Yay! DDOT Releases Final Safe Accommodation Regulations

IMG_1232

Capital Bikeshare shows how to maintain safe accommodations for bicyclists while they install a new station at 15th & L Streets NW.

DDOT released final regulations for safe accommodations of bicyclists and pedestrians during construction. Future public space permits issued by the city must maintain access for people traveling by foot or bike. A growing number of District residents and visitor rely on walking and biking everyday. Bike lane and sidewalk closures create hazardous situations and have a discouraging effect. With proper enforcement, the final rules should go a long way to maintaining safe access for people walking and biking.

Overall, the regulations are pretty good. Draft regulations were released in August and there have not been any substantive changes between draft and final.

The regulations give an explicit order of priority for providing safe accommodations:

  • Priority one would be to have no impact on existing bike lanes. This could be achieved by keeping construction activities restricted to the parking lane.
  • If that’s not possible, the next best choice is narrowing or reducing other travel lanes as long as at least one remains open.
  • The next option would be to create a shared-lane.
  • Finally, as a last resort, a detour could be set-up. Any detour option would need to replicate the existing infrastructure as practicably possible. Again, the overarching goal would be to simply reduce impacting the existing bike lanes.

The Bicycle Safety Amendment of 2013 became law in the beginning of 2014. WABA worked hard to with DC Council on this law. After it’s passage, this legislation triggered the rulemaking process. The law compels city agencies changes regulations for new permits that effect sidewalks, bike lanes and paths. Future permits must provide “safe accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists” during construction. DDOT completed the task in less than a year.

Thank you DDOT!  We look forward to working together on enforcement of these new regulations. Safe passage during construction makes walking and biking a more reliable mode of transportation.

No Tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail at Wisconsin Ave

The Bethesda tunnel. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Plans have fallen through for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave in downtown Bethesda. Montgomery County attempted to facilitate a redevelopment of the Apex Building that would have allowed a large and more efficient Purple Line light rail station and trail tunnel. In a closed session several weeks ago the County Council, at the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett, decided not to move forward with this attempt.

WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most travelled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail.

The construction of the Purple Line will connect the Capital Crescent Trail to Silver Spring and will upgrade all trail crossings along the corrdidor, which is why WABA supported the project. The loss of a grade-separated crossing where one already exists is a significant compromise and loss. Wisconsin Avenue is the busiest road in downtown Bethesda. More than 1.3 million people use the trail annually. An at-grade crossing of this road is not an acceptable long term solution.

Repeat, there will be no trail tunnel.

A redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to design a larger, more efficient Bethesda Purple Line station with better multimodal facilities. A new building above the station would be considerably taller and denser. The plans also included a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave for the Capital Crescent Trail.

With this latest news, the MTA will go forward with the original plan for the project: when construction begins in late 2015, the existing trail tunnel will be closed and the light rail station will be built in that space. The completed station will include a very narrow pedestrian (and walking bicycle) entrance from Woodmont Ave. The Capital Crescent Trail will follow a surface route described below.

Now what happens to the Trail?

Plans for the Purple Line have always included the construction of an additional “surface route” for the Capital Crescent Trail through downtown Bethesda. You can think of the surface as the “business route” and the tunnel as the “express route”. The Montgomery County Dept. of Transportation is developing the plans for the surface route right now. The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) and WABA have been involved for over a year with a stakeholders group advising MCDOT on their plans. With the tunnel now off the table, the surface route will carry all of the traffic on the Capital Crescent Trail.

The stakes are now much higher for the design and execution of this surface route. Councilmember Roger Berliner has tasked MCDOT to build a “gold standard” trail experience for the at-grade crossing of Wisconsin Avenue. MCDOT is hoping to have draft plans to present to the public later this fall, finish designs and begin construction by next summer. This sounds like an aggressive timeline because it is one—the surface route must be completed before construction starts on the Purple Line, as the tunnel will be closed. We will post notice about a public meeting here when the information becomes available.

What next for the trail?

WABA has been working for more than two decades on the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail is a well loved community resource which provides an important recreation, fitness and transportation benefit to visitors and residents of all ages. The vision has always been a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring. While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one.

We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.

Tell Montgomery County you want a safe trail crossing

What doesn’t get counted doesn’t count

MTB-bikeped-counter

This old saying rings true in the transportation planning world, where future investments are based on available data. In this context, it’s very encouraging that the District Department of Transportation is installing their first permanent automatic bike and pedestrian counters on popular trails and bike lanes. Arlington County has the most robust automatic counting program in the country with about 30 counters deployed, including the first “bikeometer” on the East Coast.

