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David Whitaker, left, and his wife Kim Lamphier pose for a photo on the Torrey C. Brown Trail in Baltimore County in 2012.
David Whitaker, left, and his wife Kim Lamphier pose for a photo on the Torrey C. Brown Trail in Baltimore County in 2012. (Courtesy of David Whitaker / Baltimore Sun)

When David Whitaker saw Kim Lamphier for the first time in 2005, she was pedaling tirelessly down a sloping trail on Kent Island, breaking from a straggling pack to try to catch up to the stronger bicyclists nearing the end of their ride.

“Truthfully, what I saw was courage,” Whitaker said of Lamphier, whom he went on to marry in 2007. “It’s easier to hang back in the pack; she was killing herself to get up to the two people [at the front].”

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Lamphier, a Catonsville resident, was a “force of nature” who spent years advocating for bicycle safety, environmentally conscious practices, wildlife protection, small businesses and criminal justice reform, said Kristen Harbeson, political director of the Maryland League for Conservation Voters, a nonprofit that supports environmental conservation measures, of which Lamphier was a member.

As state legislators and special interest groups reconvened Wednesday for the 2020 General Assembly session, those who knew Lamphier said something was missing.

“The world is a lot stiller without her,” Harbeson said. “Especially going into session, I’m definitely feeling her loss.”

Lamphier died Aug. 30 after a yearlong battle with soft-tissue sarcoma, a rare cancer that starts in the body’s soft tissues such as muscle, tendons, fat, nerves and joint linings.

Before her death, however, she gained significant wins for state environmental and cycling advocates, an effort lauded by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in late December when the Maryland Department of Transportation announced $3.8 million in state funding for the state Bikeways Network Program. It was a bill Lamphier championed even as she underwent chemotherapy and numerous doctors’ visits.

“The Bikeways Network Program assures us that Marylanders will have access to a safe, interconnected bicycle network for generations to come,” Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement.

“This critical investment further bolsters our transportation network and honors a dedicated advocate in Kim Lamphier.”

Lamphier, who held a master’s degree in public policy from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, worked on a variety of legislative issues over the course of 30 years, including as a volunteer with Trash Free Maryland and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and as Bike Maryland’s advocacy director.

She previously worked for several major nonprofits in Washington, D.C., including for the Friends of the National Zoo and National Council of Negro Women. In 2005, she joined the Maryland Department of Labor and Licensing before serving as a spokeswoman for Maryland Department of the Environment from 2006 to 2011. She volunteered with Bike Maryland before being hired in 2016.

In her role at the bicyclist advocacy group, Lamphier effectively lobbied in the 2019 General Assembly session to nearly double funding for the Maryland bikeways program from the $2 million committed for fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020. Hogan vetoed the bill due to amendments that changed the scope of the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan, but nonetheless included millions in fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2022 for the bikeways program.

The legislature could move to override that veto in the 2020 session.

The program offers grants and loans to jurisdictions and organizations to support the construction and maintenance of biking and pedestrian paths, one piece of the overall 20-year Maryland Transportation Plan.

Lamphier is also credited by her colleagues for the passage of Vision Zero, mandating that the Maryland Department of Transportation create a road traffic safety strategy through research and by investing more resources in construction needs for high-accident roadways with the goal of eliminating all traffic-related fatalities by 2030.

A bill banning Styrofoam, which had failed in prior sessions, would not have passed in 2019 without Lamphier, Harbeson said.

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“It happened because she was unrelenting,” Harbeson added, but “I think that really the bikeways bill was just where her heart was. … She was really the driving force behind that.”

Her legislative successes are all the more significant given the personal hurdles she overcame to continue her advocacy, Whitaker said.

“After four months of incredibly intense chemotherapy, Kim absolutely shone” in Annapolis, Whitaker said. He remembers bringing her home from a doctor’s appointment in late December 2018, with “no hair on her head. She’s really, terribly weak.”

“She basically slept for a few hours, then got on the phone and starting planning for the 2019 legislative session,” Whitaker said. “I’ve never in my life, I’ve never been prouder of anyone. She pulled it together.”

Although Lamphier, 52, was his junior by 13 years, Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis & Anne Arundel County President Jon Korin said she was “really kind of a mentor and tour guide” to him while the pair lobbied in Annapolis starting around 2014.

“She knew so many people [at the State House],” Korin said. “It was always remarkable to me. So often it was not a, ‘hello, good morning,’ it was a hug.”

Harbeson said, “I know that whenever the bikeways bill is being considered, whenever there’s anything having to do with biking, she will be part of the conversation.“

Two other pedestrian safety bills for which Lamphier lobbied in 2019, but “didn’t get quite across the finish line,” will be proposed again this session, said Bike Maryland Executive Director Josh Feldmark.

One bill, which has yet to be filed, would increase the maximum fine drivers would be liable to pay if they hit and injure or kill a “vulnerable individual,” including a pedestrian, cyclist or emergency service provider, from $500 to $2,000, and would require the driver to appear for a court hearing.

If passed this session, the bill would not preclude drivers from being subject to a civil lawsuit and could also suspend a driver’s license and require community service or driver education, Feldmark said.

According to the transportation department’s 2019 annual Attainment Report on Transportation System Performance, 11 pedestrians and 11 cyclists were killed on state roads in 2017; 499 pedestrians and 85 cyclists were seriously injured in the same time frame.

The other bill, called the “safe pass” bill, would remove an exemption from a law that requires drivers to give a 3-foot berth when passing bicyclists unless they’re driving on narrow roadways, allowing drivers to cross a double-yellow line to safely pass a cyclist, Feldmark said.

The bills, which stalled in the Senate last session, “are part of this bigger picture of changing the way we think about transportation” to make safety the primary goal of transportation initiatives rather than expedition, he said.

Korin will continue to advocate for those bills, but “it’s just not gonna feel right to be down there without Kim,” he said.

For Whitaker: “I’m kind of looking forward, honestly, to the next couple of days in Annapolis. I just want to walk around the streets that I walked with her. Just her presence will still be there.”

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