Why the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act?

The Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act, recently introduced in the DC Council and set for hearing on November 2, is meant to be a very specific response to the specific, but not uncommon, situation in which a bicyclist is assaulted or otherwise intentionally harassed on the roadway and is unable to seek redress through existing legal means. These cases generally produce no witnesses other than the bicyclist and the driver. Thus, there is no outside witness and, in many cases, no physical evidence. So if the assaulting motorist simply leaves the scene or denies the incident, there is little possibility of overcoming the relatively high criminal burden of proof. Thus, in most cases the U.S. Attorney declines to bring suit–leaving the cyclist assaulted or harassed, but with no criminal charges filed.

This leaves the option of the civil suit, and it is true that there is an existing civil tort cause of action. However, like most torts, the ability to secure legal representation to bring such a case depends–due to the contingency fee system–on the extent of the injury rather than the egregiousness of the conduct. This law will allow egregious conduct be to be addressed in civil court by changing the economic incentive for attorneys to represent assaulted cyclists.

It is true that the fee-shifting is relatively uncommon, but fee-shifting is an available mechanism that is frequently used in cases where injunctive relief is sought. Roadway assault cases like those at issue here–in which the attacks and harassment are often enabled by the inherent vulnerability of the bicyclist as compared to the motorist–have some interesting parallels to the circumstances that led to the body of civil rights law, where such fee-shifting is most common. Certainly the situations are not the same. It would be a stretch to argue that cyclists, as a group, fit the traditional definition of a protected class. But cyclists are, in the context of the roadway, inherently vulnerable, and it is that vulnerability–combined with an element of minority–that underlies and justifies the civil rights-style remedy proposed.

Within the roadway context specifically, bicyclists as a group possess the attributes of vulnerability and minority that have traditionally made fee-shifting, the primary attribute of this proposed law, appropriate.

The bill provides a means of civil access to justice to combat egregious behavior that is already illegal, but that current legal mechanisms do not penalize. Without it we maintain a system in which cyclist-victims continue to lack access to justice and those who engage in vehicular assault and harassment face no penalty.

The District’s leaders have continually, over a period of years, stated a commitment to encouraging bicycling as a safe and viable transportation alternative in the District. This demands not just infrastructure, though infrastructure is part of the equation, but also enforcement, and fundamental fairness on our roadways such that no class of users can be routinely victimized without redress.

Those first two elements–infrastructure and enforcement–are long-term, ongoing goals that will require long-term partnerships and ongoing accountability of government officials.

A significant step toward addressing the third can and should be made now, this year, by passing the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act.  It should be.

To add your name to the list of supporters of this law to address harassment, assault, and battery of cyclists: CLICK HERE.

What are those kids doing?

On your way into work tomorrow, you may notice vast hordes of children walking, bicycling and making their way down the street. It’s quite likely that they will be pretty loud and boisterous, making you look out your window to see what the commotion is. Have no fear-it’s just International Walk and Bike to School Day!

Seeing kids walking or bicycling to school used to be as common as butterflies in your stomach on the first day. Now however, not so much. Parents’ work schedules, ultra heavy backpacks, speeding commuter traffic and worry that your child is not safe on their walk to school have all contributed to the decline of walking to school from nearly 50% in 1969 to only around 13% in 2009. Walking or bicycling to and from school every day shows children that incorporating an active lifestyle into their daily routine is easy, and as a bonus, it’s fun!

This year the District of Columbia has a record number of schools participating-22 spread out all over the city. WABA, DDOT and Children’s Hospital representatives plan to celebrate the day at our main event at Anne Beers Elementary in Ward 7 where US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is going to lead one of their four “walking” school buses. So join us by starting your day off with a nice brisk walk or an invigorating bike ride with your child tomorrow, to school, to your bus stop, or even around the block. And if you have to drive, be extra aware of those roaming bands of children and parents making the most of their morning by walking to school.

700 Bicycles Parked at the Solar Decathlon Bike Valet

035Whoever said that cyclists in Washington, DC can’t deal with rainy weather never made it out to see all the bikes parked at the Solar Decathlon this past weekend. Cyclists ignored the cold and layered up as they brought along their families to check out the innovative solar powered houses at the National Mall West Potomac Park. With this year’s event being located far away from the closest metro station and long lines to board the free shuttle bus to get to and from the Solar Decathlon, getting there by bike was the best option.

WABA would like to extend a huge THANK YOU to all the volunteers who came out and helped park 700 bicycles at the 2011 Solar Decathlon.  We would also like to thank the US Department of Energy and Perkins + Will for your support.

Public Hearing on Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act on Nov 2

Official notice from Councilmember Phil Mendelson (At-Large) announcing a public hearing on Enforcement of Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety and Bill 19-475, Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011 on Wednesday, November 2, 2011.



Enforcement of Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety


Bill 19-475, Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011


Wednesday, November 2, 2011
11:00 a.m., Hearing Room 412, John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Councilmember Phil Mendelson, Chairperson of the Committee on the Judiciary, announces a public oversight hearing on the enforcement of pedestrian and bicycle safety and on Bill 19-475, the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011. The public oversight hearing will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 in Hearing Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building. This hearing notice has been revised to include consideration of related legislation.

The purpose of this hearing is to hear testimony from the public on continuing issues surrounding the enforcement of pedestrian and bicycle safety. The Committee held a hearing on February 4, 2011 on this subject but continues to hear complaints about enforcement, particularly regarding bicyclists. Concerns reported to the Committee include a lack of understanding and enforcement of the laws as they pertain to bicyclists, the failure to obtain a bicyclist’s side of the story when an accident occurs with a motorist, and improper citations of bicyclists who are obeying the law. The hearing will explore steps
taken to improve enforcement in this area, particularly in light of a report by the Office of Police Complaints on pedestrian and bicycle enforcement issues expected to be released during the month of September. The Committee also invites testimony on Bill 19-475, the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011, the stated purpose of which is to provide for relief including: up to three times actual damages; punitive damages; and attorney’s fees for a person who while riding a bicycle is the victim of an intentional assault, injury, harassment, or the threat thereof.

Those who wish to testify should contact Ms. Jessica Jacobs, Legislative Counsel, at (202) 724-8038, by fax at (202) 724-6664, or via e-mail at jjacobs@dccouncil.us and provide their name, address, telephone number, organizational affiliation and title (if any) by close of business Monday, October 31, 2011. Persons wishing to testify are encouraged, but not required, to submit 15 copies of written testimony. If submitted by the close of business on Monday, October 31, 2011 the testimony will be distributed to Councilmembers before the hearing. Witnesses should limit their testimony to five minutes; less time will be allowed if there are a large number of witnesses.

If you are unable to testify at the hearing, written statements are encouraged and will be made a part of the official record. Copies of written statements should be submitted either to Ms. Jacobs, or to Ms. Nyasha Smith, Secretary to the Council, Room 5 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004. The record will close at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16, 2011.

Download the complete announcement in PDF