On Friday, I will be testifying on behalf of WABA at the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety’s annual oversight hearing on the efforts of the Metropolitan Police Department. On Monday, I will be testifying at the Transportation & Environment Committee’s oversight hearing on the efforts of the District Department of Transportation.
It’s time for me to say something different on behalf of the District’s bicyclists, and I need you to say it with me.
I sat down yesterday to write my testimony for these important hearings, and I realized that these agencies simply are not making the progress they need to make. They are not keeping up with the growth of bicycling in the District and region.
I’m not going to go back into those hearings again—for a third year—and say the same things: the Rock Creek Park Trail isn’t done; the Met Branch Trail isn’t done; protected bike lanes take forever to design, then are downgraded to simple bike lanes when someone objects; police don’t interview bicyclists when they’re involved in crashes; and the police department refuses to enforce the three-foot passing law and other safety laws.
All those things are still true.
But saying them last year didn’t get us anywhere, and saying them again this year won’t either. We need to try a new approach.
Let’s think bigger.
Recently, several big U.S. cities like New York and Chicago, as well as that often-cited bike utopia Portland, have publicly adopted “Vision Zero” policies, dedicated to ensuring that no one is killed on city streets. “Vision Zero” means that there will be zero deaths or significant injuries due to traffic crashes. D.C. pays lip service to this goal with a little-known website stating it, but has done virtually nothing to make it happen.
Let’s make it happen.
For D.C. to truly embrace “Vision Zero,” it can’t just put up a website and call it a day. Key agencies like DDOT and MPD need serious restructuring designed around that goal. Planners need to talk to engineers at all stages of project development. Officers need to be assigned to focus on traffic crime. Budgets need to focus on projects that protect pedestrians and bicyclists. Good designs need to be constructed rather than watered down at the first whisper of pushback. Public employees need to be trained on the importance of bicycling and walking, and how to protect the safety of those who bike and walk.
Vision Zero is more than a slogan. It is more than just a goal. It is a philosophy of prioritizing the protection of the people who use our streets, trails, and sidewalks and organizing the activities of our local government in a manner consistent with that level of priority.
We can do this. The District can be a leader in creating safe streets, trails, sidewalks, and public spaces. The demand is there. People want safer streets. But we need our government leaders to do something bigger than complete a single bike lane or pass a single law. We need them to change their priorities and govern accordingly.
Help change the conversation.
In my testimony before these committees, I will push for precisely this prioritization of people, and the implementation of a Vision Zero policy. I want you do to the same.
Tonight, there is a mayoral debate featuring all the major candidates and the public can submit questions. Let’s hold the candidates accountable to prioritizing safe streets and ask them how they plan to do so. Click here to submit your question to be asked at the debate.
Don’t forget that residents are always welcome at council oversight hearings to discuss the work of District agencies.
- The MPD hearing is this Friday, Feb. 28, at 10 a.m., and you can sign up to testify by calling 202.724.7808.
- The DDOT hearing is Mon., March 1 at 11 a.m., and you can sign up to testify by calling 202.724.8062.
WABA’s annual meeting is scheduled for Mon., Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Silver Spring Public Library (8901 Colesville Road). This is your chance to meet and speak with the current members of WABA’s board, ask questions of staff and board members, and vote for the 2014 slate of directors. If you wish to attend, please RSVP for the annual meeting here.
If you are interested in becoming a member of WABA’s board, please complete this brief survey. Responses will be reviewed by the selection committee.
Please note that per our bylaws, the opportunity to participate in board elections is open to current WABA members only.
Last week, we posted a quick listing of the primary bike-related bills in the Virginia and Maryland legislatures this session. Since then, a few procedural steps have been scheduled and we’ve identified a couple more bills of note to the bicycling community. We will post more on that shortly. But, as promised, things move quickly and we need to take action to move these bills forward. So…
Greg Billing and I will be in Annapolis today for the meeting of the Maryland Bike Caucus to be present for the introduction of HB 52 (Bike Duty Bill) and HB 92 (strengthening the 3 ft. passing law).
Virginia Bicycling Federation (VBF) will be in Richmond for hearings in the Senate Transportation Committee on SB 97 (Three Foot Passing) and SB 225 (Dooring).
If your senator is on this committee, please send them a quick note asking them to support these bills. As Champe Burnley says, “…a quick call or a sentence or two with the bill numbers is all you need to do. Remind them that this is about safety on our roads, transportation choices, and saving lives.” If you’d like to go into further detail, we’ve posted talking points.
