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.

 

Announcing Everyday Biking Seminars for Spring 2014

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This spring, we’re launching our Everyday Biking Seminar program. It’s the evolution of our Commuter Seminars, which were lunchtime sessions held at offices interested in helping employees figure out the details of biking to work.

The Everyday Biking Seminar is a short presentation designed to introduce the basics of how to safely and easily fit biking into your daily life. It includes tips on

  • Making sure your bike is in good working order,
  • Planning a good route,
  • Understanding safe riding principles and rules of the road and trail,
  • Carrying the things you need to carry, and more.

After the presentation, our trained staff will answer your questions, address your concerns, and resolve that nagging issue that has kept you from biking. (In our experience, everyone who isn’t biking but wants to has that one nagging issue!)

The full seminar takes only an hour, and we provide every participant with a Safe Cycling guide, local bike map, opportunity to take a free WABA city cycling class, and materials on upcoming bike-related events, activities, and programs.

The cost of an everyday biking seminar is $300 (with a 50% discount for new WABA Business Members). Thanks to the generosity of our members, we are also able to offer a limited number of  pro-bono Everyday Biking Seminars to interested groups unable to afford the fee.

To request and schedule a commuter seminar, please complete this form.

It Is Time for “Vision Zero” in D.C.

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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.

About WABA’s Annual Membership Meeting & Open Call for Board Candidates

Marvin Gaye Trail

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.

 

Virginia and Maryland Legislative Update

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).

From VBF:

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.

Sen. Steve Newman (R-Forest) Chair

Sen. Henry Marsh (D-Richmond)

Sen. John Watkins (R-Midlothian)

Sen. Phil Puckett (D-Tazewell)

Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach)

Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath)

Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville)

Sen. Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke)

Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Burke)

Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach)

Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-Manassas)

Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson)

Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington)

Sen. Kenneth C. Alexander (D-Norfolk)

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?

L Street Cycletrack Outreach

Will M Street have something like this soon? No idea.

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. Continue reading

A Quiet Trail Ranger Tuesday

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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.

A Quiet Trail Ranger Tuesday

IMG_20130719_171942

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.

D.C. Office of Police Complaints Issues Follow-Up on Police Enforcement of Biking Laws

Biking Police

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Include a bicycle-specific field on the PD-10 crash report form;
  3. Better train officers on the applicable bicycling laws to ensure that they are properly enforcing bike regulations; and
  4. 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

An Update on the South Capitol Bridge

 

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.

South Capitol Street Corridor Project: 7/30/13 Project Information Update Meeting Presentation

Rendering via DDOT via DCist