Cyclist Killed in Roland Park; How Can We Make Baltimore Safer for Bikes?

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Photo of Tom Palermo via Bikemore
Photo of Tom Palermo via Bikemore

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.

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  1. Not just the number of cyclists, it is also drivers who bike. When people move around more out of their cars (walking and biking) they are more conscientious of pedestrians and cyclists when they get behind the wheel of a car.

    • Why then do drivers think they have the right of way when it clearly states ‘walk’? Wouldn’t they know better since they too are pedestrians? Why do pedestrians walk down the center of the road in a parking lot? Don’t they then get in their car and wonder why a person is walking down the center of the road? Why don’t people use blinkers? Aren’t they ever behind someone who doesn’t use a blinker and then takes a turn?

      I don’t think it makes anyone more conscientious. Maybe the rare few. But it has not been my experience at all, especially in Roland Park.

  2. That someone would leave a human in the road to die is beyond understanding. It is a cruelty of enormous tragedy that we fear everyday when we bike. And, I am a cyclist. And I am appalled regularly by the way some cyclists ride in the city. This includes, going the wrong way on one-way streets, riding against traffic on main roads, riding at excessive speeds in high pedestrian areas, failing to signal their intentions, failing to stop at 4-way stops when there is traffic at the stop signs, riding during heavy drive-time on narrow streets without bike lanes when there is a street one block over with a safe bike lane, checking their cell phones while riding (!). I am not in any way suggesting that Tom Palermo was in any way responsible for the accident! However, I am suggesting that careless road behavior, helps to create a climate of danger and disrespect. Careless behavior is an exception. Most serious cyclists, like Palermo, are adamant about following the rules of the road. However, careless cyclists are one piece of the pie that tarnishes the movement to create safer roads for cyclists, and walkers. Though a much lesser issue than the hostile, deadly drivers we regularly confront, I think the “lawlessness” of some cyclists, and the climate of disrespect it produces, needs to be addressed also.

  3. This is a good article, but I wish it gave actual tips on how cyclists can protect themselves, rather than solely the [passive aggressive] response here. While it’s probably 2nd nature to experienced cyclists like Jed and Nate, many of us actually do not know this stuff well. Even though I’ve been very casually riding in cities for years, I just recently learned I’ve been wearing a helmet incorrectly and that putting a light on the ‘strobe’ setting is dangerous.

    • J M,

      I encourage you to attend a Baltimore Bike Party or better yet, attend one of Bike Maryland’s commuter workshops. The first gets a lot of new riders comfortable in a group setting, and the second will give you all the skills and know-how you could possibly ask for. Our intent is not to be passive aggressive, but to avoid the victim-blaming that is so pervasive in crashes like this one.

  4. I drive past the Johns Hopkins hospital campus at least 4 times a day. Almost every time I witness irresponsible bikers. Tonight at dusk my teenage son was behind the wheel when an un- helmeted cyclist , dressed in beige, bare of any reflectors dangerously crossed our path. He literally was part of the scenery

  5. Baltimore can increase the number of cyclists by having a bikeshare program, and by making it widespread. Some people don’t bike because bikes can be expensive. Having a bike readily available will help.

  6. While this is tragic and I admit I do not know the details, I think cyclists (in general) need to be responsible on the roads. I have personally been hit as a pedestrian by cycists and have had broken ribs by cyclists who have totally ignored the rules and laws of the road.
    All those who use the roads – drivers, cyclists and pedestrians – need to be conscious of the rules of the road. I have seen cyclists as well as motorists commit terrible traffic errors which can hurt many people. All of the problems are not with motorists

  7. I do not like to have to try to maneuver around a cyclist who is not in a dedicated bicycle lane. It is difficult for many cyclists to keep up with the traffic speeds especially during rush hour. This makes a dangerous condition. I do not feel that I should have to “take a commuter workshop to gain comfort on the road” as I have been comfortable for many years as a motorist. However, I feel that some cyclists should take a workshop to teach them that if they are to ride with other traffic, they should be obeying the same traffic laws as motor vehicles and not weaving in and out of traffic on a whim, or going through red lights whenever they please.

  8. The onus is on drivers to always be on alert. We drivers have a greater responsibility given the dangerous, life-taking vehicle we control. It’s scary and dangerous when some cyclists (and pedestrians for that matter) behave recklessly, but it is one of the reasons we must always be vigilant. Biking is on the rise and that is something, as a community, we should encourage. Let’s all try to make it safer for cyclists so that tragedies like this one will not happen again!

  9. Bicyclists need to get off the road all together. Make a dedicated bike lane ON THE SIDEWALK. It’s not the drivers, it’s the bicyclists that are careless. Weaving between vehicles that are stopped, not obeying traffic signals or traffic signs. Bicycles DO NOT belong on the road.

  10. Drivers! Follow the speed limit and do not drive while intoxicated. When all cars are ALWAYS following the posted speed limit, then you cagers can complain about cyclists. Oh yeah, and drivers of das autos – stop rolling stop signs and use your dang turn signals!!! Bike on people!

  11. To link Mr. Palermo’s death by drunken driver to statements about drivers having to recognize that bicycles have a full right to be in the road and that drivers need to be more careful….is quite the spin. Makes it sound like roads were made for bikes, not cars and that drivers are all drunks. If bicyclists are going to ride on the roads then they too need to abide by the laws and so many do not. They run through stop signs, red lights, cross lanes, weave in and out of traffic. It is frightening. Frankly, I am amazed that there have not been more deaths. The chances the bicyclists take is baffling. It is as if they have a death wish.

    I am not including Mr. Palermo in the above. I do think he is the exception. But no precautions are going to cover everything, like a drunk driver.

    Perhaps you would be better served to go after drunk drivers. AND bicyclists would be better served reading this article which goes into detail on bike safety ::

  12. The tenor of many of these comments reveals the real problem: the us vs. them attitude of some drivers and some bikers. Leaving aside chaos factors like drunk drivers and daredevil bikers, there still needs to be a way to help well-meaning, responsible drivers avoid hurting well-meaning, responsible bikers. The infrastructure and societal attitudes could help out a lot more than they do.

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