State Asked to Stop Deaths on Veirs Mill Road, Cyclists Not Protected in Crosswalks

Veirs Mill and Turkey Branch

Following the second fatal accident in less than a year at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Turkey Branch Parkway, the Montgomery County Council has asked Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, State Secretary of the Department of Transportation Peter Rahn, and Administrator of the Maryland Highway Administration Gregory Johnson to take “more aggressive action to resolve the serious safety deficiencies at this intersection.”

Only July 17, 2016 at 1:21 PM,  a bicyclist, identified as Oscar Mauricio Gutierrez Osorio, age 31, of Silver Spring. was attempting to cross Veirs Mill Road at Turkey Branch Parkway in a northerly direction in the area of the marked crosswalk when a 2003 Honda Accord that was traveling eastbound on Veirs Mill Road collided with the bicycle and he succumbed to his injuries. Another bicyclist, Frank Lawrence Towers, had been killed near the same spot in December.

The County Council did not believe that the flashers put in place were sufficient to address the problem because they require motorists to slow down and exercise caution but not to stop, stating in the letter that went to the State officials,  “Drivers continue to exceed the 40-mph speed limit even when the light signal is activated. At these speeds, a collision with a pedestrian or bicyclist is almost certainly fatal.”

“In the wake of this latest tragedy, we urge you to take more aggressive action to resolve the serious safety deficiencies at this intersection.” pleaded the Council.

The County Council also reported that although the State legislature amended Maryland law to allow cyclists to ride their bikes in crosswalks, a judge dismissed charges against the driver who struck and killed Mr. Towers in December, because he was riding his bike, not walking it, and thus was not protected by the law. The County Council also asked that Maryland State law be amended to include wheelchairs, electric personal assisted mobility devices, and bicycles.

Below are the text of the letter sent by the Montgomery County Council on July 20, 2016, to Governor Larry Hogan, Secretary Peter Rahn and Administrator Gregory Johnson as posted on Council President Nancy Floreen’s blog:

“Once again, we are mourning the loss of a young man who was struck and killed on Veirs Mill Road (MD 586) at the Matthew Henson Trail crossing. Less than a year ago, another bicyclist lost his life at the same intersection. With downhill approaches in both directions and high traffic volumes on Veirs Mill Road and the Matthew Henson Trail, there is no question this intersection remains a pedestrian and cyclist hazard.

After the fatal collision in December, Councilmember Nancy Navarro wrote the attached letter asking you to expedite the process for implementing measures to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety at this intersection. Since then, the State Highway Administration has taken steps to address the safety concerns and has installed flashing yellow lights. While we appreciate the effort, we believe the flashers are insufficient to address the problem since they require motorists to slow down and exercise caution but not to stop. Drivers continue to exceed the 40-mph speed limit even when the light signal is activated. At these speeds, a collision with a pedestrian or bicyclist is almost certainly fatal.

In the wake of this latest tragedy, we urge you to take more aggressive action to resolve the serious safety deficiencies at this intersection. We ask you to investigate the feasibility of a pedestrian-actuated traffic control device and structural improvements that may make this area safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. We understand from your correspondence with Councilmember Hans Riemer in March that an earlier study determined that the pedestrian volumes did not satisfy the warrants for a pedestrian-activated signal, but we encourage you to take another look in light of the ongoing hazard.

On a separate topic that is also critical for bicycle safety, a loophole in the Maryland law must be fixed. In 2010 the State legislature amended § 21-1103 of the Maryland Code to allow cyclists to ride their bikes in crosswalks. While this was a strong step forward, the law that protects pedestrians on the crosswalks (§ 21 – 502) needs to be amended to include wheelchairs, electric personal assisted mobility device and bicycles. It has been reported that a judge dismissed charges against the driver who struck and killed the 19-year-old at the same intersection because he was riding his bike, not walking it, and thus was not protected by the law. We will be working with our Delegation to amend this law to safeguard all legal users of a crosswalk in our state, and we ask for your support in that endeavor.

Montgomery County shares the Maryland Department of Transportation’s commitment to moving the State toward zero deaths on our roadways. There is no way to prevent people from making mistakes on our roads, but these mistakes need not be deadly. The crossing at Veirs Mill Road/Turkey Branch Parkway and the Matthew Henson Trail is undeniably dangerous, and we thank you for prioritizing improvements there.”

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