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How Walk- and Bike-Friendly Are Our Roads?

Not nearly so safe that we can let our guard down

How are the walking and the biking where you live?
    Annapolis is a town designed for walking, former two-term Annapolis mayor Ellen Moyer tells us in this week’s Capital City, her occasional Bay Weekly column. But, she convincingly argues, it’s got a way to go to be a Walk-Friendly Community.
    Annapolis wants to be a Bicycle-Friendly Community, too. Achieving first bronze, then silver recognition from the League of American Bicyclists are two of the progressive goals set in the Annapolis Bicycle Master Plan draft introduced this week.
    Careful steps to shared-road safety are part of both Friendly Community certifications.
    One step in Walk-Friendly Communities is buffer zones between sidewalks and streets to safeguard pedestrians.
    To make Annapolis a more Bicycle-Friendly Community, the city’s Bicycle Master Plan includes “ongoing promotion and enhancement of bicycle safety” in its goal of “a convenient and attractive network of on-street and off-street bicycle routes for all abilities, ages and skill levels.”
    In Annapolis and wherever we walk, bike and drive, it’s time we take those steps — and more.
    Vehicles with big engines rule our roads, but they don’t own them. Far and wide, people are on the road on feet, skates, skateboards, bicycles, scooters and motorcycles.
    The roads of my own neighborhood, Fairhaven in deep Southern Anne Arundel County, are beloved by walkers and cyclists. Each fine weekend brings hoards of long-distance bicyclists as well as motorcyclists, who share a taste for hills, curves, scenic vistas and water views. Cars, school buses and trucks, sometimes hauling heavy loads of timber, zoom by on narrow lanes with often only inches of poison ivy covered shoulder.
    Everybody, even the community’s long-distance walkers, continues onto Rt. 2, where wide, if unmarked, shoulders offer a little protection from the speeding traffic.
    Washington, D.C., where many of the vehicles are headed, is many steps farther along the sharing road. Sidewalks are almost as dense with walkers as roads with combustion-engine vehicles. Bike lanes — some taking the center of major streets and avenues — pair with low-cost and convenient bike ride-away installations and busses with cycle racks.
    Bring up the subject of road share in a gathering — as I did in our lunchroom — and you’ll start a free-for-all. Everybody’s got an opinion and a gripe, and most are well founded. Bicyclists swerve in and out of traffic, ignoring red lights. Motorscooterists ride without helmets or laws. Where sidewalks exist, they’re often so narrow, foot- and traffic-ravaged and overgrown that they can’t be walked on.
    Cars rule our roads like despots, I realized as I walked and biked Solomons Island to Annmarie Garden. They’re not used to sharing, and they’re not looking for you — so you better look out for yourself. Yet as American places go, Solomons is pretty walkable and bikeable.
    Other places, you don’t have a prayer.
    On July 12, two teens were hit as they crossed Ritchie Highway in Severna Park after what should have been a carefree summer evening at the Earleigh Heights Fire Department carnival. Kara Micciche died; Sean Snyder survived, in critical condition. No, they weren’t at a marked crossing. Like them, I jaywalk whenever it’s convenient, because I don’t take the odds against me seriously enough.
    Just after those tragedies, I was vacationing in Cape Cod, another place pedestrians and bikers share congested roads with powerful vehicles speeding determinedly to their destinations. An ambulance passed as we drove to Provincetown, and before too long we saw why. A crushed bicycle lay by the roadside, behind a Scion with a shattered windshield and its own bike rack strapped to its back. Its driver, a crumpling woman, shrieked her astonished grief to a policeman.
    The 16-year-old, we learned in the next day’s Cape Cod Times, had been walking his bike back from an overnight on the beach because his parents had forbidden him to ride on the dangerous roads. The ambulance took him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
    Across America, we’re taking to the roads by foot and bike faster than the slow-arriving changes that will make them safer places to pedal and walk. So as walkers, riders and especially drivers, it’s up to us to take care.
    Follow the Annapolis Bicycle Master Plan at www.annapolis.gov.

 

Sandra Olivetti Martin

Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com