Bike ride to Capitol Hill pushes for safer streets after cyclist’s death

It’s been eight weeks since Sarah Langenkamp, an avid cyclist, was killed while riding along River Road in Bethesda, Maryland. A ghost bike now memorializes the place where she lost her life, but her husband and other cycling enthusiasts are turning their efforts to preventing future tragedies — beginning with a ride to Capitol Hill.

“Ride for Your Life” will depart from Wood Aces Elementary School on Cromwell Drive in Bethesda at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19.

Riders will retrace the route Sarah took the day she was killed, past her crash site at 5244 River Road, and continuing to the lawn in front of Congress.

Peter Gray with Washington Area Bike Association, foreground, and bicyclist Dan Langenkamp lay flowers at the ghost bike placed in memory of Sarah Langenkamp, who was killed Aug. 25 while riding with her husband on River Road in Bethesda. (WTOP/Sarah Jacobs)

“We’re doing this to advocate for bide safety and pedestrian safety,” said Sarah’s husband, Daniel Langenkamp. “We’re going to be arguing for $200 million in federal funding for safe streets and safer trucking laws.”

Sarah was killed Aug. 25 when she was struck by a flatbed truck. Montgomery County police said both were traveling east on River Road when the truck turned into a parking lot while Langenkamp was in the bike lane.

“Ride for Your Life” is sponsored by Trek Bicycles, the Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA), and other organizations and partners. Langenkamp expects at least 1,000 cyclists from bike clubs and advocacy organizations, as well as families and federal employees. Participants include riders from half-a-dozen states.

He also hopes to attract some members of Congress to the event.

“It is one of the first events, if not the first, that I’ve ever heard of going to Congress to advocate for safer streets,” said Langenkamp. “There are members of Congress who deeply believe in this cause, and we hope they show up and express their support.”

“Ride for Your Life” hopes to bring a message to Congress, urging members to provide full funding for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Improvement Program in the 2023 spending bill. Organizers say the funding would help communities build safe active transportation infrastructure, including protected and continuous bike lanes.

A ghost bike sits where Sarah Lagenkamp died after being struck by a truck while she was riding her bike. (WTOP/Sarah Jacobs)

The campaign will also press the Department of Transportation to implement practical improvements to truck safety, including required emergency braking and blind-spot monitors on all commercial vehicles, minimum training requirements for class A commercial driver’s licenses and required use of side and front guards to prevent pedestrians or cyclists from sliding beneath truck trailers.

Montgomery County Council member Andrew Friedson, who represents District One, is backing Langenkamp’s efforts. He said he has been working in regular and constant communication with the District 16 state delegation, specifically on the stretch of River Road where Sarah died.

Friedson said changes are being made on Old Georgetown Road and other areas throughout the county to increase safety.

“Specifically on River Road, we are working with the State Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration on implementing immediate safety changes,” Friedson said. “And also for medium- and longer-term improvements, as well.”

Friedson said the stretch of River Road where Sarah was killed is just one of many area roadways that were not built for the way they’re being used today, with inadequate protections for pedestrians and cyclists. But Friedson said the needed infrastructure improvements will cost money and require policy changes at the local, county, state and federal levels.

Langenkamp announced the gift of $50,000 to WABA, which are proceeds from a GoFundMe account that has raised more than $280,000.

Peter Gray is Maryland organizer for WABA and co-chair of the Montgomery County families for Safe Streets steering committee. The WABA-supported organization helps the families of victims, including the Langenkamps, but also advocates for safer streets. Gray said the association will put the gift to good use.

“For one thing,” Gray said, “we’ll be able to continue something that we started this year, which is to have a fund to be able to give money to other groups and other projects in the area that will encourage and create safer environments on the roads for people who walk and bike.”

Langenkamp’s emotions are still raw, and his voice sometimes chokes with emotion as he talks about the work he’s doing in his wife’s name, but he is resolved to bring about real improvements in pedestrian and cyclist safety on the roads.

“We can do something about this, and I hope this money will make a difference. I hope this bike ride will make a difference. But it’s not going to be the last thing that we do,” Langenkamp said. “We’re going to continue working on this issue.”

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