Jury duty jam

Two of life’s greatest inconveniences — jury duty and traffic — collided this week in California.

A courthouse computer system in Auburn accidentally summoned 1,200 people for jury duty  Tuesday. Traffic was jammed on the way to the Placer County Courthouse as citizens tried to report at 8 a.m.

“I’m a very mellow guy so it didn’t bother me but you could see the disdain and frustration on the faces of some of the other people,” a potential juror told the Auburn Journal. “They have to do a lot of juggling in the work place and in some, they don’t pay you for jury duty and you have to take unpaid time off or vacation time.”

The computer system was supposed to alert 900 people that they were not to show up for jury duty, but the automated message told them they should appear in court instead. Some called in beforehand to the courthouse, but about 800 people are estimated to have headed to court that day.

“The alert failed to notify us yesterday afternoon, so the clerk failed to update the system,” assistant court executive officer Geoff Brandt told CBS Sacramento. “The system then goes into default mode, and we were unaware the default mode was to call in every jury panel we had scheduled for the week.”

Share the road

Last week, I read an Above the Law post that really got my blood boiling. A North Carolina man was sentenced to just 120 days in prison after he shot a bicyclist in the head during a roadside confrontation — in front of the rider’s three-year-old daughter.

The ATL blog referred readers to the full Alt Transport article, aptly titled, “Want to Get Away With Murder? Just Run Over A Bicyclist.” Using the North Carolina case, along with a couple unaddressed hit-and-runs, to illustrate his point, the author argued for nationwide laws to command justice for cyclists and other “vulnerable road users” who are injured or killed by motorists.

Fast forward to one week later: A Howard County man who hit and killed a teenage boy last August pled guilty Tuesday to driving while impaired during the incident. Police said he had heroin in his pocket and failed a field sobriety test after he struck the cyclist. The punishment for taking a child from his family? Six months in the clink.

I am sick to death of motorists getting a slap on the wrist when they significantly and fundamentally alter the lives of cyclists — and the lives of their surviving family members. In the Howard County case, their son’s death caused both parents to lose their jobs, leading to foreclosure and, for the mother, a personal bankruptcy filing, according to The Baltimore Sun.

It’s not as if this sort of tragedy is an anomaly. In fact, accidents involving bicycles have become so commonplace that one D.C. website reports the number of cyclists struck each week in the district. There were six — reported — just last week. Anecdotally, having had the conversation with bike commuters in various cities, I have not personally spoken to anyone who rides more than recreationally and has not been hit or at least clipped by a vehicle.

I don’t mean to vilify all drivers. Yes, there are plenty of motorists out there who give cyclists a wide berth on the road, just like there are plenty of bike riders who wait at every stop light and plenty of pedestrians who never jaywalk. But the next time you’re barreling down the street in a two-ton piece of metal and come upon a cyclist, remember that you’re sharing the road with someone who, unlike you, doesn’t have the added protection of a steel exoskeleton.

State considers commuter rail from D.C. to St. Mary’s

One of our visitors recently suggested mass transit for St. Mary’s county in a comment on commuting improvements.

Looks like that wish may be granted: Maryland transit officials will study the feasibility of commuter rail service between D.C. and St. Mary’s County this spring. (This is in addition to a separate analysis of possible bus rapid transit or light rail service in the southern part of our state).

JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Missing your commute over the weekend?

There’s been a lot of talk about the pros and cons of BRAC on Maryland’s roadways lately.

While BRAC will recapture some Maryland workers who have been lost to jobs in Washington and Virginia, many commuters are hoping the state’s real BRAC gain could come in the form of speedier commutes — that is, if mass-transit projects result.

The number of workers commuting from the Baltimore region to Washington grew by 26 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to a recent story in the Baltimore Examiner. And Virginia gets about 116,000 Maryland workers every day (most of them from PG and MoCo, but about 13,000 come from Baltimore).

From the story:

More and more, Baltimore-area commuters are taking long commutes toward Washington’s suburbs in southern Maryland and Northern Virginia. But planners are hoping that growth tied to military bases near Baltimore and suburban Virginia will reverse some of those trends.

Some suggestions on the table: Anne Arundel County would like an extension of the Metro’s Green Line to BWI airport. Harford County has gotten funds for a new MARC station in Edgewood and has proposed a new transit center in Aberdeen.

Do you employ public transit in your daily commute, or is it too time-consuming or inefficient for you? Do you think Maryland needs to shape up its transit systems – and is BRAC its only chance to do it?

JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor