OP ED: Vision Zero, brighter future for bikers and walkers

IMAGE: Jennifer Hosey interviewed by Telemondo reporter Claudia Curiel, June 7 at the intersection of Piney Branch and Flower Avenue during an event in favor of the four-feet buffer. Photo by Kathy Jentz.

OP ED • BY JENNIFER M. HOSEY

There is urgency for improved public policy strategy for bicycle and pedestrian safety as it becomes a higher priority for local governments. It is a popular issue in communities throughout Montgomery County including Takoma Park. Taking the initiative on this popular issue, the Action Committee for Transit has been calling for Vision Zero for three years and is pushing the message ‘Four feet saves lives!’

Our call for four feet of buffer is one of many asks we are making to policymakers in our Vision Zero campaign. Four feet of buffer protects both pedestrians and bicyclists.

As for dedicated bike lanes, we wholeheartedly support the expansion of bike lanes. From a common sense point of view, neither drivers nor most bicyclists want to share traffic going 45 miles per hour. Dedicated bike lanes create safe and comfortable spaces for both bicyclists and drivers.

Vision Zero is a program to reduce and eliminate bicycle and pedestrian fatalities using a data driven and ‘all of the above’ approach. It has proven results in New York, Seattle, London, and more. A resolution calling for Vision Zero passed the Montgomery County Council in January. It is now in the hands of the County Executive staff to develop a plan by October 1. In order to create the best plan possible, ACT is holding several events designed to get a diverse perspective on pedestrian and bicycle issues. We recently held a successful event in Long Branch where we engaged with dozens of Takoma Park residents.

Our Long Branch event was a pedestrian and bicycle outreach and fact finding endeavor. The event was covered by two television networks. ABC 7 and Telemundo discussed our work as it related to the tragic incident that claimed the life of Santos Escobar-Villatoro on Maryland Route 355. The issues, rather than the location, connected to the tragedy on June 3. The Long Branch location was chosen weeks ago because of diversity.

Four feet of buffer protects those who walk as well as those who ride their bicycles on the sidewalk. It creates a strategically walkable and bikeable environment in terms of actual safety and in terms of creating a feeling of safety. At a meeting that discussed the Comprehensive Master Plan for portions of Route 355, participants universally agreed that the status quo feels dangerous; it feels so dangerous that most people would rather drive than walk just a couple of blocks. It is ACT’s vision that we not only reduce and eliminate bicycle and pedestrian deaths, but also that we positively encourage walking and biking through better sidewalk design.

Montgomery County legally permits bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk except where prohibited by the county executive or by municipalities. For example, Takoma Park does not legally permit bicycles to use the sidewalk; children use their bikes on the sidewalk though. From a real-world countywide perspective regarding the legality of riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, there may be a difference between the theory and practice of the law. From my conversations with police officers as a mid-county private citizen before I joined the Action Committee for Transit, officers said they use discretion in enforcing this law. In fact, while going to school in Montgomery County and getting my driver’s license in a Montgomery County municipality, officers said they prefer young minors ride their bicycles on sidewalks rather than mingle with automobiles. I am not sure that officers were as encouraging to proficient adult bicycle users, hence the discretion. Dedicated bike lanes resolve these issues.


Jennifer M. Hosey is an ACT Board Member.

The Action Committee for Transit has a vision of better communities and better transit. They believe fundamental changes are needed in transportation and land use policies to give the people of Montgomery County and Maryland the quality of life they deserve.

ACT’s broad membership and active volunteers give the group the ability to make the voice of transit riders — and those who would like to ride transit if it were more available — heard in Rockville, Annapolis, and Washington. At the same time, they continue to educate the public about the needs of transit; the organization is democratically governed and is sustained financially by our members.

1 Comment on "OP ED: Vision Zero, brighter future for bikers and walkers"

  1. Their intentions are pure, but ACT needs to be a lot more focused on these issues. What are they suggesting? Allow children to ride bikes on sidewalks in Takoma Park? That’s already the law. Long Branch and the Crossroads area had a horrible pedestrian safety issue about a decade ago due to an influx of residents, many of them working class immigrants who walked or use transit, in an area designed for automobile traffic. People like Erwin Mack advocated for reasonable measures including education campaigns and infrastructure improvements such as improved crosswalks and median fences to facilitate pedestrian safety and cut down on jaywalking. They also succeeded in getting our new transit center funded to improve pedestrian safety by centralizing bus stops in a safe and sheltered location. Of course, some times we take steps backward, such as when ACT advocated for more automobile drive throughs in these areas, but the next step would be to encourage walkability and safety by reducing traffic and encouraging economic redevelopment in these areas that have been designated for transit-oriented redevelopment.

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