A ghost bike memorializes Frank Towers at the intersection of Viers Mill Road and the Matthew Henson Trail. Image by Garrett Hennigan used with permission.

Maryland's state legislative session kicked off in mid-January. Bills that would legalize a type of traffic signal that makes streets safer for people on foot, give people the right to ride a bike through a crosswalk, let Montgomery County lower its speed limits, and convene a task force of planners, lawmakers, and advocates to study highway safety are up for consideration.

My organization, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, is working to help pass these bills:

Legalizing HAWK signals in Maryland- SB 338

The State Highway Administration has consistently rejected requests by localities to install pedestrian hybrid beacons. Also called HAWK signals (High-intensity Activated CrossWalK), these are designed to help pedestrians cross busy streets by stopping motorized traffic with a red light mid-block rather than just at intersections.

HAWK signals are vastly better than the current treatments available at crossings of state roads in Maryland. Rather than merely flashing yellow as a warning at crossings, HAWK signals have a solid red phase to make traffic come to a complete stop, allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to cross safely.

This bill explicitly permits the use of HAWK signals and specifies the responsibilities of road users when approaching them.

The right to ride a bike through crosswalks – SB 337

This bill clarifies the rights of bicyclists to ride through crosswalks. In December 2015, 19-year-old Frank Towers was struck and killed while riding his bicycle in the crosswalk at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Turkey Branch Parkway. A judge acquitted the driver who killed Towers under the rationale that Towers was riding the bike, instead of walking it, in the crosswalk, and was therefore not protected by the same law that protects pedestrians and people in wheelchairs.

This bill also clarifies that drivers must stop for pedestrians waiting at the street corner or median to cross, changing the requirement that the person wishing to cross must step into the traffic lane to trigger the right of way. There are many roads in Maryland that are so busy that to wait until a break in traffic to legally cross means a very long wait.

Lowering speed limits in Montgomery County – HB 337 and HB 332

Speed reduction is one of the most important tools in the toolbox for making streets safer for all road users, especially those who are most vulnerable in a crash: bicyclists, pedestrians, the mobility impaired, elderly, and children. Currently, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) is not permitted by law to post speeds below 25 mph.

These two bills empower Montgomery County to set speed limits lower than the statutory minimum, giving the county more control over its streets and more options for saving lives as it pulls together its Vision Zero Action Plan.

HB 337 would lower the default, statutory speed on undivided residential roads from 30 mph to 25 mph where the speed limit has not been altered and posted by MCDOT. HB 332 would allow MCDOT to reduce speeds on these roads as low as 20 mph after doing a speed study.

County planning staff have indicated that these changes, particularly the ability to go to 20 mph, would dovetail nicely with the creation of a neighborhood greenway, also known as a bike boulevard, which is being contemplated for some streets in the County’s Bike Master Plan.

Creating a task force to study bicycle safety on Maryland highways – SB 142

The task force will take a comprehensive look at what we need to make our state highways safer, and will include a broad variety of stakeholders, including the Motor Vehicle Administration, State Highway administration, bicycle advocates, Maryland state delegates and senators, representatives from the insurance and motor vehicle industry, and more.

Show up!

If you live in Maryland and want to send support for these bills, you can do so from WABA's form here.

The public hearing for the HAWK and Crosswalk bills is next Tuesday, February 7th at 1 pm in Annapolis. Bike Maryland is organizing a press conference at 12:30 pm.

If you are available and willing to present testimony, please let WABA know. Each person is allowed to speak for three minutes. We can help you with your testimony and answer any questions you may have about the bills. Contact advocacy@waba.org.

Here is a link to the Judicial Proceedings Committee guidelines for presenting testimony.