Stop Building New Roads Until Old Ones Are Safe

Eric Norton is the Director of Policy and Programs at the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. He recently shared with us a letter that his organization and several others co-wrote and sent to Maryland's Secretary of Transportation. We're reprinting the letter today in the hopes that it encourages others to speak out for reform, as so many of our writers this week have done in their own states.

Joint Letter of 6 Transit Groups to Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn

November 4, 2015

Dear Secretary Rahn,

We are deeply concerned about the recent epidemic of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on Maryland's highways. Our highways are not designed for safe cycling and walking, and the toleration of these dangers by state and local agencies over many years demonstrates a lack of proper safety culture. We call on you to direct the State Highway Administration to devote all its energies to remedying these unsafe conditions and halt construction of new and expanded highways until they are fixed.

In last Sunday's Washington Post, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx wrote that “Metro can forget any new rail-expansion projects until it meets our safety standards.” Maryland's highways are much more dangerous than Metro. If the safety-before-expansion policy is appropriate anywhere, it is on our deadly roads.

Within just the last two weeks, pedestrians have been killed at three patently unsafe locations on Maryland highways:

  • One-year-old Jeremiah Perry, in a stroller waiting for a bus, was killed in Baltimore Sunday night. A car struck by a driver fleeing police caromed onto a narrow sidewalk, placed by highway engineers within inches of Moravia Road's high-speed traffic lanes.
  • 95-year-old Marge Wydro was killed on October 21 crossing MD 190 in Bethesda, a pedestrian-hostile road with a 45 mph speed limit. The crash occurred shortly after a sidewalk connection was removed, directing pedestrians to walk in a traffic lane to reach the button they must push to get the walk signal.
  • On the same day Michelle Hoyah, 18, was killed by a southbound driver on US 29 at Oak Leaf Drive. This location, where soutbound drivers move at divided-highway speeds past a busy bus stop, has been a known danger spot for over 25 years, and Ms. Hoyah was the second pedestrian killed here in three years. Yet the State Highway Administration has refused to install a traffic signal or even mark the crosswalks.

Although excessive speed and driver error played a part in each of these deaths, an absence of concern for pedestrian safety in the design of the sidewalks and the roadways makes these locations unsafe. The highway safety culture itself needs to be upgraded to protect pedestrians and bicyclists without discouraging walking and cycling. Until that safety culture is put in place, we should not continue the construction of dangerous highways.


Action Committee for Transit
Nick Brand, President

Central Maryland Transportation Alliance
Brian O’Malley, President & CEO

Citizens Planning & Housing Association
Richard Hall, Executive Director

1000 Friends of Maryland
Dru Schmidt-Perkins, President

Prince George's Advocates for Community-Based Transit
Lessie Henderson, Co-Chair, 

Transportation for Maryland 

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance just gave their state a "D" grade on its 2015 Transportation Report Card, so it looks like Maryland has a long way to go before it creates a truly productive, safe and affordable transportation system. But we hope that leaders in the state of Maryland take note and shift their focus away from building unsafe new roads.

(Top photo by Doug Kerr)

Read more from our #NoNewRoads campaign: