Montgomery County Roads Are Less Safe Due to New “Road Rules”

Councilmembers Berliner (D) and Riemer (D) made a poor decision sponsoring Bill 33-13 that was unanimously supported and passed by all Councilmembers in November 2014.  The law has made county owned roads less safe in pursuit of progressive fantasies about bike lanes.

Rather than promoting safe cycling, Bill 33-13 radically changed the design and safety of Montgomery County roads.  First, the maximum width of county owned roads was reduced from 12 feet 10 feet maximum and less, with the only exception being that if the lane is adjacent to the curb then the maximum width is 11 feet.  Second, the radii of curbs in urban areas was reduced to 15 feet which creates sharper corners.  Lastly, the speed limit also was reduced to 25 mph in urban areas.

Before the County Council voted on Bill 33-13, the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy &Environment (T&E) Committee chaired by Councilmember Berliner held a couple of public hearings.  There were multiple testimonies that urged the Council to reconsider the changes.  One of the witnesses was Ron Welke, the former Chief of Division of Traffic Engineering, in the MCDOT and a Supervisor for Development Review at the M-NCPPC in Montgomery County.

Mr. Welke urged Councilmember Berliner and the committee to reconsider the proposed changes.  In his ominous testimony he stated: “A balance must be reached between the competing and often conflicting goals of safety and mobility; of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit vehicles, in an urban environment.  For example, a curb radius of 15′ does reduce the crossing distance at an intersection for pedestrians and tends to slow vehicles down as they make a right turn.  However, a transit vehicle or a UPS delivery truck may not be able to make that right turn without either encroaching on the approach lane or mounting the curb, both safety issues.  A 20′ or 25′ radius may be more appropriate in that case. Similarly, setting target speeds or speed limits too low may violate driver expectations and cause a disparity in actual speeds, another safety issue.  During my tenure with MCDOT, we established a safe and realistic speed limit policy that, to the best of my knowledge is still in effect today.”

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In addition to his careful analysis on the radii of the curb and speed limit, the third major change to the width of the road also creates problems.  The maximum width of county roads was reduced to create bicycle pathways.  Ten feet wide lanes are not even wide enough for emergency vehicles to stay on the road.  For example, a typical fire truck width from mirror to mirror is 10 ½ feet.   Also, Maryland law also mandates at least three feet clearance to pass a bicycle in efforts to “share the road”.   On Montgomery County roads that means motorists are to give cyclists three feet of clearance when passing bicyclists on a 10 foot lane.

The typical bicyclists crash analysis by the Montgomery County Police Department identified the leading causes of the bicycle-vehicle crashes:

  • When motorists made left turn while facing the approaching bicyclists.
  • When motorists make right turn and bicyclists riding in opposite or the same direction.
  • When bicyclists make a left turn in front of the traffic traveling in the same direction.
  • When motorists turn right and strikes a bicyclists that is riding the wrong way, against traffic, but could be legally riding on the sidewalk or on an adjacent shared-use path.

According to the Montgomery Police analysis, Montgomery county ranked in the safest tier nationally tier on the pedal cyclists prior to enacting of Bill 33-13. From 2006 to 2010 there were only 3 pedalcyclists fatalities.

Recently, there have been at least three fatal accidents in Montgomery County that involved bicyclists and pedestrians.  One of them occurred on November of 2014 on Darnestown Road, near Quince Orchard Road where the bicycle lanes have existed for many years before even the Bill 33-13.  In August, 2015, a bicyclist was killed in a deadly accident in Bethesda, though the police reports state that the police were not sure who was on which lane.  The most recent accident in October involved a pedestrian.  In this case, police were also not sure if the pedestrian was on the road.   The official data on all pedalcyclists accidents  for 2015 is not available yet.

Unfortunately, Mr. Berliner has chosen to politicize the last two accidents in order to push his agenda to the state level.   On the anniversary of his dangerous Bill 33-13, Councilmember Berliner has called for“Day of Action” on November 3rd, 2015.  Mr. Berliner said, “In the wake of these two tragedies, residents have been asking, ‘What can we do now?’ And my answer in this moment is this: We have to mobilize.  We have to show the State how important getting these two roads right is for our community.”

If Mr. Berliner and the Council want to get county roads right for our community and truly foster safety, they should repeal their Bill 33-13.

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