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.

200 Bikes Repaired at Anacostia Library: Thanks DCPL, The Bike House

It’s been a busy summer, but on the final Saturday of July the Anacostia Library hosted the final mobile bike repair clinic of the season, and we’re pleased to report over fifty bikes were repaired. That brings our season total to over 200  bikes repaired through this season’s partnership among DCPL, The Bike House, and WABA.

It has been a great season of outreach and wrenching, and we want to again express our appreciation to The Bike House for providing mechanical support and DCPL for hosting and assisting with the cost of supplies.

Throughout the season we were also joined by representatives of Capitol Hill Bikes, the Metropolitan Police Department, and numerous community groups.  We appreciate the support of the community as we try to provide programming of this sort to encourage ridership in a part of the city lacking easy access to local bike shops and the supplies and expertise we rely on to keep rolling.

Thanks to everyone who came out this season to volunteer, wrench, flyer, celebrate, and have your bike repaired.

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Setting the Record Straight re: Milloy’s “Bullies”

We still have that sign. We still mean it. Thanks for not hitting us because the newspaper says it’s OK.

Yesterday, The Washington Post published a column by Courtland Milloy that attempts to justify the violent assault of bicyclists by motorists, writing: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.” The “egregious” behavior Milloy cites is simply slowing his car’s progress between stoplights.

This piece of rhetoric is both irresponsible and incorrect. Encouraging, or at least condoning, acts of violence has no place in civil discourse, and I am appalled that our hometown paper has published such a statement. We have, of course, grown accustomed to journalists and columnists who resort to bike-versus-car tropes to fill column space. However, this attempt to justify assault as a mere cost of doing business for motorists is well beyond the pale.

Those who might take Milloy’s counsel and share his sick calculation that bicyclists’ temporary slowing of motorists is worth attacking those bicyclists should know that his facts are wrong. Intentionally assaulting a bicyclist carries a much stiffer penalty than the $500 he cites. So even his readers who lack the moral judgment to recognize that assaulting a bicyclist with a motor vehicle is a barbaric, criminal act should know that his advice is flawed.

Throughout this column, Milloy does his best to avoid resorting to facts and data in favor of regurgitating simplistic, inaccurate, and pejorative stereotypes. Those who bike are labeled “bullies” and “terrorists” without explanation, and Milloy intentionally mischaracterizes and maligns programs that WABA has undertaken in our efforts to minimize the conflicts between drivers and cyclists on the roadways.

Rather than attempt to debate Milloy’s specious mental construction of the new-white-millenial-bully-terrorist-pedicabber laughing maniacally as he simultaneously displaces elderly churchgoers, threatens downtown pedestrians, and terrorizes motorists, I will focus on setting the record straight on the work that the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) actually does to make our roadways, sidewalks, and trails safer. (For those looking for the point-by-point rebuttal, I refer you to Aaron Wiener’s City Paper article and Washcycle’s response.)

Milloy is correct that much of our work is focused on improving roadway infrastructure to accommodate more than automobiles. That includes changes to our roadways that provide dedicated space for people who bike, including bike lanes and protected bikeways. Bicyclists are neither cars nor pedestrians, and in the District the number of people biking has moved the conversation well beyond the question of whether there needs to be space for people who bike, and on to how to provide it in a safe manner. At one time, Milloy seemed to recognize the need for this dedicated space for bicyclists, as his own 1998 account of biking after his license was suspended for excessive speeding included being caught in the common bicyclist’s catch-22 in which you are welcome on neither the roadway nor the sidewalk, and there is no third option. WABA unapologetically works to get that third option built into our public space.

Infrastructure is not the only key to integrating the growing number of bicyclists safely into the District’s transportation network, however. For things to function properly, rules and laws must be written appropriately for each mode of travel, and people must be encouraged or compelled to follow those laws. As biking grows, WABA advocates for laws that clarify the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists where physical differences justify departure from standard vehicular rules. However, our greater role is in encouraging safe and lawful behavior on the roadways through our education programming and Bike Ambassador program. This year alone, WABA has taught safe cycling to over 3,000 bicyclists, with a curriculum that emphasizes riding predictably and lawfully.

