Bicyclists See Need to Raise Driver Awareness

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) will conduct a safety study of the section of Md. Route 28 where bicyclist and Kentlands resident Andrew Gerard Malizio was struck and killed Nov. 24. They will present study findings on March 19 at a meeting of the Montgomery County Bicycle Action Group (MCBAG), which is open to the public.

The fatal collision happened in front of the Shops at Potomac Valley Shopping Center as Malizio was cycling east in the far right lane of Route 28/Darnestown Road. A Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission truck hit him as the truck driver turned left into the shopping center. Both drivers had a green light, but a sign at the intersection cautions those making left turns to yield to oncoming traffic.

Speaking on Jan. 15 at the monthly meeting of the Montgomery County Bicycle Action Group (MCBAG), Assistant District Engineer for Traffic Anyesha Mookherjee told the group that SHA would conduct a safety study of the intersection to ascertain what can be done to improve it. She also said that SHA would analyze the crash history of the site and study its signal operations.

At the time of the January meeting, Mookherjee said she had not been unable to obtain the official police report on the Nov. 24 fatal collision.

The Montgomery County Bicycle Action Group (MCBAG) was created by MCDOT in 1996 to gain input from citizens interested in recreational and on-road cycling issues. MCBAG advises MCDOT on current issues, programs and projects relating to cycling in Montgomery County.

The January MCBAG discussion was attended by Mookherjee and Director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Access, Maryland DOT Michael E. Jackson. Also in attendance were several members of MCBAG, some interested citizens and the group’s facilitator, MCDOT’s Pat Shepherd, bikeways coordinator for Montgomery County.

At the January MCBAG gathering, many suggestions seemed to reflect a sense of urgency felt by bicyclists about the need to make motor vehicle drivers more aware that bicycles are sharing the roads.

By Maryland law, bicycles are vehicles and authorized users of the roadway. But, as it states in the Maryland Driver’s Manual, “bicyclists are less visible, quieter, and don’t have a protective barrier around them. Motorists must drive carefully near bicyclists: Even a slight mistake can result in serious injury or even death.”

Bicyclists in Maryland are found on all types of roads (except interstate highways and toll facilities), in all weather, at all times of day and night. According to the manual, “in Maryland, a bicyclist may use the full lane even while traveling substantially below the speed of traffic if the lane is too narrow for a car to safely pass the bicycle within the lane.”

It is also the law in Maryland that cars passing bicycles must allow at least three feet of clearance, whether the bicyclist is in a bike lane, on the shoulder or in the same lane as the car.

Olney resident Joe Fritsch, who attended the January MCBAG meeting and has attended past meetings, is an avid cyclist “of many types” who has ridden the roads—and trails—of Montgomery County for the last 14 years.

After the meeting, Fritsch shared his thoughts on Montgomery County roads and how well they accommodate bicyclists. “For the most part, … local roads are not designed with bicycle flow in mind,” he stated. “With that said, the county is just beginning to truly put forth the effort needed to make roads more friendly.

“The real question is if drivers will start to accept that cyclists have the right to be present on the roads.”

Bicyclists at the MCBAG meeting described such dangers as “right hooks” —where a motor vehicle driver takes a right turn in front of a bicycle and the defensive bicycling technique of watching the front tires of cars in order to be prepared for an unsignalled turn.

Frisch commented, “Right hooks, and drivers treating stop signs and right-on-red as ‘yields,’ are the most dangerous things I find. I stop at stop lights and stop signs and have (experienced) harassment from drivers for that as well. While not the most dangerous, the most annoying thing I (encounter) is drivers who yell at me to get off the road.”

MCBAG meets monthly and welcomes the general public. For more information on MCBAG, check the Montgomery County DOT website’s “Bikeways” link. The next MCBAG meeting is Thursday, Feb. 19, 7 – 9 p.m., 9th Floor Conference Room, 101 Monroe St. (MC Executive Office Building). Telephone remote access is available. Check the website for more information.