Maryland cyclists, pedestrians at risk

November 11, 2009

I applaud Michael Dresser's and Laura Vozzella's articles, "At what point does safety trump the right to drive" and "A ride for remembering" (Nov. 9) about the respective tragic pedestrian and bicycle deaths of Johns Hopkins student Miriam Frankl and Greater Homewood Community Corp. member Jack Yates. Thomas Meighan, who had numerous drunk driving violations but still kept his license and vehicle, faces charges in connection with Ms. Frankl's death, and Mr. Yates, whose August death is still being investigated by Baltimore City Police, was struck by a truck turning right from Maryland Avenue onto Lafayette Avenue. In spite of the truck failing to signal a turn, police have indicated that they hold Mr. Yates to be at fault.

While I thank the many Marylanders who put safety first, I'm deeply concerned about our underlying culture of speeding, text messaging, failing to signal turns and expecting bicyclists to always ride at the right hand edge of the pavement. Taking the lane in certain situations reduces the temptation for impatient/distracted motorists to pass a cyclist and then make a quick right hand turn. It also allows room for the cyclist to escape, if a motorist passes and turns right too quickly.

Maryland grants bicyclists the rights and duties of a motor vehicle operator and has published an excellent pamphlet, "Safe Cycling in Maryland." Maryland traffic law provides exceptions to the general rule of keeping right (exceptions include going traffic speed, lane too narrow to safely share side by side with a motor vehicle, turning left, right turn only lane, and one-way street). But unfortunately, nobody except experienced bicyclists seem to be aware of these exceptions. You won't find them in the driver's handbook or test.

Consequently, some motorists wrongly conclude that cyclists have no rights and do stupid things like harassing them for not riding in the gutter or cutting them off with right turns.

Part of Maryland's commitment to being more friendly to pedestrians, transit and bicyclists will be to educate and promote better understanding between nonmotorized and motorized users. The state police and the Motor Vehicle Administration will need to become involved. Public safety, not speed, needs to be the top priority. And please remember to signal turns. Doing so could save someone's life.Jeffrey H. Marks, Baltimore

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