Cycling was a huge part of Dan and Sarah Langenkamp’s marriage. “We have a bicycle doormat, we have prints of old bikes from the 1930s all around the house … it’s kind of ridiculous,” Dan Langenkamp said.
Langenkamp even has a picture of a bike that Sarah got him for their 10th wedding anniversary that says “It’s been a great ride.” They were married 16 years.
Langenkamp knew there was a problem with bike and pedestrian safety in Montgomery County before his wife was tragically killed while riding her bike in Bethesda in August. And in his grief, Langenkamp said he knew he had to do something so this didn’t happen to another family.
“I just couldn’t let her death take place in vain. I had to speak out to make people more aware of the need to create better protected bike lanes and better infrastructure work,” Langenkamp said. “Everybody uses our streets. Every day, somewhere there’s a pedestrian or cyclist or a person that’s not inside a car who gets killed that seems like an exaggeration… It’s not okay. I was so angry about what happened that I had to speak out.”
Sarah Langenkamp, 42, was struck and killed by a flatbed truck around 4 p.m. Aug. 25 while she and Dan Langenkamp rode home from their children’s elementary school, according to county police. The Bethesda mother of two who worked as a U.S. diplomat was riding in a bike lane in the 5200 block of River Road at the time.
Dan Langenkamp has organized the first Ride For Your Life this Saturday. The ride will start in Bethesda and retrace the route his wife was biking when she was killed. It will then pass through Washington all the way to Congress, where riders will rally at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. The event is hosted by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and sponsored by Trek, a bicycle manufacturer. Over 1,300 people have signed up to participate, and it will be the biggest ride in the association’s 30-year-history, according to the association.
The ride includes specific tasks participants are asking of Congress:
– Provide full funding ($200 million) for the 2021 Active Infrastructure Investment Act. Passed to help local governments improve safe cycling, running and walking routes, the act was never provided an appropriation by Congress. Investments would include bike lane infrastructure with features such as separated bike lanes with barriers.
– Implement new Truck Regulations. Practical changes to improve trucking safety, such as mandating better training, use of automated driver assistance systems (including automatic emergency braking systems and blind-spot monitors), and front and side under ride guards for trucks, which will protect both cars and cyclists/pedestrians from the danger of being caught under truck carriages.
Langenkamp said some public officials have signed on to participate, including U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD 8th District) and representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Langenkamp said he decided to take time off from his own work at the U.S. Department of State for the foreseeable future to focus on bike and pedestrian safety advocacy after he started doing media interviews about his wife’s death.
“When something important happens, you have to talk about it,” he said. “As I spoke with more press and more people, as I heard from people who saw the stories, saying how important they felt this was, I became even more involved. So, it developed somewhat naturally.”.
In 2022 alone, 34 people had already been killed in traffic crashes in the county as of Aug. 31, according to county data. Eighteen were drivers of motor vehicles, five were passengers, eight were pedestrians and three were cyclists. Statewide, 445 people have been killed in traffic crashes this year as of Nov. 2, according to Zero Deaths Maryland. Of that number, 102 of those were pedestrians and 11 were cyclists.
A total of 681 people have died in motor vehicle crashes in Montgomery County between 2006 and 2021, with an average of 42 fatalities per year. Of those people killed, 198 were pedestrians and 16 were cyclists, according to the data.
Langenkamp wants to see more elected officials both locally and nationally making changes to improve bike and pedestrian safety, which was the impetus for Saturday’s event.
“We’re hurting ourselves by not making our streets safer. We’re hurting ourselves culturally, economically. We’re hurting our lifestyles. I spent six months in Poland in a midsize town there and they had blocked off the center for cars and created a lovely town square and walking street where families were happy, where events could take place, where businesses were thriving because it was such a pleasant place to be,” Langenkamp said. “There is no reason why we can’t make our cities more livable like that. We don’t have to encase ourselves in cars to live our lives. Life is better when you’re outside and you’re sharing space with others.”
Montgomery County’s answer to this epidemic has been the Vision Zero plan, an initiative to eliminate all traffic-related deaths by 2030.
Montgomery County announced its Vision Zero commitment in 2017 and released a new action plan for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
Vision Zero is designed to factor human failing into its approach to preventing crashes from occurring. This includes looking at areas where crashes occur and comparing them to similar roads and intersections in the county and trying to prevent similar crashes there.
County Executive Marc Elrich and the council approved $123.1 million in fiscal year 2023 expenditures in support of Vision Zero. About $54 million was allotted for Vision Zero initiatives while another roughly $69 million is earmarked for capital improvements.
“We need to take this Vision Zero stuff seriously in order to make the county more livable. I’m convinced – so are other advocates – that investments in these things will have economic dividends and commercial dividends by making Montgomery County a better place to live. Businesses thrive when people are able to visit them safely,” Langenkamp said.
Langenkamp has been meeting with officials on the local and national levels to talk about.
He’s been working closely with Montgomery County Council Member Andrew Friedson on Vision Zero infrastructure, and has plans to meet with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg next month to talk about national change.
Above all, Langenkamp wants to make sure that people who walk or bike, are not only safe, but also able to enjoy their experience.
“It’s a beautiful, healthy and kind of humble way to get around, and it’s environmentally friendly,” Langenkamp said. “I really believe in it. I do hope that we can make a little bit of difference, so it can be safer.”
Interested participants can still sign up for the Ride For Your Life by visiting this link. Riders can sign up to ride from Bethesda to the Capitol, or sign up for a shorter ride from Freedom Plaza. The ride also welcomes walkers and runners to participate in the event. Donations can be made to Langenkamp’s GoFundMe by visiting this link.