Use the Who’s My Legislator page to find who your senator is. If they’re on the Transportation Committee, listed below, please send them a note. Click on their name for contact info. You can email them or call.
We will continue to provide updates on the progress of bills in both statehouses–likely on short notice, as that’s things move in these short legislative sessions. Thank you for helping us get these bills passed to improve the safety of cyclists in both states.
Where’s the M Street cycletrack, the long-promised eastbound parallel to the L Street cycletrack?
We don’t know.
Weeks ago, DDOT decided to amend the design to remove the physical separation on a block of the cycletrack, leaving a standard bike lane. A spate of news coverage focused on the AME Metropolitan church’s displeasure with the cycletrack, which seemed to result in the modification by DDOT. Since then, we’ve received no update on the project. Initially, DDOT said the cycletrack would be installed in August. Then, it pushed it to October. It’s now the end of October, and we’ve seen no cycletrack, nor received an update.
Hundreds of people have inquired about this project, and yet no city agency or official has provided any answers. As a result, WABA filed a Freedom of Information Act request last week in an attempt to get some information.
We don’t know why the cycletrack has been delayed, so on the assumption that it was either 1) a planning decision to delay the project, 2) an issue with environmental compliance issues,* or 3) general internal project management delays, we copied the heads of planning and environmental compliance as well as DDOT Director Terry Bellamy on the request.
If you were one of the hundreds who wrote asking for an open conversation and better information about the M Street cycletrack, thank you. We hope this FOIA request will result in an answer and fix whatever has kept the project from moving forward. We’ll keep you posted.
*There is an ongoing issue in regional transportation modeling that makes it difficult for projects that might narrow or remove traffic lanes to pass air quality review. Viewed in isolation, the data sometimes shows that the slowing of traffic results in more congestion and thereby additional air pollution. Viewed more broadly and taking into account actual behavioral choices, these sorts of projects that enable more biking and walking are good for air quality. But crunching the numbers to show that fewer lanes are bad for air quality is simple and built into the traditional transportation models. Performing the broader analysis takes longer, more sophisticated efforts and sometimes delays projects. To its credit, DDOT has generally been willing and able to make those more difficult arguments to install projects, but having to do so has led to delays.
Read the FOIA request below the jump. Read the rest of this entry »
During the government shutdown, wouldn’t it be nice if our Trail Rangers could just tell us which of D.C.’s National Park Service-controlled trails are open and which are closed from their daily patrols?
Since July, WABA’s team of Trail Rangers has been riding the D.C. trails, conducting cleanups, reporting maintenance issues, helping trail users, and generally making our trails a nicer place to be. We’re proud of this program and wish it could have continued longer, but funding for the program expired with the city’s fiscal year, at 11:59 p.m. last night.
Our outgoing Trail Rangers will have a chance to say their goodbyes here on the blog in the coming days. But I’ve gotten a number of questions about the effect of various trail closures on their activities and on their ability to provide updates on trail closures from their patrols. We will do our best to report information as we learn it. Unfortunately, the Trail Rangers are no longer available to help.
The DC Office of Police Complaints has issued a follow-up report on the Metropolitan Police Department’s efforts to improve in the enforcement of laws related to bicycling. You can find a bit of background and the original 2011 OPC report here.
The report has an excessive focus on the single “riding abreast” citation, rather than general issues related to wrongful citations and officer knowledge of biking laws. But it also contains a number of further findings,
The OPC finds that “there is no evidence of any widespread problem with officers erroneously issuing riding abreast tickets within the past few years.” We agree that there is no “widespread” problem, because the issuance of this citation is not “widespread.” However, there is a high likelihood of the citation lacking proper basis if it is issued. However, we do not want to over-emphasize this particular issue. Our choice of the “riding abreast” citation to conduct our own analysis was based on two factors: (1) The ability to get a manageable sample size to analyze given limited resources, and (2) conditions that do not require a significant judgment call to determine whether the issuing officer was mistaken about the fundamental meaning of the law. Our goal was to use evidence of officers’ lack of understanding of this law to show the overall need for better training—not to overemphasize the importance of this relatively minor regulation. The report seems to recognize this need for better overall training, stating “there are additional measures that can be taken to ensure both that patrol officers are properly enforcing the regulations and that MPD supervisors are quickly identifying areas of the law where offices need more training.” We appreciate OPC’s recognition that the concerns with the “riding abreast” citation are indicative of a larger concern, and we look forward to MPD’s response for this call for improvements.
