By Bruce Cohen - February 13, 2015
While it is good to see that the state will charge the driver, this response does not go far enough. The state’s attorneys in this case are not prosecuting the driver to the full extent of the law like they are doing in Baltimore City with the death of Tom Palermo.
In both of these cases, the bicyclists were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. Andrew was in the right lane and was proceeding straight with his green light. He was well-known as an experienced cyclist who was familiar with the area. He should have been safe as he traveled through the intersection, as this road is popular with cyclists returning to Gaithersburg after rides in rural Montgomery County.
I visited this intersection on Tuesday with Joe Allen of Bike Gaithersburg where two ghost bikes are already in place . Like many suburban areas in Maryland, this intersection includes many parking lot entrances within a short stretch of road. This configuration encourages drivers attempting left turns to look further up into the intersection for oncoming traffic, requiring quick judgment to proceed. This intersection appears confusing and dangerous for all road users. The multiple shopping center entrances create conflict points for pedestrians as well. This situation jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable through traffic by prioritizing the convenience of those turning left which resulted in Andrew’s loss on November 24, 2014
Bicycle infrastructure is in place on MD Route 28 (Darnestown Road) on both sides of the MD Route 124 (Quince Orchard Road) intersection. Bike lanes do not exist where they are needed the most: for the two blocks east the MD 124 intersection. Through this tricky area, bicyclists have no designated travel lane, despite the many conflict points and obvious presence of bicycle traffic. Left-hooks are a common type of collision for bicycles, and unfortunately the best way to for a bicyclist to prevent them is to proceed cautiously, be ready to give up your right-of-way, and travel conspicuously. The driver should have yielded to Andrew, but this intersection was not designed to keep vulnerable road users safe as they traveled straight with the right-of-way.
Contributing to the situation’s frustration, state’s attorneys are not using 2-210, which provides prosecutors a misdemeanor “criminal negligence” standard. Instead, prosecutors are using “negligent driving” which is a traffic violation with a fine and points assessed. The driver, Mr. Kline, should have been aware that his conduct posed unjustifiable risk to other road users, and a reasonable person would have checked for oncoming traffic or would have waited until the intersection was clear.
Our society needs to be reminded that motor vehicle operation has the ability to kill or maim another human being. It is better to miss the light and have to wait longer, than to harm another. As recent deaths bring bicycle safety to the forefront of public discussion, please be careful and mind other users when driving, biking, and walking on and along Maryland roads.