Local bike advocate Steve Friedman wrote the following piece for this blog about aggressive driving on Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda and his recent experience with the Montgomery County Police Department. Steve is a member of the Montgomery County Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee, which meets monthly and reports to the County Executive. In fact he’s the designated bike representative on the committee.
As a regular bike commuter, I have spent time seeking out the safest yet fastest route to use on my daily ride between my home in Chevy Chase and my office on Executive Blvd. My usual route is to take Bradley to Seven Locks Rd to Tuckerman Lane and cut through a neighborhood street that runs parallel to Old Georgetown Road and then onto Executive Blvd to my office.
While not the most direct, it is a relatively safe route as the major roads are mostly one lane in each direction with ample shoulder space to ride on. There is some climbing making for a good all around effort in each direction. This route has served me well over the years with a few exceptions in a couple of spots that continue to be problematic. I decided the time had come to follow the advice of Montgomery County Police (MCP) and reach out to them to investigate.
We all have our ‘hot’ spots on our regular rides, spots where we know the road is in bad shape or the timing of the light is off or where drivers chronically behave in a manner that threatens the safety of other road users. For my route, the more dangerous spots are on Bradley at the intersections of Goldsboro Rd, Fernwood Rd and Burdette. These intersections are more hazardous for me when I’m traveling home from work taking Bradley inbound to Bethesda. This statement is a bit ironic as I was hit broadside by an SUV last year while riding outbound on Bradley on the 6100 block by a resident who didn’t look both ways before accelerating out of his driveway. That incident left me with injuries to both knees and took months of physical therapy before I was riding again and even longer before I could ride near the distance and intensity as before the incident. In this case, MCP interviewed me and I was able to show that I followed all the requirements of a law abiding road user and the motorist was issued a citation indicating a perspective of guilt. The judge however, levied a minor fine and a one day suspension. He cited that the sun was in his eyes leaving the rest of the logical world wondering why accelerate like that when you can’t see. Still working on settling the case but I will collect every penny in damage (the bike was a total loss), time lost (out of work and subsequent doctors visits) and other pain and suffering and still I have the pleasure of riding by his house daily (where I admit I ‘pucker up’ a bit when I approach). But I digress…
The intersection at Goldsboro is like a game of chicken as I gain speed by coasting towards the light. it’s a three way intersection with Bradley in each direction and then traffic coming from the right off of Goldsboro. Cars turning onto Goldsboro from the opposite direction of Bradley always try to beat me to the intersection sometimes resulting in me having to hit the brakes hard. Two state roads with signal timing issues but that’s not what gets my goat.
Bradley at Fernwood and Burdette are separated by less than half a mile, each intersection has traffic signals and are one lane in each direction. They also sit at the top of small climbs resulting in slower speeds as you get closer to these intersections. When riding home, I approach Burdette first. As I approach during this climb, the shoulder narrows around a curve so there’s a bit of anticipation about motorists coming around that turn too fast to hold the lane. Once past the light, I catch a nice downhill that gives me momentum until I have to pedal up to the light at Fernwood. This is where the problems begin. I take the lane during this downhill portion due to the trash and recycling cans that occupy the lane and during the fall the huge leaf piles that make the shoulder inaccessible. I get up to about 30mph and travel with traffic yet many will accelerate hard to pass me. I move back to the shoulder when I can. However, at this point there are many motorists attempting to make a left onto Fernwood. As a result, the shoulder becomes a passing lane, attempting to get around those waiting to turn as quickly as possible, cyclist in the shoulder be damned. Frequently, I have to shout to make my presence known despite running strobe lights on my helmet. A couple of times I have almost been run off the road. In December, three cars crossed onto the shoulder at the same time as I was in the midst of them. My shouting got them all to stop and yield for me (this being December, it was already dark on the ride home with the flashing helmet light, dual handlebar lights, and three rear flashing lights) but once past the light one of the motorists pulled up next to me and cursed me out telling me to get off of his road.
I had enough. If one motorist could submit a letter to the Gazette about cyclists on MacArthur Blvd and generate a mild firestorm between motorists and cyclists including a meeting with MCP on the issue, then I could voice my displeasure about this unsafe behavior. So I contacted Captain Falcinelli of the 2nd District about my concerns. I approached this as a resident and not as a rep of the PBTSAC. He referred the matter to Sgt. McBain who indicated that he would have officers monitoring these hotspots for offenders.
At the end of the month, Sgt. McBain contacted me to inform me that officers spent five hours spread over four days monitoring traffic. During that time, 20 traffic citations and three warning were issued. All violations were for speeding with the exception of one school bus violation but none of the nature I complained about. He states that Bradley is a road routinely patrolled and will continue to do so.
While I’m appreciative of the responsiveness of MCP and the willingness to focus officers to these hotspots, it raised the following thoughts:
1. Even with a mild winter, January is likely going to be a month that sees fewer cyclists than other months.
2. He doesn’t state when the patrols took place either time or day of the week.
3. Four days is not necessarily indicative of what may occur over a month.
4. Speeding violations are routinely caught through the use of a speed camera or radar gun. My complaints were about the use of the shoulder at the top of the hill at the intersection when speeds would be slowest but lane violations the highest. This tells me that the officers were positioned somewhere else in order to catch speeders.
Still, it’s good to know that the police are responsive to cyclists complaints about motorists. Perhaps those that received citations will be more cautious (one can only hope!) but I ride with extra caution on Bradley despite the number of riders typically seen and the signage posted (yes, they are share the road signs but they do alert others to the presence of cyclists). I have encouraged MCP to focus patrols on these hotspots as we enter the warm weather months when the number of cyclists (and potential for car-bike conflict) is highest.