Bill aims to make Maryland roads safer for pedestrians

One of the bills getting support from a group of Maryland lawmakers in Annapolis would increase minimum fines for traffic offenses involving pedestrians, but it’s not enough for proponents who want a broader approach to making roads safer.

Del. Vaughn Stewart, who sponsored the Pedestrian Safety Act, discussed the measure at a news conference Wednesday.

Before he outlined the legislation, he read the names of some of the pedestrians who were killed in crashes in Montgomery County last year.

Jacob Cassell, Rita Jo Sultan, Sophia Chen, Roger Martinez-Mejia. These are just a few of the names of the people killed in Montgomery County,” he said. “These tragedies have, I think for too long, been accepted as the natural consequences of roads that were designed for cars rather than for people.”

Under Stewart’s proposal, revenues raised from the law would be used to fund pedestrian- and cyclist-related infrastructure to make walking and biking safer.

“We should ensure that walking and biking are safe for Marylanders. Nobody should die simply because they’re using their feet to get around,” Stewart said.

Maryland’s Acting Secretary of Transportation Gregory Slater, a planner and a cyclist, agreed that more could be done to make pedestrians and cyclists safer.

“Of course there’s an education component to that,” Slater said, adding that road design plays a role.

In Maryland, and across the country, transportation planners are working to redesign roads that were built for cars during the 1950s and 1960s.

Slater said one strategy has been to change roads to change driver behavior.

“When you narrow a lane width, you can really provide more of a feel where people are not as comfortable driving as fast,” Slater said.

Slater also said that lower speed limits in densely populated areas make sense and can save lives.

“Twenty-five to 35 miles an hour in these urbanized areas is plenty. We need people to slow down,” he said.

Slater said studies have shown how a reduction in driver speed can make a dramatic difference.

“What I can tell you is there’s a fine line between a pedestrian injury and a pedestrian fatality.”

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