It was 1 year ago today that Frank Towers was struck and killed crossing Viers Mill Road in the crosswalk of the Matthew Henson Trail. Since then, flashing yellow lights have been installed, another cyclist died at the site in almost the same manner and the driver walked away without so much as a ticket because the law provides protection for a pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk, but not a cyclist. About a year earlier, a pedestrian was struck and killed about a block away.
The road is a state road, not a county one, and so it is up to the State Highway Administration to fix it. Following the second fatality, the Montgomery County Council sent a letter to state officials.
“While we appreciate the effort, we believe the flashers are insufficient to address the problem since they require motorists to slow down and exercise caution but not to stop. Drivers continue to exceed the 40-mph speed limit even when the light signal is activated. At these speeds, a collision with a pedestrian or bicyclist is almost certainly fatal.
“In the wake of this latest tragedy, we urge you to take more aggressive action to resolve the serious safety deficiencies at this intersection.”
The aggressive action they want is the installation of a stop light, but SHA thinks the solution is to teach cyclists to push the button and then walk their bike across.
[Hans Riemer], the council member, said there is a need to “fundamentally change the dynamic” at the crosswalk. As he sees it, “the State Highway Administration is prioritizing long trips. They want to move cars quickly over long distances.” Instead, Riemer wants the needs of the local community prioritized — the first step being the installation of a stop signal.
They also asked that the law be fixed.
The County Council also reported that although the State legislature amended Maryland law to allow cyclists to ride their bikes in crosswalks, a judge dismissed charges against the driver who struck and killed Mr. Towers in December, because he was riding his bike, not walking it, and thus was not protected by the law. The County Council also asked that Maryland State law be amended to include wheelchairs, electric personal assisted mobility devices, and bicycles.
The problem has gotten so severe that the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club has created an Action Plan with 12 items and an engagement site to co-ordinate advocacy for the plan, which includes a HAWK light, lower speed limits, extended sidewalks and more.