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How come so little is being done to protect Howard County residents from the coming Carnage?

No, HoCo is not facing the same kind of carnage as Chicago—or of Baltimore which actually exceeds Chicago’s murder rate on a per capita basis. It’s a different kind of looming carnage that I want to comment on today.  But before I go there, I do think it bears mentioning that there does seems to be a noticeable uptick in crime in HoCo. Shootings (fatal and non-fatal) and knife attacks, once unheard of in HoCo, now feel as common as muggings, robberies, domestic violence incidents, home invasions, drug deals, scams, and fatal DUI occurrences. To this local news junkie, all types of crime appear to be on the rise in Howard County. Perhaps this is to be accepted as inevitable now that we are being pushed to be more urban. The incidence of crime increases with population growth and especially when people start living in highly dense environments. While some criminal acts are HoCoResident on HoCoResident (HCR on HCR) the County’s well known affluence draws additional participants from the Baltimore or D.C. urban areas.

Many would say there’s not much we can do to combat that situation as we become urbanized, but there is another kind of Carnage, the stuff of nightmares, on the increase in Howard County. We CAN do something about it– if we act fast and make it a priority.

Much time, money and energy is devoted in HoCo to Bicycle Advocacy and Sharing the Road.  We now have the Comprehensive Bike Howard plan adopted and an accompanying sizable budget request for FY 2018. While some of the impetus comes from the more daring bicyclists themselves, encouraging bike riding is embraced by the County as a means to decrease the demand for more or better roads as our population increases.   Unfortunately very little effort– or money– appear to be devoted to education and safety in Bike Howard.
There was yet another bicycling advocacy event a week ago and I admit I didn’t bother to attend knowing that my pleas for more education and safety would once again fall on deaf ears. I happen to reside on a street which is already marked with bicycle lanes of considerably variable width. These lanes alternates with great frequency from a width equivalent to a full traffic lane to 4 feet and eventually to nothing. I regularly observe so many violations on the part of motorists and bicyclists that it is making me quite fearful. A sense of anxiety and dread engulfs me when I observe this unlawful and foolish behavior. For some time I have been vocal about my concern that one of two things could happen:

  • I would be involved in an accident involving a bicyclist or
  • I would observe an accident involving a bicyclist

Regrettably the latter occurred about 3 weeks ago and the image is still in my head.

I was driving along Stephens Road just beyond the traffic circle at Whiskey Bottom at 3 o’clock in the afternoon to pick my grandchildren up from school.  I was aware by my peripheral vision that there was an adult bicyclist off to my left as I was approaching the first ‘super-secret building’ (a local designation) on the left. I noted a motorist preparing to pull out of the facility’s gated drive.

I subsequently returned my attention to the road in front of me.  Consequently, I did not see the actual moment of impact (thankfully). But I did observe the immediate effect when an ‘incongruity’ in my peripheral vision again drew my attention.  Why was a person so high off the ground, in the air, at a height at which one does not normally see people???  The impact had clearly sent the bicyclist airborne…… and that image is what continues to stick in my head.

As I slowed my first emotion was of course concern for how badly the male bicyclist may have been hurt.  To my shock and surprise the bicyclist proceeded to attack the car, kicking it repeatedly and banging on the roof.  Maybe it was an adrenaline rush, but it certainly looked odd.

Another car pulled over to assist so I proceeded to pick up my grandkids on schedule. On the return home we passed an ambulance and several police cars at the site.  I guess I’ll never know if the bicyclist was being checked out for injuries sustained in the impact with the car or as a result of attacking the car afterward. It also occurred to me that the motorist might be in the ambulance if the biker subsequently attacked him (or her) or if s/he suffered a heart attack from the emotional trauma of the event.

You may think it heartless to be thinking of the well-being of the motorist rather than the bicyclist under the circumstances. But what WERE the circumstances??? In fact, the adult bicyclist was breaking two laws, rules of the road:

  • Riding against traffic rather than with it (i.e. driving on the wrong side of the road) and
  • Riding without a helmet. (Wasn’t HoCo among the first jurisdictions anywhere to require helmets? Or does that not apply to stylishly coifed adults?)

I don’t want to witness additional accidents or be involved as a motorist—or as a pedestrian.  If we are all going to be sharing the road there needs to be serious effort and energy put into teaching the rules of the road to motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Pamphlets in the library WILL NOT be sufficient. Public service announcements, you-tube videos, educational events at schools, community centers, etc. are needed to get the message out.  I agree with the opinions expressed by Ann Conlin in her Jan 5, 2017 Letter to the Editor in the HC Times (Legal parity on the road for bikes and cars) which suggests bicyclists who use the roadways should be registered and insured.  I would add licensed after passing a written test on rules of the road! There would have to be a commitment to enforce the rules of the road and to apply penalties for lawbreakers.  We cannot continue to overlook a failure to stop at stop signs and red lights, or to stay in one’s lane or to simply ‘drive safely’– by anyone using the shared roadways AND the bicycle paths.  It’s the only way to avoid the coming carnage.

We’ve already experienced a HoCo youngster seriously injured by a hit and run bicyclist on a bike path.  I worry about my friend, a senior citizen who is blind who independently navigates the pathway between Vollmerhausen Road and Guilford Road.  I don’t want him to be the next victim of an inconsiderate cycling Yahoo.

I’m aware that it is risky to oppose the strong “bicycle lobby” that exists in HoCo today.  But I’d rather be considered an old biddy if it

  • saves even one life
  • prevents a life-altering survivable injury
  • saves a motorist from undeserved guilt over an accident at which they were not at fault

Support greater safety programs for sharing the road and the pathway systems while driving, cycling, and walking defensively—and meet me on the high road,

Susan