What “Riding Abreast” Shows about Enforcement in DC

It should surprise no one that WABA has been working to improve traffic enforcement and the protection of bicyclists on the District’s roadways. We have worked countless hours on this issue and testified at two hearings held by the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary on this matter. Those hearings led to a finding by the Office of Police Complaints of deficiencies in the Department’s enforcement and relationship with cyclists and led MPD to appoint a liaison to the bicycling community to work with the District’s Bicycle Advisory Council.

These are positive steps, but there is much more to be done.

Often, when there is a major crash or a cyclist is cited for an infraction that he or she feels is undeserved, that cyclist or a family member calls WABA for advice. And often, when a WABA staffer or an attorney for the cyclist/family follows up on the facts of the case, we find that the story is quite different than the one contained in the police reports. In some cases, the facts presented in the reports or the citations issued simply do not match the stories of those on the scene.  In other cases, even as presented, the facts do not justify the conclusion drawn or the citation issued.

We have been working to make the case that as cycling grows in the District with the support of District programs and infrastructure, the District also has a responsibility to educate police officers on the application of traffic laws to bicyclists. Absent the physical protection of an automobile surrounding us, we rely on the protection of the law.

Unfortunately, we tend to encounter these enforcement errors on an individual basis, one at a time, as impacted cyclists contact us. We have worked to systematize this and get better data through the creation of our crash tracker survey, and it has been useful in getting more information on more crashes. But we are still working to show that the issue is not an occasional error by an occasional officer who misunderstands a provision. Rather, it is a systemic lack of appropriate training for all officers that needs to be rectified by a significant training effort.

Lacking the resources to launch a full analysis of every crash report related to bicycling, we recently chose to focus on a single regulation and review every citation for a violation. We submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to MPD and the DC Department of Motor Vehicles. Because the names and contact information of the cited party are not disclosed through the FOIA process, we attempted to select a provision in which we would not need to contact the cited party or follow up with witnesses to show errors. For this reason we selected the District’s “riding abreast” regulation, 18 DCMR 1201.7:

Persons riding upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or part of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a lane roadway, shall ride within a single lane.

Note that this law:

  1. Cannot apply to a bicyclist riding alone;
  2. Does not relate to the relationship between any bicycle and any non-bicycle vehicle.

We submitted our request seeking information on citations for violation of the “riding abreast” regulation on March 16. The statutory period for acknowledgment passed without response from MPD. On April 9, we followed up with MPD, noting the delay beyond the statutory limit, and also submitted an identical request with the District’s DMV, which oversees adjudication services. On April 19, we did receive acknowledgement of the initial request from MPD but have received no substantive response to date.

DMV, however, has provided both an initial response with overview data of the citation history in its records, as well as a more detailed supplemental response including individual Notices of Infraction. Both responses are below.

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