OPC requested three years of crash reports from MPD and was provided with just shy of two years of data, from January 2011 through November 2012. Based on a random sampling of 120 reports, OPC found that cyclists involved in crashes were interviewed at the scene only 63 percent of the time, with only one report including the interview of a cyclist subsequently at a hospital. OPC recommends that MPD improve its reporting by including the narrative each party told the officer rather than an unattributed synopsis. Additionally, OPC encourages MPD to better use its system of receiving supplemental information after the investigating officer’s shift ends and of recording witness statements.
In addition to these investigative findings, OPC reviewed MPD’s performance in implementing the original reports’s four recommendations, which were:
- Change its method of investigating bicycle-motor vehicle crashes in order to provide appropriate safeguards for bicyclists and revise General Order 401.03 to allow officers to keep reports open until necessary statements are received;
- Include a bicycle-specific field on the PD-10 crash report form;
- Better train officers on the applicable bicycling laws to ensure that they are properly enforcing bike regulations; and
- Increase participation in the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC).
OPC found that (1) MPD had amended its General Order, but had not allowed reports to remain pending until all necessary statements were taken; (2) rejected the OPC’s suggestion to include a field for bicycles on the crash report form; (3) taken some steps to improve training including roll call training and the provision of WABA booklets; and (4) improved its engagement with the BAC.
We agree with the fourth finding and appreciate the involvement of the officers who routinely attend the BAC and its Safety Committee, and who often work with WABA on safety initiatives. However, the other three findings are unacceptable. The only two structural recommendations of the OPC—to allow crash reports to be left open to allow time for injured witness statements and to include bicycles on crash report forms as an available type of vehicle for data tracking and consistency—were both rejected. The recommendation for further training has simply not been implemented at a scale commensurate with the need.
We will continue to review the report and determine next steps to ensure that the flaws still highlighted by this follow-up report are addressed, and we look forward to the opportunity to raise these issues again before the Public Safety Committee.
Photo by Flickr user rho-bin
On Tuesday night, DDOT held a well-attended meeting to update residents on the status of the South Capitol Bridge planning. Previously, WABA raised a number of concerns about the the project’s scale, accommodations for bicyclists, and contribution to overall connectivity for bicycling. We have met several times with DDOT’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative team, and we’re pleased to report that the majority of our concerns about the bridge and connectivity to and from the bridge have been addressed.
The bridge will have a 10-foot wide two-way cycletrack on each side. The cycletracks will be physically separated from automobile traffic, and will connect directly to the Anacostia and eventual South Capitol trails. For additional details, see Washcycle’s post here. Renderings of the bridge are available at DCist.
We still believe that the overall scale of the bridge may be too large and that traffic volumes should be re-analyzed in light of the recent opening of the new 11th Street bridge. Additionally, the monumental ovals prioritize aesthetics over traffic flow, safety, or community connectivity. But given the overall scale, we feel that DDOT has done well in listening to the needs of the bicycling community and designing solutions.
It is important to remember that these designs are roughly 30 percent of the total design work. From this point, DDOT will select a design-build contractor to complete the design and construct the bridge. That means that 70 percent of the design work is still to come. The chosen contractor will be motivated to be on time and under budget—not necessarily to involve the community or continue efforts to accommodate all modes of travel.
Many thanks to those who attended the meeting to represent the interests of bicyclists. See the presentation given by DDOT below the jump.
Rendering via DDOT via DCist
District Department of Transportation (DDOT) project managers are hard at work on a lot of roadway projects, but they’re not in charge of repaving the 15th Street cycle track, or finishing the Metropolitan Branch Trail, or one of many other bicycle projects waiting for action.
The agency segregates its bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure into the planning group, which means a lot of projects get done slowly or not at all–and only if the planners take on the role of project manager as well.
Currently, DDOT comprises the Office of the Director and 6 administrations. These are:
- Infrastructure Project Management Administration (IPMA): Building and repairing roads and bridges
- Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA): Creating plans, reviewing development proposals
- Progressive Transportation Services Administration (PTSA): Circulator, streetcars, working with WMATA
- Public Space Regulations Administration (PSRA): Permits for sidewalk cafes and other uses of public space
- Transportation Operations Administration (TOA): Traffic signal timing, signs, parking meters, etc.
- Urban Forestry Administration (UFA): Trees!
Though all administrations overlap with each other at times, only the first two, IPMA and PPSA, are relevant to DDOT’s struggles completing bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
IPMA designs, builds, and maintains transportation-related things, but every person dealing with bike/ped infrastructure is part of PPSA. Those designing and constructing are not responsible for bike/ped work, and the bike/ped people are not in the division that does construction project management or on-the-ground work.
