Cyclists’ deaths spur calls for improvements at Md. crossing

WASHINGTON — Cycling advocates are pushing for added safety measures at a Montgomery County, Maryland intersection where two cyclists were killed within months of each other.

Frank Towers, 19, was fatally struck by a vehicle at Veirs Mill Road and Turkey Branch Parkway in December. Mauricio Gutierrez Osorio, 31, was fatally struck at the same intersection on July 17.

As a result, Bike Maryland, an advocacy group for cyclists, is petitioning the Maryland State Highway Administration to install a pedestrian-activated red light known as a “HAWK” light at the intersection.

Bike Maryland’s Kim Lamphier said the latest death “clearly indicates that existing crosswalk is not safe.”

“The State Highway Administration needs to act swiftly to ensure that cyclists and pedestrians can safely cross this intersection,” Lamphier said in an email to WTOP. “Bike Maryland will work with our elected officials to make our state highways safe for all users.”

Also known as Md. 586, Veirs Mill Road is maintained by the state. Dave Buck, a State Highway Administration spokesman, said HAWK lights are not used on state roads.

According to Buck, each state has a Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. He said that the last time Maryland’s manual was approved, there were concerns about the safety of the HAWK lights, specifically that the timing of the flashing red lights might not enable a pedestrian to get completely across a given intersection.

Buck said that since the deaths of Osorio and Towers, added signage and a warning beacon were placed at the crosswalk, where cyclists are urged to dismount before crossing the road.

Bike Maryland is not alone in pressing for a different approach to safety at the crosswalk. The Aspen Hill Civic Association has written to the state about safety concerns.

On July 20, the Montgomery County Council sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and State Highway Administration chief Gregory Johnson voicing concerns over the intersection and state laws.

The letter, which was signed by all nine council members, claimed that Maryland law protected pedestrians in crosswalks but failed to give the same consideration to people in wheelchairs or on bikes.

The council advised it was working with the county state delegation to Annapolis to amend the law. A similar letter was sent by the council following Towers’ death.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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