Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

At least nine bicyclists of the mid-Atlantic died in traffic this past year

May 8, 2012 - 01:25 PM
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(Photo: flickr/jessemillan)

May is National Bike Safety Month, and plenty of local events help celebrate the mode of transportation — tomorrow is National Bike to School Day, and D.C. children will gather at Lincoln Park to ride in bike trains to Capitol Hill schools; on Friday, May 11, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association is holding its annual Bikefest fundraiser in Eastern Market; Bike to Work Week is happening May 14 to 18 (and Bike to Work Day is May 18).

But what of bike safety? The need for proper education, infrastructure, and practices remains vital, which holds true across all modes of transportation whether walking, driving, or taking transit. Consider last Friday's report from AAA Mid-Atlantic that at least nine bicyclists have died in the last 12 months throughout the Washington metro area and Maryland. Here's the spotlighted incidents:

A cyclist from Montgomery Village was killed in a vehicle-bicycle crash in Montgomery County yesterday, May 3rd. On April 6, a seven-year-old boy was struck and killed by a car while he was riding a bicycle in the front of his home in Northwest Baltimore. He was not wearing a safety helmet. On October 7, 2011, a 40-year-old bicyclist was struck and killed by a vehicle in in Severna Park, Maryland. He was struck while riding his mountain bike northbound on Veterans Highway in Anne Arundel County. On September 10, a 47-year-old Port Tobacco cyclist succumbed to the severe injuries he sustained in a hit-and-run crash earlier in the month. On September 2, the bicyclist was found unconscious on the side of Chapel Point Road near its intersection with Taurus Lane in Port Tobacco. In September, a 24-year-old Bowie woman was killed when her bicycle reportedly drifted into a travel lane on Crain Highway in Bowie, according to the Maryland State Police. On July 3 2011, a cyclist was struck by a falling tree and killed during a thunderstorm. He was cycling on the C&O Canal Towpath between Whites Ferry and Edwards Ferry in upper Montgomery County. On July 14, 2011, a hit-and-run driver struck and killed a bicyclist on Ritchie Highway north near Bon Air Avenue in Anne Arundel County Police. The driver fled the scene in a small dark colored SUV, according to crash scene investigators. On June 28, 2011, a 14-year-old girl was killed when the bicycle she was riding struck a pedestrian in the 1800 block of Bryant Street, in Northeast Washington, D.C. The girl was not wearing a safety helmet, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. On May 8, 2011, a cyclist was killed after being struck by a car in the 4000 block of Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington County, according to the Arlington County Police Department.

These deaths are unfortunate. The deceased comprise a variety of ages and circumstances and no one reason for their deaths emerges aside from the inherent vulnerability of a conflicted transportation system with lots of different players involved. Resources like @StruckDC help show the sheer amount of accidents on our local streets (the average number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries is about 2,600 a year throughout the region, according to Street Smart). A small debate emerged online this week about how to meaningfully promote bike safety and whether the dialogue is too focused on the bike helmet when so many other elements, from proper lights to infrastructure to a critical mass of cyclists, may contribute to bike safety. The helmet often dominates how people see bike safety, as AAA Mid-Atlantic's conscious noting of whether the dead cyclists wore a helmet or not above, but all those elements are worth discussing and promoting in traffic safety.

Above all, education for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians is crucial. Reporting and enforcement come into play as well, and the D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council has joined with the D.C. police department to discuss how to improve crash reporting and how citations are rendered. "Invalid citations are extremely problematic for cyclists," writes Jameel Alsalam of the BAC. "If a cyclist is improperly faulted in an accident by the police report, then they are faced with the need to go to court to get any compensation. Court costs can quickly swamp possible damages collected." A recent video noted the ongoing confusion over the region's bike laws. Pedestrian safety has also received more attention than usual lately. The D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council unveiled a new website, and Street Smart traffic safety awareness posters fill the city.

Be careful out there, D.C. The challenges will continue as more bike projects transform the streets and new obstructions like more streetcar tracks get installed. Of the 284 traffic fatalities in the Washington region in 2011, the Street Smart safety campaign calculates that 27% are pedestrians and 2% are bicyclists: six dead bicyclists and 76 dead pedestrians along with 202 dead drivers. Not encouraging numbers despite the Street Smart announcement that we've seen "a significant decline in total pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities across the region." The risks of commuting remain.

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