The first counter was installed by DDOT was on the Metropolitan Branch Trail last week using Ecocounter equipment. The Met Branch Trail counter is able to count both pedestrian and bicyclist traffic including direction of travel (north- or south-bound). With around the clock data collection, transportation planners can monitor travel patterns as the relate to weather, time of day and the increase of traffic over time. The earliest data shows a peak of over 150 people biking past the counter during morning and evening rush hours.

DDOT also installed a bike automatic counter on Eye St. SW and plans to install a counter on a very busy downtown protected bike lane in the coming weeks. The data from all of these counters will provide more granularity of bike traffic and complement other data collect efforts. From 2006 to 2013, bicycling commuting to work has quadrupled to 4.5% of all commuters.

 

Met Branch Trail Bridge Now Looks Like A Bridge

 

Regular riders of the Met Branch Trail have probably noticed that the under-construction bridge between the trail and the Rhode Island Ave Metro suddenly looks a lot more like a bridge. The steel bridge span was hoisted into place in early hours of Wednesday morning. DDOT contractors used two large cranes to lift the pre-assembled span into position, bringing this project one major step closer to completion. When finished, the bridge will connect the Edgewood neighborhood and Met Branch Trail over the railroad tracks directly to the Rhode Island Ave Metro Station.

Here’s a time lapse video of the span being moved into position:

Read more about this project in both the WAMU and DCist coverage. The bridge project is loaded in the DDOT Dashboard so you can follow the progress along as you wait for it to be finished. But you don’t have to wait much longer, DDOT estimates the bridge will be fully finished and open to the public by the end of the year or January 2015 at the very latest.

 

 

Tell Fairfax County to Adopt the Bike Master Plan

Fairfax County currently does not have a bike master plan. And that’s not good.

The proposed Bike Master Plan contains recommendations for developing a comprehensive bicycle network. It also includes guidelines for bike-friendly programs and policies. The plan vision is “Meeting the safety, access, and mobility needs of bicyclists today, while encouraging more people to bicycle in the future…making Fairfax County bicycle friendly and bicycle safe.” Without a master plan, Fairfax County Department of Transportation has fallen behind in implementing bicycling improvements.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the county’s Bicycle Master Plan (Phase II) on Wednesday, October 1 at 8:15 p.m. There needs to be a strong showing by residents who support the plan. Please consider attending the public hearing to show your support for the plan.

Details about the October 1st hearing can be found online here. You can sign up to testify at the Planning Commission using this form. The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on October 28. Look for another WABA email alert prior to that hearing.

We are also asking cyclists to sign the FABB Bicycle Master Plan petition urging the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to approve the plan.

This petition is from the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, a sponsored project of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association

10 Questions about Contributory Negligence, answered

The Council of the District of Columbia is considering legislation to exempt bicyclists and pedestrians from the contributory negligence standard. Last week, we wrote about the proposed legislation and the upcoming hearing on September 29th. Since then, we’ve received a number of questions about what the proposed law would do. Below, you’ll find our answers for the most common questions we’ve encountered.

But first, here is a reminder about the upcoming hearing:

DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Hearing
September 29th, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Wilson Building, Room 500
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004
View the hearing notice (PDF)
Please email Nicole Goines or call 202-724-7808 to sign up to testify.

We are hosting a conference call on Sept. 23rd at 7pm to answer questions about testifying on this issue. Email advocacy@waba.org if you’d like to join the call.

What is being proposed in this bill?

The Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014 (bill and legislative history) exempts physically vulnerable roadways users (bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users) from the doctrine of contributory negligence, which holds that no one who is deemed at fault in any way for a crash can recover any damages after a crash.

Under current law, what happens after a crash?

Generally, after a crash between a bicyclist and a motorist, there is an injured bicyclist and an uninjured motorist. So the cyclist often will seek compensation for injuries from the motorist and the motorist’s insurer. If everyone involved agrees that the cyclist behaved perfectly and the driver was completely at fault, the cyclist will be able to recover compensation. Unfortunately, such agreement is rare.  If the cyclist was at fault to any degree, or if the insurer or a police officer believes the cyclist was at fault through misunderstanding or misapplying the law, the cyclist will not be able to recover compensation for injuries suffered in the crash. This is true even if the crash was 1% the cyclist’s fault, 99% the motorist’s fault, and all of the injuries were suffered by the cyclist.

How will this change under the proposed bill?

Crashes between motorists and vulnerable road users will be governed by a form of comparative negligence in which each party is able to recover for the other party’s negligence, but not from his or her own.

