Contributory Negligence Bill Tabled for 2014

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Today, D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety tabled a proposed bill to improve access to compensation for crash victim–effectively killing it for this legislative session. Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced the motion to table. Councilmember Evans (Ward 2) and Chairman Mendelson voted to table the bill. Councilmember Wells (Ward 6) voted against the motion.

The “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014″ (Bill 20-844) was introduced by Councilmember Grosso, Wells and Cheh in July to provide relief to vulnerable roadway users whose claims are inappropriately denied by insurers, and who cannot secure representation in the courts due to the economic effect of the liability standard.

We are deeply disappointed that the economic concerns of the insurance industry and the D.C. Trial Lawyers Association derailed progress on a bill that would have meaningfully helped hundreds of crash victims receive the recovery they are fairly due for injuries resulting from another party’s negligence. We will continue to work to resolve this systemic problem.

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Keeping Score on DC Legislative Positions, Starting with the Contrib Bill

As many of you know, WABA is working hard to change the contributory negligence doctrine in DC. We have been publicly pushing for this change for years because of the negative effects the doctrine has on the District’s cyclists. Hundreds of you emailed your Councilmembers to show support for a bill that would change the doctrine to the fairer comparative negligence. However, the insurance industry and others oppose the bill, and have sent a swarm of lobbyists to work the Wilson Building and sway the votes of our elected officials.

So, it’s time to publicly hold those Councilmembers accountable for their votes and show everyone which officials use their power to support people who bike, and which officials bow to insurance industry lobbyists.

The Scoring System

We view it as our responsibility to educate our members and the public on  key votes by elected officials that affect cyclists in the District.*

On key bills affecting bicyclists, we will score each legislator’s Yes/No vote on a 0-100 scale. A vote in support of the bicycling position will receive a score of 100. A vote against the interest of bicycling will receive a score of 0. Individual votes will be averaged, and the legislator assigned the appropriate letter grade based on that score, using a quintile system. (So, 0-20 is F, 21-40 is D, 41-60 is C, 61-80 is B, and 81-100 is A.)

Results of scored votes will be shared with all DC members and supporters via email once the vote is complete, and maintained on the WABA website, both on the homepage and in the “Resources” section.

Scoring Votes on B20-0884, The Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014 

When over 600 DC residents email their legislators on an issue this important to crash victims and all bicyclists, we need those legislators to listen to those constituents–not to the paid lobbyists protecting their industry’s financial interests at the expense of justice.

With only a handful of legislative days left in this Council session, let’s find out who’s listening to whom and make our officials accountable for their decisions that directly affect our safety.

A vote in favor of the bill will receive a score of 100. A vote against the bill, or a procedural vote that would have the effect of delaying the bill past the present Council session (causing it to fail without voting against it) will receive a score of zero.

We will release the initial report card to members, supporters, and the public–based on votes on B20-0884–the day after a vote is taken. As the Council votes on other relevant legislation, we well include those votes on the scorecard as well.

If you haven’t yet, write your councilmembers today:

Take action

* We’re testing this advocacy tool in the District. If it proves effective, we’ll try adding our other jurisdictions.

 

Proposed Sidewalk Biking Ban: Bad Bill, Good Opportunity.

Yesterday, Councilmember Jim Graham introduced a bill that would ban bicyclists from riding on the sidewalk in the District wherever there is a bike lane in the same direction. In the accompanying press release, Graham cites as a reason for the bill the death of 78-year old Quan Chu, who was struck by a bicyclist while walking with his wife. This event was tragic, but it did not take place on a sidewalk.

We recognize that as more people bike and walk in the District, it is important to have clear norms for interactions between bicyclists and pedestrians to keep people safe. We also recognize that the present regulation of bicyclists on the sidewalk makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

For those who don’t know, the present system is to:

  1. prohibit bikes in an arbitrarily shaped “Central Business District,”
  2. place no signage telling anyone where that is,
  3. place bike parking and actual bikeshare stations on the sidewalks in that zone, then
  4. occasionally have MPD ticket bicyclists for using the bike infrastructure the District placed on the sidewalk in the area where the District prohibits sidewalk riding.

