By Rudi Riet of Potomac Pedalers
Attendance wasn't heavy - 14 or 15, at the most, with five Montgomery County Police Department officers, one National Park Police officer, and a MDOT representative also in the room. Most guests in attendance were cyclists, with few Potomac/Seneca area residents there (of these, all stated that they, too, ride bicycles). The forum was run by the MCPD, with one of their head traffic officers, Ofc. Edward Trybus, delivering a presentation on traffic laws and how they apply to cyclists and motorists.
The officer was stern (he's the head traffic rules instructor at the MoCo Police Training Academy), and he came off as a bit combative to many in the crowd. Much as the officer tried to convince the crowd that he "wasn't taking sides," the general feeling amongst the crowd was that cyclists were in his crosshairs. Case in point: the handout and presentation had a theme of "laws as they apply to cyclists, from a motorist-centric point-of-view." This was not lost on the audience on hand.
As the officer worked his way through his PowerPoint presentation (a summary of Maryland traffic laws), one slide caught a lot of attention: a snapshot of one of the big weekend rides (either the 7am or 10am ride, in all likelihood), which showed a peloton of fully law abiding riders: two abreast, not crossing the double-yellow center line, not impeding automobile traffic flow. [WC: the Gazette article covers similar territory]
The owner of The Bicycle Place was there, and took offense at some of the things that the officer said about group riding and its effect on the flow of traffic (note that his rides, the Saturday 7 and 10am rides and the Sunday 8:30am ride out of Silver Spring, are the ones that raise the most ire from motorists and residents of Potomac, Glen Echo, Cabin John and Seneca). Others in the audience raised similar objections, asking what, exactly, "impeding the flow of traffic" entailed. Ofc. Trybus offered nothing more than very vague answers to this, mostly clinging to the "anything less than the speed limit is impeding traffic" meme.
Once it was established that both vehicle operators and law enforcement can agree that enforcement of traffic laws - both for cyclists and motorists - is about *interpretation* of the law (and sometimes subjective interpretation), the discussion became somewhat more civil and productive, if not any less tense. And once the officer's commander took over the conversation, there was more constructive conversation about how to get cyclists to be better advocates for their cause.
The biggest take-away issues:
1. If there is a bike lane or bike path available, a cyclist, in most cases, is legally obligated to use said lane or path while riding in Maryland. However, the general sense is that most police officers will not enforce this rule if the cyclist is not impeding the overall flow of traffic, or if the cyclist is going close to the posted speed limit. Note that cyclists are NOT required to use the two-way, multi-use path on MacArthur due to its design flaws.
2. If a cyclist observes or experiences any problems with motorist interaction, get both the license plate number AND try to get a good look at the driver of the car (because car registration and driver are not necessarily the same). Call it in ASAP.
3. If a cyclist is cited by a police officer, don't fight the charges on the road - take it to court, and be prepared with witnesses and a good understanding of the law.
4. If you see any problem areas with road conditions, call 311 (or 240-777-0311 from a non-local cell phone) to report the conditions (e.g. potholes, glass fields, etc.).
5. It's still the law in Montgomery County that bicycles be registered with the local police department. I asked if the National Bicycle Registry would suffice, but none of the MCPD officers knew - they will get me the answer to this question soon. For folks who live in areas where bikes need not be registered (e.g. DC), no problem: the area of residence's law takes precedence.
I also met one of the two MCPD officers whose beat is MacArthur Blvd and River Road (from Seneca Road all the way to the 495 overpass - Cabin John/Glen Echo is Bethesda PD territory), and he is a very nice guy who is an open listener *and* happens to enjoy cycling, himself (though not at a brisk pace, just yet). Additionally, an officer from the National Park Police was there, and he welcomes dialogue and input from cyclists on matters of road access and consistent enforcement.
In the end, the cyclists and the officers mostly agreed to disagree on a few sticking points, but left with a better mutual understanding of where each party stands in terms of perceptions of the other - which is far better than things were before the forum. And as was the case before: all road users, both cyclists and motorists, can be their own best advocates and worst enemies.
Anybody wishing to contact the MCPD to further discuss these issues (preferably in a civil manner) may email Ofc. Edward Trybus at firstname.lastname@example.org, the officer in charge of cyclist relations.