For example: a motorist exiting her vehicle at night opens her driver’s side door into the bike lane, striking a cyclist who had no light at night. The motorist’s door is not damaged and the motorist is unharmed, but the cyclist suffers a broken arm from the fall and ends up with $1000 in medical bills.

Under the present contributory negligence standard, the cyclist’s failure to have a light would prevent all recovery of damages. even though the motorist broke the law by opening her door into traffic.

Under the new bill, the decision-maker (whether judge, jury, or insurance adjuster) would have to determine the proportionate fault of the parties and determine the damages accordingly. So, if the decision-maker finds that the unlawful opening of the door into the bike lane without looking was 75% responsible for the injury and the failure to have a light was 25% responsible for the injury, the injured cyclists could recover 75% of her damages, or $750–for the portion that was the motorist’s fault.

Contributory negligence applies to all sorts of situations. Does the proposed law change the standard for all cases?

The proposed law creates an exemption from contributory negligence only for vulnerable road users in crashes with motor vehicles.

Have other states changed their negligence standard?

Forty-five states, and the federal court system have adopted comparative negligence as a basis for apportioning fault between parties in tort suits.

How many states still retain the contributory negligence standard?

Currently, just four states (including both Maryland and Virginia) and the District of Columbia continue to use contributory negligence as a bar to recovery and access to courts.

Is there any precedent in current law for an exemption such as the one being proposed?

Yes, current District of Columbia law extends additional legal protection of comparative negligence to railroad workers.

If I’m following traffic laws to the best of my abilities and I am involved in a crash, could I still have my medical bills and damages reduced or totally denied?

Yes. Poor descriptions in accident reports, wrongly issued tickets, and misunderstandings or misapplication of bicycling laws can result in insurance companies denying claims for medical expenses.

Who benefits from this bill becoming law?

Vulnerable road users and motorists alike benefit from the equitable distribution of damages resulting from a collision. Comparative negligence facilitates the recovery of medical expenses or repair costs without long and costly litigation or arbitration. The apportionment of damages creates a limit on the amount of damages which can be recovered. The amount of recovery is ascertainable by looking at the extent of the damage and the percentage of each party’s fault. This is more predictable than jury awards and less harsh than the all or nothing system under contributory negligence.

So who loses if this bill becomes law?

Insurance companies, who presently are not required to pay for the negligence of their insured if the other party is negligent (to any degree). Contributory negligence is not an economically efficient or fair method for determining compensation after crashes because it leaves injured parties who were not primarily responsible for their injuries uncompensated and allows the insurers of the primarily negligent party to avoid compensating the injured.

 

If you have further questions about this proposed legislation and its effects, please email advocacy@waba.org

 

Contributory What?

Often referred to as the “one percent” rule, the Contributory Negligence doctrine prohibits you from recovering damages (money) from a crash if a court thinks you are in any way responsible for the crash.

A few examples of what this looks like:

  • You slow down and look, but roll through a four-way stop, then a drunk driver runs the sign and crashes into you.
  • You get doored, and a police officer incorrectly tickets you for riding too close to parked cars.
  • The battery on your blinky tail light dies while you’re riding home from work, and a texting driver veers into the bike lane and crashes into you.

In any of these cases, you may not be able to collect any compensation for your smashed up bike, your broken leg, or the days of work you missed while you were healing.

Only four states (Maryland and Virginia among them) and the District of Columbia retain this outdated legal doctrine.

DC Councilmember David Grosso recently introduced the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014″ to update DC law to the fairer, more modern Comparative Negligence standard for crashes between drivers and bicyclists or pedestrians.  This means your compensation would be reduced to the extent the you were responsible for the crash, but not eliminated entirely.  Most of the rest of the country has already adopted this more sensible standard.

Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells are also co-introducing the bill. The legislation has been referred to the DC Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which will hold a public hearing on the bill at the end of the month. If you or other bicyclists you know have been hit and had your insurance claim reduced or denied, please consider testifying.

DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Hearing
September 29th, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Wilson Building, Room 500
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004
View the hearing notice (PDF)
Please call Nicole at 202-724-7808 to sign up to testify.

We are hosting a conference call on Sept. 23rd at 7pm to answer questions about testifying on this issue. Email advocacy@waba.org if you’d like to join the call.

If you don’t have personal experience with this issue, please sign-up now to receive updates and we will let you know when there is an opportunity to take action in support of the legislation.

Learn more about the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014″ our advocacy campaign page. We will be posting additional information the campaign page in the coming weeks, including an FAQ early next week.