On paper, there is a clear distinction in the administration roles. PPSA “establishes broad strategic goals to guide multi-modal program development, the policies necessary to implement such goals, and ensure compliance through plan review and permitting.” It is meant to be the transportation planning portion of DDOT, conducting such efforts as the MoveDC initiative, reviewing development plans in pre-development review meetings, and doing big-picture planning for all modes of travel.
Meanwhile, IPMA “is responsible for the design, engineering and construction of roadways, bridges, traffic signals and alley projects in the District of Columbia.”
In theory, PPSA plans and IMPA implements. That, however, assumes that PPSA also has the authority to set the order of priority for IPMA’s implementation. It does not.
To see how this shakes out with regard to major bike-related projects, one can look to such problematic processes as the completion of the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) or the repaving of the 15th Street cycle track.
The MBT has been planned for many years. Within the District, only the southernmost portion has been built, and construction has been stalled since the opening of that portion since 2010.
To find out why construction has been stalled, you would think to call the responsible project manager. But you won’t find a project manager within IPMA, because the only person assigned to deal with the project is within the broader planning division and has no formal authority over continued design and construction.
Why is the project not moving forward at the implementation stage? No one in the DDOT administration responsible for implementation and project management is assigned to it. Given such a vacuum, staff of the planning administration do push projects forward, but informal, internal advocacy is no substitute for a system designed to get projects done.
The issue with 15th Street is similar. PPSA staff planned the cycletrack, then implemented it through an informal process without an IPMA project manager. This resulted in a successful, well-used piece of infrastructure that now needs major repairs. But because all of DDOT’s bike/ped expertise remains within PPSA, it still falls to PPSA to do implementation-level work that should be on IPMA’s agenda.
The most recent Bicycle Master Plan gave DDOT priority over all bicycling issues rather than requiring each city agency to accommodate the needs of bicyclists. DDOT has further constrained itself by putting all bike/ped expertise in the planning division and by not assigning anyone to the implementation of bike/ped projects.
People often ask WABA why we do not send more budget alerts on DC trail issues. This is why. Budgets are rarely the primary constraint on bike infrastructure in the District. Instead, priority and personnel bandwidth issues mean that no one is made responsible for implementing bike/ped projects once they are planned.
As bike infrastructure in DC has progressed to the point where it’s more than a stripe on the road
We can’t continue to depend on the informal cajoling of project planners to get IPMA to construct bike/ped projects in a timely manner. Yes, sometimes that cajoling works, as it now has in getting 15th Street repaved. But do we want a system that requires the work of WABA, the dedicated engagement of an ANC commissioner, and the political pressure of two councilmembers to ensure a high-priority project gets done?
This is not a functioning system. DDOT needs to bring individuals with the necessary expertise to IPMA and, once that expertise is in-house, leave prioritization of project timing to PPSA planners.
The current system fails to meet the needs of the bicycling community, will fail to achieve the mayor’s transportation and sustainability goals, and undermines the ability of DDOT’s planning team to actually plan and prioritize.
Many of you have seen the video of the cyclist struck while riding illegally during a community ride last week. We’re glad the cyclist is OK, but we’re disappointed at the way the incident and the video portray the bicycling community. I have no doubt, given the number of voicemails I have received, that this video is being used to paint cyclists as nothing but scofflaws. But it raises some serious questions about how the District is going to deal with the growth of bicycling and group rides. So far, the answer has been, in too many cases, “not very well.”
Many know that the annual BikeDC event was cancelled this year because permits could not be secured, due to restrictions that were overly burdensome individually and self-contradictory, and therefore impossible to meet. Fewer know that smaller events, including the Tour de Fat parade, were also unable to meet permitting requirements. In the case of the Tour de Fat parade, WABA went to the affected ANCs to voluntarily ask for support. Though we did receive ANC support, we were still unable to obtain a permit for the ride and were thus unable to limit motor vehicle traffic along the route or, importantly, exclude participants who might have been riding or celebrating in inappropriate ways.
Organizers of rides frequently reach out to WABA asking for assistance in making their rides safe. But if the issue is a number of riders who refuse to follow the rules that the organizers set, the organizers are left with no recourse. Anyone can ride public streets along with a group.
What is the solution?
We do not want a system in which every group ride has to get a permit. That makes a mockery of our right to bike on public streets. But that was actually suggested in some our our prior permit negotiations with the D.C. permitting taskforce—that any time multiple cyclists ride together an event permit would be required. However, the mayor’s office quickly clarified that was not the case.
