RIP Bill Kelly - The Bicycle Advocate Who Changed Maryland

Saturday, February 3, 2018


by David T. Whitaker, AICP

Like mythical heroes of Irish mythology, Bill Kelly will be remembered by those who knew him as The Bicycle Advocate Who Changed Maryland. Bill Kelly brought a fierce Irish-American urgency to bicycle accessibility, safety and funding and his untiring dedication to these issues led the way toward 21st Century bicycle planning, design, and funding from Ocean City and Assateague to the Allegheny Mountains of Western Maryland. Along the way he empowered a new generation of cyclists to pursue changes to state and local funding and infrastructure priorities to further bicycle accessibility.

A bicyclist for over 70 years, Bill Kelly dedicated his career as a District of Columbia Fireman. Bill bucked the trend and continued to bicycle commute to his firehouse in the 1960’s. This was an era before bicycle commuting was fashionable and when bicycle lanes and trails were nonexistent in the DC area. To Bill’s way of thinking, bicycling around DC, and later College Park, MD, promoted a healthy way of life. Bill had bicycled throughout his teens and the bicycle remained his favorite mode of transportation through his working years as a professional fire fighter. What Bill wanted to change was the mindset of civil engineers and elected officials who did not see a role for bicycle access as part of local and regional mobility. When Bill Kelly set his mind to change something, you could put your money on that change actually happening. Bill was determined to promote bicycle access and infrastructure spending and he became Maryland’s foremost bicycle champion with a legacy of achievements that few will ever equal.

In 1988, following the lead of Maryland’s leading trail advocate Morris Warren in Anne Arundel County, Bill Kelly founded the College Park Area Bicycle Coalition. Working in the shadow of the University of Maryland’s flagship campus, the College Park Area Bicycle Coalition successfully championed a network of bicycle and pedestrian trails linking the University to neighborhoods and distant communities in Prince George’s County. Bill’s legacy lives on in the extensive trail network in Prince George’s County and at Lake Artemesia near College Park.

One of the keys to the success of the College Park Coalition was that Bill actively solicitated the support of local and state elected leaders. In true Irish-American fashion, Bill combined both his natural wit and charm, as well as dogged determination, to woo local elected officials to the cause of bicycle infrastructure and trail networks. Following the legislative victory creating the Maryland Bicycle Advisory Committee in 1991, Bill teamed with then Maryland Delegate, and current State Senator Jim Rosapepe, resulting in groundbreaking Maryland bicycle legislation in 1995 and in 2000. These two legislative bills established the requirement for local bicycle plans as part of locally adopted comprehensive plans and incorporated pedestrian access along with bicycle access as funding priorities in Maryland’s 23 counties and the City of Baltimore.

Not content to rest upon his laurels in College Park and with Maryland General Assembly, in the mid-2000’s Bill Kelly moved to the Ellicott City area of Howard County, MD. In 2008, Bill helped form the Bicycle Advocates of Howard County Maryland (e.g., Bike HoCo). Serving as a coalition of cycling clubs and bicycle riders, Bike HoCo promotes “a vision of bicycling and sharing the road as part of a healthy, energy efficient, and environmentally sound transportation system to help achieve a sustainable future for Howard County and for Maryland.” This resulted in extensive bicycle and pedestrian investments in Columbia and Howard County and in the innovative 2016 Howard County Bicycle Master Plan.

Bill and Sue Kelly traveled often during his retirement years, visiting Ireland and countries throughout the world, almost always with their folding bikes. Bill became an ambassador for American bicycling in the counties he visited, while coming back with infrastructure ideas in use in the Netherlands and other cycling advanced countries.

On January 22, 2018, Bill Kelly succumbed after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was buried with full honors accompanied eight bagpipers along a favorite local cycling road in Woodstock, MD.

May the Wind Always Be at His Back.

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