Meanwhile, our Bike Ambassador program works to engage with those who are not inclined to attend WABA’s education program on the streets. The program uses mobile signage, light and bell giveaways, explanatory flyers detailing bike laws and safety tips, and other forms of quick communication to encourage bicyclists to ride safely and motorists to respect that right. In his column, Milloy focuses on the words “bike ninja,” which is slang for a bicyclist who wears dark clothes and no lights while riding at night, and uses it as a catch-all for all sorts of belligerent, but irrelevant, behavior. What Milloy pillories in his column is an effort by the team of Bike Ambassadors who volunteer their time to give out lights to cyclists who would otherwise ride home after an evening movie without any.

Finally, I want to directly address Milloy’s scattered but consistent efforts to cast bicycling as the realm of “newly arrived white millenials” and somehow not for the longtime residents, black residents, Ward 8 residents, etc. Apparently “bikes versus cars” is not the only “us versus them” conflict worth trotting back out in print.

Milloy cites the fact that in the past, black juveniles on bikes were routinely stopped by police for trifling bike infractions in order to detain them, search them, or harass them. What Milloy neglects to mention is that the laws used to justify those stops are no longer on the books. They were successfully challenged by WABA and repealed nearly a decade ago, with the strong support of Councilmember Mendelson.

He also fails to note that WABA’s first formal outreach program was one designed to improve bicycling conditions and grow ridership east of the Anacostia River, with efforts centered squarely in Ward 8. In recent years, in that ward alone, WABA has held over a dozen classes, countless rides and events, and nearly thirty free bike repair clinics at which we have repaired several hundred bikes and led their owners on fun, casual, community rides. Undoubtedly, there are barriers to bicycling in Ward 8 that we must work together to overcome. WABA is working to overcome them and make the streets safer—especially in Ward 8 where the need for affordable mobility is perhaps most acute.

To Milloy, the facts seem not to matter, as his arguments are constructed to tear down a cartoon bicycling “terrorist” that bears little resemblance to real people who ride their bikes in the District: black, white, Latino, or otherwise. Certainly, one can build a composite of the worst behaviors encountered over time and attribute those behaviors to every person who rides a bike—but that is not journalism or even fair characterization. It is lazy stereotyping.

At no point does Mr. Milloy engage with the human side of biking or speak to any people who actually bike. By engaging only with his conceptual cartoon bike-terrorist, Milloy can excuse and justify violence against real people on bikes. He does not fear for his safety, the safety of his spouse, the safety of his children. He does not know the fear that stays with you for days after being threatened on the roadway by the angry driver of a machine weighing a ton. He does not know the fear that creeps into your throat when a bike-commuting family member is a half-hour late arriving home.

Every day, I talk to bicyclists who have been in crashes and try to help them deal with the experience. Less often, I speak to the families of those who have been in more serious crashes and are not able to speak for themselves. I have painted ghost bike memorials for cyclists black and white alike. I have placed them across the region and on both sides of the river, from Germantown to Southern Avenue. I have prayed at the vigils with churches and families, black and white alike.

In those moments, everyone is able to focus on the human tragedy and join together to call for the improvements that might keep the next human tragedy from occurring. In those moments it seems so silly that we cannot reconfigure simple pavement and white lines in a way that serves the safety of people, not just the speed of cars. The choice is not an abstract one.

Mr. Milloy: I encourage you to reflect upon your attempt to justify violence against your fellow citizens simply because they choose to travel by bike. In taking this stance, you adopt the cause of the comparatively strong against the comparatively weak and encourage them to use that strength to commit violence against the weak.

If that is the sort of man you are, I understand why you might have difficulty understanding programs like the ones that we run to broaden the appeal of bicycling, make every bicyclist safer, and encourage a safer roadway culture. From your position of strength this all seems silly. For us, all these programs and initiatives and attempts to calm the rhetoric—even the existence of a collective group of bicyclists like WABA—is a form self defense against roads, laws, and an enforcement system that do not yet protect us, and against people who share your views and will take your encouragement literally.