What we need is the ability to work with enforcement officials interested in balancing in a flexible way the safety of events with functioning roadways. Perhaps the one fortunate thing to come from this ridiculous demonstration of bad behavior is that Sgt. Terry Thorne, who has worked productively with WABA on numerous bicyclist safety issues, contacted us to figure out a way forward.
I will be contacting a number of groups with a specific interest in this issue to participate in a discussion with Sgt. Thorne and MPD to work out a reasonable approach to ensuring that community ride events can take place, and that MPD can focus its efforts on public safety.
That said, WABA does not support additional restrictions on group rides. We already have a permitting system with so much red tape and so many fuzzy “security” standards that only large and well-heeled fundraising rides and races can be held. Community events are either cancelled or left to operate on their own. But we do look forward to an open conversation with police about how we can better work together to find a balance that helps ensure the safety of group bike rides.
To that end, I will be reaching out to a number of ride leaders in the coming week to discuss the issue further. If you operate a group ride and want to be included in this conversation, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be on the list.
We don’t need any more viral videos of bad behavior, and we especially don’t need any more people hit by cars on group rides. Let’s work together and find a solution that meets the needs of bicyclists that WABA and ride leaders can collectively get behind.
Photo by Flickr user Mr. T in DC
Yesterday, long-simmering displeasure with the pattern of illegal u-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes netted considerable media attention from NBC4. Reporter Mark Segraves was most interested in a video by Bill Walsh of a police officer actually pulling someone over for u-turning. However, this is far from standard; more often, drivers u-turn with impunity.
It has been difficult for WABA to get information about Pennsylvania Avenue. We know that the bollards that once lined the cycletrack would be removed for the winter, due to the threat of snow as well as plans for the inauguration. We know that DDOT was working on ideas for better, and perhaps more, bollards. But as to why the bollards have been left in a pile and not been reinstalled? We’re as perplexed as everyone else. Additionally, we haven’t gotten a clear description of exactly what sort of enforcement MPD has done since it and DMV agreed that u-turns were illegal.
After Justin Antos counted and documented thirty U-turns in thirty minutes on Pennsylvania Avenue, I forwarded his photos to Mayor Vince Gray’s office with a request for explanation and assistance. I received the following response:
MPD and DDOT have been working to improve enforcement and protection. It’s my understanding that flexposts are on the way to replace the ones that have come down, and that DDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration, the Planning Commission, and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to find a suitable perimeter divider. We’re hopeful that the divider we’ve presented to them will be accepted. If they are, we will move quickly to install.
As of today, MPD has written approximately 62 improper turn citations and approximately 70 warnings. Prior to yesterday, we were doing targeted enforcement during selected rush hours and special events. Today’s AM Officer observed no violations and wrote zero citations during the scheduled enforcement. It should be noted that yesterday was a special situation because of the sinkhole at 14th and Pennsylvania. Our resources were deployed to direct traffic around this traffic blockage. Moreover, some where cars were allowed to turn around on PA Avenue to mitigate what was a significant traffic/public safety incident.
As you are aware, Pennsylvania Avenue is a special case because of the intersecting jurisdictions. But, we remain committed to expanding cycling in the District and making our streets safe for those who use bicycles.
We now know that the new flexposts are on the way and that DDOT is engaged with the federal planning and fine arts entities that have a say in what happens on Pennsylvania Avenue. We hope that these conversations—especially those involving the Commission on Fine Arts—will be open to the local, affected public. If they aren’t, we’ll find other ways to ensure the CFA understands that its decisions could place the community in physical danger.
We also know that MPD is doing enforcement. I think we can all agree that when a guy with a camera can document thirty instances of unlawful behavior in thirty minutes—and repeat the exercise daily—that enforcement mechanism is failing. But enforcement exists. That said, we want to see it improved, and we want to better understand its timing and method so that we are better able to communicate to the bicycling community what is being done.
From a policy standpoint, the worst possible result would bicyclists losing so much confidence in the safety of biking facilities like Pennsylvania Avenue that those facilities fail to enable more people to bike safely. We are on the verge of that with Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes, and we need prompt improvements to both the infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms. Either alone won’t be good enough.
In the meantime, we need DDOT to rush the procurement of those new flexposts, or put the old ones back until the new ones arrive. Installing a flexpost isn’t a big job. It’s OK to do it twice to prevent crashes and save lives.
Image via DDOT on Flickr