It is tempting to simply oppose Graham’s bill because it’s out of touch with the realities of urban riding—we need safe alternatives for novice cyclists when bike lanes are blocked or other safety needs would lead a cyclist to leave the roadway.  But simply opposing any legislation to deal with the sidewalk issue would be a missed opportunity to improve and rationalize the District’s regulation of the relationship between bicyclists and pedestrians.

To do that, we need to insist on evidence-based policy that accounts for real behaviors and real safety needs. We can’t just assume that because a bike lane exists, bicycling there is safe at all times. Similarly, we can’t just assume that because a sidewalk exists, bicycling is unsafe there at all times. Rather, we need to dig into the details and plan for pedestrians and bicyclists with a data-driven approach that accounts for congestion levels and actual safety.

We need to avoid the hyperbolic rhetoric about crashes that, while sad, are not relevant to the bill. And we need to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to take away portions of the public space from vulnerable users due to unsubstantiated fears and biases. Instead, let’s invest our energy in taking policy steps that would actually make pedestrians safer on the sidewalks and bicyclists safer on physically protected infrastructure.

We would like to work with our legislators and pedestrian advocates to improve the District’s regulation of public space for public safety. But this bill presents a lazy one-size-fits-all approach that assumes a bike lane is “good enough” to foreclose other options for people who bike, and we know that simply isn’t how things work in the real world. At a minimum, the bill should be amended to only ban sidewalk riding where there is a physically protected, unobstructed bike lane (also called a cycletrack). But we would prefer an approach that involved DDOT’s bicycle and pedestrian staff in examining sidewalk widths, bike/ped travel rates, and congestion to more sensibly address the issue.

Adding this bike-lane-based ban to the current silly system only makes the system sillier–ensuring that it won’t be enforced or paid attention by anyone. I challenge Councilmember Graham and his colleagues on the Council, if this issue is an issue they wish to focus on, to invest the effort to produce a bill that will rationalize our policy and improve public safety.

This bill doesn’t do that, and WABA therefore opposes it. But we remain eager to participate in crafting a bill that would address Councilmember Graham’s underlying concern in a more comprehensive and data-driven way, in hopes of improving safety for all.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep our focus on the solutions for the hundreds of pedestrians and bicyclists hit and injured by automobiles each year in the District (427 at the time of this writing). We invite our elected officials to take a leadership role in solving that problem as well.

A Fuller Description of the Contributory Negligence Problem for Bicyclists

Clicking the link below will take those who are interested to a post that more fully articulates the problems contributory negligence poses for bicyclists. It’s a long read, but I’ve received many questions and decided to write this fuller post on Medium (1) in hopes that it reaches new readers, and (2) to allow readers to engage via Medium’s commenting feature.

The Duties of Prescience & Perfection

More Details About DDOT’s Streetcar Regulations

Not a perfect setup, but a bike ban is not the solution.

Not a perfect setup, but a bike ban is not the solution.

Based on a day of answering questions from members and reporters about yesterday’s blog post, here are a few details and clarifications about the proposed regulation that would ban bicyclists from using the streetcar guideway:

  1. WABA does not oppose the streetcar. We do oppose an overly broad regulation that singles out bicycles as the only vehicles prohibited from a portion of public roadways.  We aren’t asking to delay the streetcar or make major changes to the already-built project. We are insisting that this proposed guideway bike ban not be included in the final regulations.
  2. This is the first time we’ve seen DDOT intentionally and directly proposed a rule violating its own complete streets policy by telling a mode of transportation user that parts of the public roadway network is off-limits. We believe in Complete Streets and will hold DDOT accountable for following its policy.
  3. That said, this is not merely a “slippery slope” argument. This regulation won’t just apply to H Street, NE. Once it’s on the books, it will apply to all future streetcar projects —presently planned to be a 37 mile network—unless the regulation is actively changed. That’s 37 miles of street lane that cyclists will be banned from using.
  4. The contraflow bike lanes on G and I Streets are a great way to avoid riding on H St (WABA proposed them!),  but their presence does not make riding on H unnecessary.
  5. Not every future streetcar route will have such easy alternative routes. Unless DDOT is going to promise to provide them. In which case, let’s put that in the regulations.
  6. The regulation applies to the guideway, not necessarily the whole road. DDOT helpfully clarified their intent on Facebook yesterday, but in the regulations the guideway is not as clearly defined as it should be, and a Facebook post is not helpful as a regulatory document.  Additionally, along the H St-Benning Road corridor the guideway shifts from the outer lane to the inner lane, which translates to a requirement that bicyclists switch lanes mid-block across tracks. This isn’t really any better.

