On Saturday afternoon, Baltimore cyclist Thomas Palermo was struck and killed by a vehicle that left the scene of the accident. The driver was later identified as Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook. (According to the Baltimore Sun, Cook initially left the scene of the accident but returned 20 minutes later.)
The accident occurred north of Northern Parkway, past Gilman School on a residential part of Roland Avenue–a route that’s popular with cyclists, and one with a dedicated bike lane. Palermo was a dedicated cyclist (as well as a husband and father) who was known and loved by many around town.
Baltimore Fishbowl reached out to the city’s top cycling advocates, Jed Weeks, president of Bikemore, and Nate Evans, executive director of Bike Maryland, to get their perspective on the current status of cycling safety in the city:
Is Baltimore doing enough to protect cyclists? What infrastructure/policy changes would make city streets safer for people on bikes?
Roland Park residents and Bikemore asked the city to improve the Roland Avenue bicycle facilities during the resurfacing project, currently underway. Traffic-separated bicycle lanes could have prevented a crash like this. Unfortunately, these requests were ignored in favor of maintaining vehicular traffic speeds, speeds which likely contributed to Tom’s death.
Baltimore is dangerously adhering to 20th century transportation planning models, which prioritize motor vehicle throughput. Most major American cities are abandoning these practices to increase safety for all road users and provide more efficient transportation options to become more livable cities.
Baltimore needs to stop trying to fit bicycle infrastructure in as an afterthought, and begin planning with it in mind from the start. In order to compete with our neighboring cities, we should follow their lead and prioritize bicycle, transit, and pedestrian infrastructure above personal automobiles. A good start would be to accelerate construction of the Maryland Avenue and Mount Royal cycle tracks as well as the rest of the Downtown Bicycle Network.
Maryland needs to use laws that are already in place to thoroughly and effectively prosecute people who drive aggressively, distracted, or leave the scene of a crash. Bikemore would welcome any work by the legislature to strengthen existing legislation protecting bicyclists and targeting aggressive and distracted drivers.
What can cyclists do to protect themselves?
People who ride bicycles already take protective steps. It is up to people driving cars to recognize that a person on a bicycle has a full right to be in the road, and to drive carefully and safely at all times, not just when around people on bicycles.
What would you say to someone who says that accidents like this make them less likely to want to ride their bike around town?
First, we don’t call crashes like this “accidents.” Distracted driving is not an accident. Leaving the scene of a crash is not an accident. This was a completely avoidable crash.
Riding a bicycle is still a safe method of transportation. And, as more people choose to ride bicycles, safety increases. The more bicycles are on the roads, the more normal it becomes. People who ride bicycles are not an anomaly or obstacle to avoid, but a human being whose life matters.
We would encourage existing riders to keep riding, and tell people who are on the fence to attend a few bike parties or take a commuter workshop to gain comfort on the road.