Lafferty said quite specifically that the number one issue the task force needed to address was our cycling infrastructure, and several other members echoed that sentiment. Other related issues that were raised included:
All in all, this was a very encouraging first meeting, and we are looking forward to the next one, which is scheduled for September 21 from 1:00 to 3:30 pm at MDOT SHA Hanover Complex: Office of Maintenance Training Room. It is an open meeting, so if you want to attend, please do, and remember that we at Bike Maryland will again be live-tweeting and posting a summary like this one.