Bike Bills in Maryland’s 2016 Legislative Session

Woodglen Drive Protected Bike Lane image from Montgomery Planning

The Maryland State Legislature is in the midst of its short session, and bike legislation under consideration needs a boost of support from the bicycling community.  Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are leaders on bicycle issues, but many changes have to happen at the state level. It only takes a minute to send a letter of support to your representatives, and it makes a big difference when they hear from you.

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Below are the bills that need your support.

HB 214Three foot passing law amendment—Currently, Maryland has a law requiring motorists to pass bicycles with at least three feet. However, under the “narrow lane” exception to this law, drivers do not have to pass with three feet where the lane is less than 14 feet wide. Most of the lanes in Maryland on which a person would want to ride a bicycle are narrower than 14 feet, making the protections of the law close to meaningless.  This bill would remove the narrow lane exception from the three foot law, so that vehicles have to give three feet when passing on all roads. Of the 28 states that have three foot passing laws, Maryland is the only one with this self-defeating exception.

HB 426: Repealing the mandatory use of bicycle infrastructure—Maryland law currently requires a person on a bicycle to use a bike lane if one is available, instead of riding in traffic lanes. This may have been a reasonable law ten years ago, but it does not make sense today, given the wide variety of skill and comfort level of people who bike, and the new types of protected infrastructure being built.  For example A 30 mph paceline should be on the roadway, not the protected bike lanes that are often used by slower moving commuters.  Protected bicycling infrastructure is a wonderful amenity that encourages folks to ride who might not feel safe doing so otherwise, but it is not for everyone. Marylanders should have a right to use their own best judgement in choosing the routes that are most appropriate for their style of riding.

SB 302/HB 864: Punitive Damages for Aggressive Drunk Driving— This bill creates a cause of action for the victim of drunk driving or her family to sue for punitive damages, something current case law precludes. Over the past five years, there were approximately 325,000 violations of driving under the influence of alcohol, 59 of which were vehicular homicide while under the influence. Victims and their families deserve the right to seek compensation for the harm they suffer when drivers make the decision to drive drunk.

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Virginia’s Three Foot Passing Law Begins Today

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Beginning today, Virginia law now requires to drivers to give at least three feet of space to bicyclists when passing. Safe passing laws are effective at educating drivers about safe distance needed to pass bicyclists while providing additional legal protection after a crash occurs.

Virginia is the 21st state to enact the three foot passing law. The District of Columbia and Maryland state both have three footing passing laws on the books, so Virginia’s new law brings much needed consistency to Washington area bicyclists and drivers.

The legislation (SB97) sponsored by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) passed the full Senate on January 21 and it passed the House of Delegates on March 21. The bill was signed into law by Gov. McAuliffe shortly after its successful passage. Learn more about the legislative history of SB97 in our March blog post.

WABA has worked for years with the Virginia Bicycling Federation to advocate for the three foot passing law. We would like to thank the thousands of Virginia bicyclists who contacted their legislators throughout 2014 legislative session.

 

Changes to Maryland Cycling Laws Effective Oct 1

As October 1 approaches and the numerous bicycle-related laws passed by the 2010 Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Governor O’Malley are set to take effect, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on those bike advocacy successes and, more importantly, to ensure that cyclists are aware of the changes.

1. Three Foot Passing

Maryland law now requires motorists to “pass safely at a distance of not less than three feet” when overtaking a cyclist unless: (a) the cyclist is not riding on the right or in the bike lane/shoulder as required by § 21-1205, or (b) the roadway is too narrow to allow three feet. Previously, it was widely assumed that the duty to pass safely meant three feet, but the new law clarifies that it does mean three feet in some situations and does not mean three feet in others.  With this law, it becomes more important to “take the lane” whenever it is too narrow to safely share side-by-side, because otherwise you do not have the legal right to the 3-foot buffer.

2. Requirement to Ride in the Shoulder Repealed

As of October 1, cyclists will no longer be required to ride in the shoulder where a smooth shoulder is provided and there is no bike lane.  However, Maryland remains one of only five states to require  that cyclists ride in the bike lane where provided.  Removal of the shoulder-riding requirement is a significant step forward, but further advocacy is needed on the requirement to ride in a provided bike lane.

3. Crosswalks “Rules of the Road”

The change in law also attempted to clarify some of the rights of cyclists in crosswalks–but many of those rights are still unclear.

  • In jurisdictions where the local government has legalized riding on sidewalks (most of Montgomery County other than Gaithersburg) the bill gives cyclists the right to ride in any crosswalk.  Moreover, at a signalized intersections, cyclists legally in the crosswalk now have the same right of way as pedestrians over cars with a green signal, or a car turning right on red.
  • The bill did not give cyclists the same rights of way as pedestrians in crosswalks without a signal.
  • In jurisdictions where riding on the sidewalk is illegal (most of Maryland including most of Prince Georges County), the bill did not provide for a right to ride in crosswalks.

4. Balanced Funding for Cycling & Walking

The law requires that the Maryland Department of Transportation ensure an appropriate balance of funding for retrofitting existing facilities for cyclists and pedestrians alongside funding for new highway construction, as well as requiring “increased emphasis” on “increas[ing] accessibility for the greatest number of pedestrians and bicycle riders” in transit-oriented areas.

5. Sidewalk and Bicycle Path Construction

This amendment to the existing law requiring the state to fund bicycle pathway construction or reconstruction as part of a project (if included in the project) requires the state to give higher funding priority to sidewalk or bicycle pathway construction projects where their absence is “a substantial public safety risk or significant impediment to pedestrian access.”

Together, these changes to Maryland law represent an elevation of cycling as a means of transportation in Maryland.  Credit is due to One Less Car, the Baltimore Bicycling Club, and the Maryland advocates and legislators who pushed these changes.  We look forward to seeing the improvements, both on the roadways and in the budgets, starting October 1.