Yesterday, I wrote about some of the changes coming to the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. Unfortunately, nothing I wrote about there is likely to fix the issue of illegal U-turns by motorists through the bike lanes.
But I also spent much of the day yesterday trying to get to the bottom of the enforcement issues and why we aren’t seeing more police ticketing motorists for this. In past weeks I have communicated with numerous police officials, including Chief Lanier, who have seemingly understood the issue and the safety concern. So I kept pushing a bit on why we aren’t seeing more enforcement.
Bottom line: It’s a problem with the law.
When an MPD officer writes a ticket, the person ticketed has the opportunity to challenge that ticket through adjudication. This process is handled by the DMV, not the police. And on this issue, the DMV adjudicator has interpreted the laws in a way that does not prohibit mid-block U-turns across the cycletrack. Thus, MPD is reluctant to ticket motorists when the agency adjudicating the tickets has deemed such a ticket invalid.
WABA disagrees with the interpretation DMV is applying. Bike lanes are travel lanes, and it is illegal to make a U-turn across an adjacent travel lane. But we do not mean to villify DMV here. The agency seemingly shares a concern for the safety of cyclists and would support a change in the law to make the mid-block U-turns legal. They simply don’t believe current law allows for such interpretation.
So where does that leave us?
This is an opportunity. There is a solution to this problem and it can come in either of two ways. Either the District can interpret existing law as prohibiting U-turns across the lanes (which would accord with WABA’s interpretation and seemingly DDOT’s based on the design and MPD’s based on the initial willingness to ticket), or the legal ambiguity can be clearly resolved by legislation.
We intend to work on both possible solutions and push quickly for resolution. This may be especially important as the L Street cycletrack comes in. We do not know DMV’s detailed legal reasoning, but it is possible that the same interpretation that would find U-turns across Pennsylvania Avenue to be legal might also find left turns by motorists who skip the “mixing zones” and cut across the cycletrack through the intersection on L to be legal. (That is speculation, but it sufficiently concerning speculation that we need to move quickly to find a solution so that MPD can enforce the rules of the cycletracks in a way that is consistent with their design.)
As we just discovered this root cause of the enforcement difficulties, our approach is developing. But we will need action from the District–whether the executive or legislative–quickly on this. If you are willing to be engaged in this campaign to make our cycletrack safer, please click the link below. We will need the help of the bicycling community to get this resolved quickly.