We recognize that DDOT is trying to balance interests in the safety of bicyclists and the functionality of streetcars. We have raised concerns about bicyclist safety near streetcar tracks at every stage of this project, and DDOT has consistently punted on making design changes to address the problem. Now, they’ve come to the end of the design without addressing it and have no more engineering options available, so they’ve moved on to regulatory options.

We know that H Street is not a great place to bike. But its present configuration wasn’t handed down by the gods. DDOT built it like it is, knowing it wouldn’t be good for bikes, and should be held accountable for making what improvements are possible and for ensuring that future streetcar routes are built in a way that makes safe space for bikes. Allowing the agency to set the default position to “eliminating bicyclists from roadways” rather than “accommodating bicyclists on roadways” will allow DDOT to continue with unsafe designs that ignore their responsibility to make DC’s streets safe for all.

DDOT is accepting public comments on the proposed regulations until September 27th. You can submit comments here.

Don’t Let MCDoT Eliminate Part of the Capital Crescent Trail


Updated 4:15pm.
We received the following email from Bruce Johnston at MCDOT informing us that the agency has suspended its request to MTA:

Good afternoon Shane,

As directed by Director Holmes, MCDOT staff has contacted MTA to suspend the previous orders to MTA to make changes to the Capital Crescent Trail configuration at Jones Mill Road.

Subsequent to the aforementioned order, additional engineering information has been provided to our staff, which is currently being reviewed by MCDOT engineers.

After our evaluation is complete, and before any further decision is made, the results of our evaluation will be vetted with the Capital Crescent Trail stakeholders, including the bicycling community.

Be assured that Washington Area Bicyclist Association will be involved.

I hope this information is helpful.

Bruce Johnston

 

Thank you to everyone who contacted the County Executive, T&E Committee, and MCDOT about this matter. And thank you to Bruce, Director Holmes, and MCDOT for reconsidering this decision.  We look forward to continuing to push for a safe, well-designed Capital Crescent Trail with grade separated crossings, as promised.


 

Original action alert below

After years of public input and agreement on the design for the future Capital Crescent trail, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) just moved unilaterally to eliminate the long-promised grade-separated crossing of busy Jones Mill Rd.

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The grade separation makes the trail safer, and safety is vital to ensuring this heavily travelled trail remains a viable transportation option. Through thousands of hours of meetings on the future of the Capital Crescent Trail, County officials have promised safe crossings of major roadways that don’t leave bicyclists competing with cars or pressing “Walk” buttons and waiting for minutes.

But the County’s own transportation officials just sent a letter to the Maryland Transit Agency (MTA), requesting that the separation be removed from the request for proposals (RFP). Despite years of working together on this project, MCDOT did not notify the public. They did not hold a meeting. They did not mention this at a Council hearing. They did not send a note to representatives of the bicycling community. It is unclear whether they even communicated their intentions to the County Executive.

Frankly, they tried to sneak this past without any of us noticing.

We noticed. We noticed that at the first opportunity to save money by sacrificing trail safety, they attempted to do so in a manner that evades public scrutiny and reneges on years of promises.

We need you to take action today to tell the County Executive that we will not stand for such a downgrade to our prized trail, or for such misleading actions from our local transportation officials.

Our hope is that the County Executive’s office was as misled as we were, and that they will immediately, clearly, and unambiguously tell MTA that the County is NOT seeking an amendment to the Purple Line RFP to eliminate the grade-separated crossing at Jones Mill Road.

With years of work still ahead to complete the trail as promised, we cannot stand for a precedent of closed-door decisions that remove, or compromise, long-promised trail improvements.

For an in-depth engineering perspective on why a grade separated crossing is both doable and the best option. check out this post at Silver Spring Trails

For WABA’s position on the Purple Line project, have a look at this post.