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Maryland Bicycle Safety Task Force – Second Meeting

By - October 11, 2017

Apologies for the delay in getting this summary up but as you are hopefully well aware Larry’s Ride was this Sunday. I very much hope you got to take on the beautiful beast (if so I’m the guy who gave you water and PB&J at the 14-mile rest stop) or maybe you made it to the party for pizza and burgers, and of course, some of the best beer New Belgium had to offer. Not to mention various delectables from Kismet Café and Bakery Express and Baltimore’s Best Cupcakes or chips from Utz and produce from Coastal Sunbelt. Thanks to these folks for their generous support.

If you missed our summary of the first meeting I recommend giving it a quick read here.

The second meeting began with a discussion of process. The consultants outlined a process for moving from meetings to recommendations. Without going into details, they have developed a solid plan that makes the short time frame not seem like an insurmountable barrier to accomplishing the goal. The task force will be developing a context paper, which essentially will build the recommendations as they go along as opposed to waiting until the end to discuss and approve recommendations. This context paper will be a public document but will not be made readily available to the public. The advocates (and others) on the task force indicated a desire to share this document regularly with folks in order to generate public feedback.

After another review of crash data, this time drilling down a little bit deeper, the consultants began reviewing issues that they believed were brought onto the table at the first meeting.

Contributory Negligence – The task force agreed that contributory negligence stood as a barrier to cyclists feeling and being safe on Maryland roads and placed the issue in the section of likely recommendations.

Vulnerable Road User – A Vulnerable Road User (VRU) law gives valuable protection not just to cyclists but to several other road users as well (usually everyone other than automobile/truck drivers, including motorcyclists). The focus of a VRU law is on deterrence by way of increasing penalties for certain behaviors that commonly lead to hurting vulnerable road users. This model helps to switch the culture of our roads so that the responsibilities lie with the least vulnerable. The task force discussed this possibility at some length, specifically as it related to how effective such laws are or are they just about awareness (and if “just awareness” is also a useful goal).   Some members of the task force emphasized how important setting adequate penalties are to making a VRU law effective.

3-Foot Law – The 3-foot law, as it stands now, is only minimally helpful since the majority of the roads where it is necessary for cyclist safety don’t fall under the law because of the narrow road exemption.   There seemed to be a general consensus that removing that exemption would be a solid recommendation of the Task Force.

Other issues that were mentioned but received little to no discussion were laws around cyclist equipment requirements, mandatory bike lanes, and ride right laws.

That discussion was followed by a presentation by the consultants on “infrastructure, policy tools, and design guidance.”   The powerpoint can be found here.

The Maryland Department of Transportation uses a comprehensive system for evaluating bike routes.   They call it Bicycle Level of Comfort (BLOC), and every route gets a BLOC score based on various measurable factors such as traffic volume, speed limit, pavement width/quality etc.   Each route gets a grade from A to F. State Highways has a stated goal of 80% of eligible roadways receiving a grade of D or better. Within MDOT’s “Annual Attainment Report” is further information on BLOC scores and on MDOT’s work to improve bicycle access (with a goal of 2% increase per year).   The 2017 Annual Attainment Report can be found here.

It seems prudent that the bicycling community must work closely with MDOT and SHA to review the criteria for evaluating the BLOC grade and to push for a stronger goal than 80% D or better. That being said, this task force, which is largely directed to push for legislative recommendations, is not the place to pursue these changes.

The state has looked to focus bike improvements in what they term “Short Trip Opportunity Areas”.   This is a concept that is accurately described in its title, and MDOT believes that these areas are where the greatest potential is for increasing bicycle use and also where the safety concerns are most prevalent. (Though they only cover 10% of the state’s land area, they account for 80% of the crashes.)

The meeting ended with an open discussion that had two points worth noting. The first was a point that the group has continually hammered home. Infrastructure is the key to bike safety and increasing the number of cyclists as well as the number of miles ridden. The funding of that infrastructure, both the funding mechanisms and the quantity of funding, are clearly legislative issues.

Secondly, there was a very interesting conversation about the culture inside of state transportation bureaucracies.   While it may be difficult to legislate, the entire history of MDOT and SHA has revolved around traffic engineering designed to move cars and cars alone. There needs to be better placement of engineers and planners with bike and pedestrian expertise as well as better overall understanding throughout the agencies.

The next meeting is this Thursday, October 12, from 1:00-3:30 pm. It will be in the MDOT SHA Hanover Complex in the Office of Maintenance Training Room. As always though, we will be live tweeting and will follow up with a summary like this one.