Last Week’s Council Hearing: Resounding Support For Bike Bills

Last Tuesday, the DC Council considered four bills that propose a host of significant improvements for street safety, including: street design policies, crash reporting, open data, bicycle / pedestrian prioritization areas, and aggressive measures to curb life-threatening behavior—like distracted, impaired, and aggressive driving. Although the news coverage focused on a “stop-as-yield” provision for bicyclists, the proposed bills cover a huge range of improvements that have the support of a diverse set of stakeholders.

The Hearing

Supporters of safe streets came out in full force to support the bills. Councilmembers heard testimony from a wide range of bicycle, pedestrian, insurance and automotive advocates on the merits of the proposals.  Fifteen public witnesses shared personal and heartfelt stories about their experiences, clearly underscoring how much work remains to be done to prevent the tragedies we have become accustomed to on our roads.

With more than thirty wide-ranging policy changes on the table, it is telling that not a single witness raised strong objections in testimony. Every witness, even the automotive and insurance lobbies, supported stiffer penalties for dangerous and impaired driving, a codified complete streets policy, and prioritizing the safety of vulnerable road users. Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Charles Allen, Brandon Todd, and Elisa Silverman each made firm commitments to changing our approach to street safety.  Charles Allen (Ward 6) stated that we “must stop thinking of roads as only for cars,” because “safety must be more important than convenience.”

These bills are likely to move forward quickly. After the holiday recess, we expect to see the proposals combined into a single bill, followed by a vote to move it out of committee.

For a full breakdown on the merits of each proposal, click here to read WABA’s full written testimony, For great coverage of the hearing from WABA member and twitter user @darsal and others, click here.

You can submit comments on these bills until Dec. 22.

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What is Stop-as-Yield all about?

The proposed change would allow bicyclists in very specific situations to treat stop signs as yield signs.  Many drivers report confusion about current law for bicyclists. A change to the stop law would reflect current practice by many drivers and bicyclists. The following chart compares what behavior is illegal or legal under current law and what would change if the proposed legislation were enacted.

Bicyclist action Potential for endangering other road users? Status under current traffic law Status under proposed law
Riding through four-way stop without stopping or looking with a vehicle stopped at the cross street. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through two-way stop without stopping or looking with a vehicle present or proceeding in the opposite direction. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a red traffic light without stopping. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a four-way or two-way stop without stopping when another vehicle is approaching at the same time. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a stop sign with a pedestrian crossing or preparing to cross the street. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a four-way stop without other vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians present. No Illegal Legal

WABA supports stop-as-yield because it would focus scarce traffic enforcement resources on road user behaviors that post real risks to others — including distracted driving, driving under the influence, and failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians. Studies show that jurisdictions that have implemented stop-as-yield laws have seen a decrease in crashes.

Of the eighteen proposals in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015, this is one of the few that faces opposition. The Metropolitan Police Department, AAA Mid-Atlantic, and the District Department of Transportation each expressed reservations about implementing this provision, citing concerns that it would lead to confusion about the law.


There’s Still Time to Voice your Support For These Bills

The hearing is over, but the official record for this legislative package will remain open for comments until December 22nd. If you believe, as we do, that streets should be designed to prioritize safety for the most vulnerable, that driving carries enormous responsibility to protect the people and communities on our roads, and that safe travel is more important than fast travel, submit comments to the record.Of all the great provisions in these bills, stop-as-yield is the most vulnerable, and the most likely to be left out of a final version. If you would like to see stop-as-yield implemented in DC, include that in your comments.

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