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Tuesday, September 23 2014 @ 02:22 PM UTC

The State of Bicycling Advocacy in Maryland

Biking in MarylandImagine for a second that the state legislature was considering a law that would effect cyclists and we did not find out about it till two months has passed after they voted on it, how would you feel?

Now let's say this is common practice and they mostly vote the way we want or at least what comes out is not that bad, does that make that practice better?

And for those involved with legislative issues you are familiar with the self appointed authority in the House subcommittee chair who feels that he knows best and added our notorious narrow highway exception to our three foot law.

Well this is the best "standing on one foot" summary of my issue with MBPAC. Now don't get me wrong, all appointed members are great people but they are acting as a substitute for public comment for cycling related issues and well... timely reporting of what was discussed as well as the subject of what is going to be discussed at the various meetings (both the main meeting and subcommittee meetings) would be highly desired. And to be quite frank, I have been fought at every turn trying to encourage this. Even my so called victory of the Open Meeting's Act violation has been willfully ignored. (Is that an overstatement? Maybe but things could be much, much better then what they are now. (I will note there has been some improvements since my action like the October minutes are available on-line unlike before where they could be six months behind. But we are in December now, not November as required by the Open Meetings Act.))

As far as the committee acting as a substitute for public comment, this can be a very good thing. My experience with working on the bicycle section of Maryland's Drivers' Handbook showed that cycling advocates working together to hammer out exact language we want worked out far better then thousand of individual comments that some unknown has to put together. In some cases some wanted X wording and others wanted Y wording, so we tried to accommodate both in new language and I think the resulting language worked out better then either X or Y wording. This is the power our cycling advocates have in committees.

But like our three foot law, we wanted just "pass a cyclists with at least three feet" type language but in order to appease that authority in the House subcommittee chair, things got all mucked up. There is a big problem when someone in authority holds outlying positions and asserts their authority to do so. Similarly we have a problem not too different then this in MBPAC.

In the article I just posted "on Walkability and the One Mistake That Can Wreck a City" http://www.baltimorespokes.org/article.php?story=20121223103606875 Highlights the problem when the "authority" has their priorities too narrow or just wrong. Car Free Baltimore discusses something similar "On Being a City Planner In a Room Full of Engineers" http://carfreebaltimore.com/?p=2509 and you sort of see the problem of two different "authorities" that have an impact of bicycling, is one right and the other wrong? As you can see it's more complicated then that but in general it does seem that DOT centric engineers are a problem to what we want to accomplish.

Now I confess that I am acting on privileged information that I wish I can share, as you too would be outraged. But in lieu of that let me share an old alert that sort of gets to a problem: http://www.baltimorespokes.org/article.php?story=20110415131723378

So one issue when we are talking about a (certain) state employee acting as our cycling "authority" and they seem to just defend current MDOT practices rather then being our advocate for change. (As if to say "The state is allowed to do that, so what's the problem?")

Another problem with our "authority" in MBPAC is kind of like the conflict between AASHTO and NACTO, you can say nice things about both and you can say some negative things about both. As cycling advocates we try and glean the best of both but what would happen if our MBPAC authority is pro-AASHTO and anti-NACTO? (Keep in mind this is just for analogy purposes and not an accusation.)

What kind of things might come about by that stance?

1) Door zone bike lanes: ASSHTO supports them and NACTO has alternatives. One big problem for us in Maryland is we have a law that requires us to ride in bike lanes, so those of us who for our safety would like to ride outside the door zone and hence outside the bike lane have a huge up hill legal battle if we are in an accident or get ticketed. So advocates in Maryland are pushing for alternative treatments when a bike lane is in the door zone.

2) Cycle tracks: Not in AASHTO but they are in NACTO. So should cycle tracks be encouraged or discouraged?

My point here is even an "authority" or "expert" in bicycle accommodations can still fail to act appropriately by trying to standardize on door zone bike lanes and trying to nix cycle tracks in policy documents. Is there a educated framework that justifies that stance? Sure but one problem with that framework is it's decades old and is very slow to change.

I've ridden in NYC where a lot of NACTO comes from and it was amazing! Was everything perfect and acted flawlessly? No but even so I have a lot of good things to say about the creativity and effort in trying to make bicycling more accessible in NYC. So my big question is why don't we want that here?

Maybe that's an unfair question but my impression is our "authority" spends more time trying to reduce advice from cyclists to be acceptable to DOT over trying to get DOT to be more open to advice from cyclists. Granted that's a hard thing to quantify and the lack of transparency is not helping at all but it is something we need to have a conversation started about, which is why I wrote this post. I have been seeing too much DOT centric junk come from our "authority" then creative world transforming things.

Just as we have had some self appointed "authority" add the (one lane) narrow highway exception to our law I wounder what our "authority" in MDOT is saying about the recent summary of that law from MDOT is? ("... The 3-foot law has an exemption for roads that are too nar­row to allow 3 feet of clear­ance safely. In this case, drivers are allowed to pass cyclists with less than 3 feet.") Is our "authority" just saying "That's fine as that's what the law says" while totally ignoring standards in giving safety advice in that need to to clarify the law and be applicable in rectifying a common problem(s).

As I said previously having a "Don't drink and drive." safety campaign along with "Having 4 drinks before driving is fine." is outrageous even though I can make a case that in some cases that's what the law says. So why is MDOT pushing a rare case (more rare then the % population that can have 4 drinks before driving) on our safety campaigns that does not solve a common problem?

I'm not sure what our "authority" in MDOT has or has not done on this issue but if he has done something it has not been very effective and if he has not done anything, well that's upsetting as well.

While I am on this subject you have an opportunity to correct our three foot law summary here: http://www.baltimorespokes.org/article.php?story=20121221120147945

Hopefully I made some points that our "authority" needs to show results and not just show off their educated prowess. And if they do show off their educated prowess we would like to see that employed to improve MDOT in their accommodation of cyclists and not improving cyclists comments in accommodating MDOT.
.
About MBPAC": http://www.mdot.maryland.gov/Office%20of%20Planning%20and%20Capital%20Programming/Bicycle/MBPAC.html

Recommended changes to the Drivers' Handbook: http://www.baltimorespokes.org/article.php?story=20101026001608737

And note the text we wrote there, why is MDOT trying to change that?

Pass with Care -- Give Bikes at Least 3 Feet
Pass a bicyclist as you would any slowly moving vehicle. Be prepared to slow down, wait until oncoming traffic is clear and then allow at least 3 feet of clearance between your car and the bicyclist when passing. The same 3-foot clearance applies if you are passing a bicyclist in a bike lane, on the shoulder, or in the same lane as your car. After passing a bicyclist, check your mirror to ensure that you have completely passed the bicycle with enough room before you move back to the right.

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