On Jan. 16, Seth Grimes, Maryland organizer for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), introduced the group’s 2024 legislative agenda by saying, “Prince George’s [County] has the highest rate of road deaths in Maryland, three times the rate of road deaths as Montgomery County. That is shocking. We have a commitment to zero deaths. That’s why this program is not only about bicyclists and pedestrians but all vulnerable road users.”

WABA’s definition of vulnerable includes workers, people in wheelchairs or on scooters, and anyone else using the roadways who is not in a car. 

Representatives from WABA’s local affiliate, Bike Maryland, participated in the virtual meeting, which included interviews with Prince George’s County Delegate Anne Healey (District 22) and Antoine M. Thompson, who heads the state’s Commission on Transportation Revenue and Infrastructure Needs.

Thompson, a county resident who also serves as the executive director of the Greater Washington Region Clean Cities Coalition, said that he strongly supported biking and alternative transportation initiatives, but that funding decisions have to take into account a $2 billion shortfall in the state’s budget for capital projects. He said, “I think that we’re a lot more likely to succeed by backing an initiative to issue long-term revenue bonds than trying to raise taxes.”

Organizers of the meeting urged participants to support legislation before the Maryland General Assembly that could be grouped according to three categories, each of which concern safety: cycling, infrastructure, and new traffic rules and enforcement. 

Below is a summary of the legislative initiatives that WABA is supporting. In most cases, we’ve identified bills that didn’t have a number at the time of the meeting by citing their sponsors as listed in the materials provided for the meeting.

Promoting bicycle use and safety

The Great Maryland Trails Act, sponsored by Sen. Sarah Elfreth (District 30) and Del. Regina Boyce (District 43A) would establish an office that would plan for and identify grants and other funding sources for a state trails network.  

Electric Bike Rebate and Voucher Program, HB156, would appropriate $100,000 annually for rebates and vouchers for electric bikes. 

Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Memorial Act ( HB 337, SB315). This would make killing a bicyclist in a bike lane as serious an offense as killing a pedestrian in a crosswalk and would carry similar penalties, including up to two months of jail time. Langenkamp was killed while biking in a dedicated lane in August 2022; the driver of the flatbed truck that hit her was fined $2,000, which is the maximum under the proposed legislation.

Bikes on sidewalks (HB-111, SB 77.). This bill would allow bikers to use sidewalks as the statewide default but allow local jurisdictions to prohibit such use when appropriate.

Stop as Yield, sponsored by District 43A delegates Elizabeth Embry and Regina Boyce, would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and proceed through an intersection without stopping if no car or pedestrian has the right of way. Most accidents involving cyclists take place in intersections; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that this approach reduces accidents because cyclists can clear intersections faster.

Vision Zero: Del. Julie Palakovich Carr (District 17) drafted a bill to establish a commission that would include representatives from bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations and would provide more accountability from stakeholders on implementation of the law. Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (District 18) has filed the bill as SB 345.

Safer infrastructure bills

Complete Streets Policy (HB 135), would mandate separate design features for cyclists and pedestrians on bridges and for certain roadways.

Changing who is responsible for maintaining sidewalks and bike paths along state roads Two more bills, HB 389 and HB 263, address maintenance of sidewalks and bike paths along state roads. During the WABA meeting, Healey, who sponsored HB 389, said that 30 years ago, when Prince George’s County desperately needed sidewalks, the State Highway Administration (SHA) only wanted to fund roads. At the time, she promoted a compromise that encouraged SHA to build sidewalks, and later bike paths, along state roads, with the stipulation that local jurisdictions would maintain them. Now Healey wants to remove that language so that jurisdictions could negotiate maintenance costs.

Del. Lily Qi (District 15) is sponsoring HB 263, which would make maintenance of sidewalks and bike paths along state roads SHA’s responsibility, with the exception that local justifications would be responsible for moving and snow removal.

Changes to speed limits and traffic rules, use of automated traffic cameras

A note on state versus local traffic rules: Maryland has statewide rules that limit local jurisdictions’ ability to change traffic regulations. Healey explained that the state’s legislative tradition of local courtesy often allows counties to adopt different rules supported by their delegations even if those same rules couldn’t pass statewide.

Statewide legislation

WABA is supporting two statewide changes to traffic law. One bill, HB 278, would allow the SHA to reduce speed limits on state roads by 5 mph without first conducting a traffic study. The other, HB 107, would allow camera enforcement for dedicated bus lanes across the state. Baltimore has had camera enforcement for bus lanes since 2022. Bicyclists can use the dedicated bus lanes.

Montgomery County: No right-on-red, lower speeds, camera revenue

In Montgomery county, WABA supports MC 7-24, which makes no right turn on red the default for urban areas, and a local bill, MC 10-24, similar to HB 278 (above), which would allow area speed reductions in Montgomery County without a traffic or engineering study. 

WABA also supports bills that would require that revenue from school-bus cameras (MC 6-24), or speed cameras (MC 15-24) be used for safety improvements at the locations where violations have taken place or in high-injury locations. 

Prince George’s County: Expanding the monitoring of traffic control devices (PG 301-24). Currently, Maryland allows the use of automated cameras for speeding and red-light tickets only. This local bill, reintroduced by Healey after her statewide version was voted down last year, would allow the county to use cameras to monitor and issue tickets for violating other traffic control devices including stop signs, crosswalks and streets marked do not enter. 

During the WABA meeting, Healy cited an incident in November in which two children were killed and an adult was critically injured in a marked crosswalk near Riverdale Elementary School. She said, “If there had been cameras on the stop signs at that intersection, there would have been evidence to know what exactly happened,” and added, “We may be able to add a provision that the revenues from these devices could partially be used to pay for more crossing guards.”

NBC Washington reported that the driver made a left turn into the crosswalk in front of the school’s entrance, hitting the father of one of the children before running over the children.