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County should get behind bicycle safety initiatives [Editorial]

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, bicycle fatalities nationwide have gone up for three straight years. In Maryland, 556 bicyclists were hurt on the highways in 2013. Bicycling clearly has perils and that was driven home recently when a collision in Baltimore killed cyclist Thomas Palermo.

The tragedy is a good time to underscore the basics for those behind the wheel. That can be done through driver education classes and through consciousness-raising bike safety promos. In Maryland, for example, a 2010 law requires motorists to provide three feet of space between themselves and a cyclist they are passing.

Baltimore County has the distinction of ranking among the top 10 jurisdictions in the country based on the Complete Streets policy the County Council initiated that takes into account the use of roads by cyclists and pedestrians, as well as motorists.

But more concrete steps are also called for, and two county councilmen have other bike safety intitiatives that also deserve support from the rest of council.

Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville and Arbutus, said the county should have a line item in its budget that would result in more bike lanes being created whenever a road is resurfaced that is wide enough to contain them. He also favors physical barriers that separate bike lanes, though they can be expensive. Such measures should be part of County Council budget planning this spring.

David Marks, who represents Towson and Perry Hall, and who joined Quirk in creating the county's Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, has consistently promoted bike lanes and bike parking requirements. He wants bike lanes widened from three to five feet where possible in some parts of Towson and stiffer penalties for cars that park in bike lanes. He also believes traffic-calming measures should not be tied to road classification but instead be a judgment call by engineers and the community.

Meanwhile, cyclists have their share of responsibilities, such as confining themselves to bike lanes when available, making themselves as visible as possible with clothing and lights, and following the rules of the road.

Bicycling deserves encouragement in Baltimore County. That means encoding bicycle safety in statutes and in the design of roads. Baltimore County, motorists and bicylists should all climb aboard.

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