Hundreds of cars passed through the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Cheshire Drive on Saturday afternoon, either heading north past the Wildwood Shopping Center, or south toward the Capital Beltway interchange.
The six-lane road is lined with sidewalks and at one point, a bicyclist was riding north on the same side as the shopping center.
There are no bike lanes on this part of the road — and that’s something transportation advocates and elected officials say needs to change in order to avoid another death like that of 18-year-old Enzo Marcel Alvarenga, who was killed Wednesday when his bicycle was struck by a vehicle after leaving the sidewalk.
According to county police, the Bethesda teen was riding his bike southbound on a sidewalk on the northbound side of Old Georgetown Road close to Cheshire Drive when his bike went off the sidewalk and into traffic heading northbound. He was struck by a white 2012 Ford F-250 Cargo van traveling north and was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The driver remained at the scene.
The collision occurred just north of where 17-year-old bicyclist Jake Cassell was struck and killed by a vehicle three years ago. That death led to the creation of bike lanes on a part of Old Georgetown Road, but those lanes did not extend to where Alvarenga was riding.
A needs assessment from the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration, completed in January, showed that the Old Georgetown Road corridor, from north of downtown Bethesda to near North Bethesda, was a “high stress” road for bicyclists, meaning it is more difficult and dangerous for them to navigate versus roads in other parts of the county and state.
Miriam Schoenbaum of the Action Committee for Transit, a group that aims to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety in the county, said Saturday that the sidewalks along the Old Georgetown corridor near where Alvarenga was killed are “extremely uncomfortable” for pedestrians and cyclists because of how narrow they are and their proximity to the road.
Schoenbaum said that at a minimum, bike lanes must be created in the area where the fatal collision occurred. But elected officials and state transportation leaders must work together to accomplish that, she added.
“There are some grounds for hope because there is increasing recognition that this is an increasing problem everywhere in the U.S., and that it doesn’t have to be this way,” Schoenbaum said. “However, for things to change, there has to be the political will to say we are actually going to do things differently this time.”
Steps must be taken even if there is blowback from drivers, she said. “Yes it might inconvenience drivers … [and] people are going to complain, [but] we’re going to do it anyway — there has to be that will to do it,” she added.
Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) said he, along with other members of the District 16 state legislative team and County Council Member Andrew Friedson — whose district covers the crash area — had scheduled an informal meeting with SHA officials before the fatal collision occurred. Korman said he or other lawmakers will mention the recent crash during the meeting, which will take place next week.
He said Saturday that adding painted bike lanes would be a good start, but it’s clear that some sort of physical separation for the bike lanes, like flexible plastic posts or other measures, is likely needed to make Old Georgetown Road safer.
Lowering the speed limit is also a possibility, but motorists are still going to drive at a speed that feels comfortable to them, he added.
It’s possible that recent incidents on the corridor might lead to tangible change — and deaths do mobilize people to lobby their elected officials to take action, Korman said.
“They clearly focus people’s attentions,” Korman said. “I don’t get 25 emails from people about Old Georgetown Road when there isn’t a fatality … this is what causes that to happen.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org