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Conway, Hall bring pedestrian safety issues to Annapolis

2/27/14 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

MARYLAND—Delegate Norm Conway (D-38B) and Berlin Town Councilmember Lisa Hall testified before the General Assembly’s Environmental Matters Committee on Feb. 21 to bring the matter of pedestrian safety to a statewide level of awareness.

Conway testified at the committee’s first reading of HB 873, a bill he has sponsored to update the maximum speed limit on major highways to new traffic conditions; require speed reductions in populated areas; and crosswalks, under certain conditions, on divided highways; and allow State Highway Administration officials to tailor the adjustments to actual traffic conditions by conducting studies first.

According to a description of the legislation, the bill would increase the speed limit from 55 miles per hour to 65 miles per hour on divided highways. Conway said the bill would give the state Department of Transportation the ability to set a maximum speed limit of 65 mph on divided highways, after conducting a traffic safety study in a given local district and determining that it is safe to increase the maximum speed limit in that area.

Maryland currently has a statewide statutory maximum speed limit of 55 mph, according to Conway. He explained that most of the highway traffic is now exceeding the limit, which can leave drivers who are driving at the posted limit at risk for accidents when cars approaching at faster speeds must brake suddenly when coming upon them. However, the change would not be an automatic speed limit increase, he explained.

The proposed legislation also included pedestrian safety provisions for crossover intersections at highways in municipalities. In discussing those provisions Conway made reference to a traffic accident that occurred last November in Berlin where two young brothers were struck by a car in an intersection on a divided highway.

Conway asked the committee to consider allowing the local district office for the State Highway Administration to examine local pediatrician safety conditions in order to make determinations about the changes needed at the three intersections in Berlin that cross over U.S. Route 113. “I know that the Town of Berlin has supported this and will ask the committee also to support the concept of a lower the speed limit for those intersections and crosswalk help,” he said.

Also, on a divided highway that has traffic lights and is located in a community with significant pedestrian activity, the bill would decrease the maximum speed limit to 40 miles per hour as the highway approaches the traffic lights.

The bill would require the installation of crosswalks at traffic lights on divided highways located in communities with significant pedestrian activity.

The bill included the caveat that the speed limit must be set in accordance with a specified SHA manual.

Hall testified in her capacities as both a member of the Legislative Committee of the Maryland Municipal League and as a Berlin councilmember. She told the general assembly legislators “Route 113 has become a major north-south corridor from New England to Florida.” She said officials at SHA had not realized the amount of traffic that now travels along that road.

Hall pointed out that that three schools and a park are located along the Route 113 corridor and that the town was trying to promote a “Walkable Bikeable Berlin” campaign. Meanwhile, the motorists traveling along the highway would not be expecting to encounter pedestrians because they are from out of town.

Hall also recounted the tragedy that occurred last year when a police car struck and killed Tymeir Dennis and struck and injured his brother Tyheim Bowen, noting “It was a terrible tragedy all around, for the Maryland State Police and our community.”

She told the panel the accident was not the first in that area. “Finally the community just said ‘no more.’ We need a countdown crosswalk and we need to reduce the speed,” she said.

Thomas Curtin, MML’s government relations and research associate, told the panel the MML supported the legislation and felt that it had the potential to protect the community’s residents. But, in light the state’s recent reductions in Highway User Revenue to municipalities, he said the MML would propose adding an amendment in the bill that the SHA be responsible for constructing the crosswalks, where applicable.

Cedric Ward, the director of the Office of Traffic and Safety for the SHA. He asked the committee to continue to provide the SHA the flexibility to set speed limits based the changing traffic conditions.

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