A slower, smarter Maryland Ave NE is coming.

Maryland Ave NE Project Area

Maryland Ave NE Project Area

A community meeting last Wednesday to explore DDOT’s 30% design plans to address endemic speeding on Maryland Ave NE turned acrimonious.

The meeting on August 10th was meant to be a chance for residents and neighbors to get a detailed look at the design for the street and offer constructive feedback to improve the project as the design process moves forward. Instead, the packed library meeting rooms filled with heated concerns about parking. We’ve seen this movie before.

The redesign for Maryland Ave. NE is what’s known as a “road diet” due to the fact that it will reduce the number of travel lanes in each direction (from 2 to 1) and the way that it “slims down” the road at intersections to shorten the amount of time it takes for pedestrians to cross. It also includes unprotected bike lanes along the full length of the project.

In DDOT’s analysis, Maryland Ave. NE is a good candidate for a road diet because its traffic volume (9,000-11,000 vehicles per day) can be served by fewer travel lanes without reducing the Level of Service unacceptably. (Note: we’ve discussed this problematic engineering metric before.)

A small but vocal contingent of residents calling themselves Citizens For an Informed & Safer Maryland Avenue believes that the road diet plan has been undertaken without adequate analysis or community input. This despite the work mentioned above and a timeline that began in March of 2011, proceeded through more than a dozen public meetings, and involved hundreds of hours of community engagement—both for the project itself and in conjunction with 2013’s MoveDC plan.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, the citizens group circulated a flier urging Maryland Ave. NE residents to attend and raising the twin specters of reduced parking and increased congestion (full disclosure: I live on the 1000 block of Maryland Ave. NE). They also started an online petition and a survey to gauge neighborhood opinions on the road diet. Among their concerns is the “argument” that Maryland Ave. NE is unsafe to bike on and therefore doesn’t need bike lanes.

We here at WABA don’t think these plans are perfect: DDOT missed an good opportunity to install the first protected bike lanes on Capitol Hill (as pointed out over at Greater Greater Washington), but this process has gone on for far too long. Maryland Avenue NE in its current configuration enables rampant speeding and puts people who walk and bike along the corridor in unnecessary danger. DDOT and the community decided this needed to change five years ago. WABA supports the Maryland Ave NE plan as it is currently designed (pending the comments from the meeting) and encourages DDOT to finish the project in 2016.

 The DDOT employees responsible for this project are George Branyan and Ali Shakeri (george.branyan@dc.govali.shakeri@dc.gov). If you live, work, or bike around the project area, please send them an email to let them know you support this project and want to see it move forward.

Great News! The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety bill passed!

On June 28, the DC Council voted unanimously for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act of 2016 (B21-335). Mayor Bowser signed the bill in late July. It will become DC law at the end of August after 30 day period of Congressional review. 

Highlights of the Act:

  1. Open access to data and information, including monthly reports published on the DDOT website making available collision data that includes geographic and demographic data, death and injury counts, and possible contributing human factors like intoxication, distraction, or failure to yield. This is an unprecedented level of transparency that will enable independent research and analysis by advocacy groups and public citizens.
  2. Creation of Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas, based on factors such as areas with a high volume of people riding bikes or walking, or areas with frequent or severe crashes. Safety modifications to an area selected to be a Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Area could include interventions such as prohibiting right turns at red lights, reducing speed limits, installing protected bike lanes, or increasing levels of automated enforcement like safety cameras.
  3. Codification of a Complete Streets policy, with the expressed goals of encouraging walking, bicycling and the use of public transportation, establishing a District-wide integrated system of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, involving residents and stakeholders in planning and design decisions, actively looking for opportunities to repurpose roads to enhance connectivity for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders, and improving non-motorized access to schools and parks. The Act directs DDOT to incorporate the policy into the agency’s Transportation Strategic Plan, Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans, and other manuals, rules, regulations, and programs, including construction and reconstruction and maintenance of all roads.
  4. Bicycle insurance consumer protection— the Act contains an entire section on bicycle insurance regulations.
  5. Bicycle and pedestrian safety provisions, including an explicit prohibition against dooring bicyclists, and mandating universal traffic and street safety curriculum for public school children in 1st-5th grade.
  6. Motor vehicle safety provisions, which include updates to taxi and vehicles-for-hire driver training requirements— explicitly instructing them in the rights and duties of motor vehicles not to stop in an intersection or a bike lane; mandate a study for a deferred disposition program for traffic infractions that would allow someone to reduce fines and points if they attend a safety training; increased penalties for aggressive driving; the installation of side guards and blind spot mirrors on registered trucks, and a ban on the use of ATVs and dirt bikes in the District.
  7. Drunk driving provisions that increase penalties for first time drunk driving offenders and offenders with blood alcohol content above .08 but less than .20., mandate participation in the interlock program for all offenders that have a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, and permanently revoke the license after a third conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving while intoxicated, or operating a vehicle while impaired.
  8. Establishment of a Major Crash Review Task Force that will consist of staff from MPD, DDOT, Office of Planning, the Bicycle Advisory Council, the Pedestrian Advisory Council and the Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Council. The Task Force will review crashes handled by the Major Crash Investigation Unit of the MPD.

We didn’t get everything we wanted here, but it is a step in the right direction to making D.C. a truly multi-modal city. The legislation is the culmination of the efforts of the Bicycle Pedestrian Working Group convened by Councilmember Cheh last summer, on which our Executive Director Greg Billing served.  As-introduced, this bill represented the consensus items of that working group—which meant some good ideas generated by the group were not aired in the legislative process. Despite initial consensus, stop as yield (aka, the Idaho stop) was removed from the bill amidst last-minute opposition by AAA and MPD.  WABA also pushed the Council to include a city-wide speed limit on local streets of 20 mph and a city-wide ban on right turns at red lights; neither of which are included. Additionally, while other major components of the Mayor’s Vision Zero bill were incorporated into the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act, distracted driving provisions were not included. We hope to see those provisions strengthened and combined into a stand-alone bill next legislative session. 

Registration now open for Aug 27 Advocacy 101 Training for Prince George’s Advocates

advocacy on a map

Want to learn how to be an effective bike advocate in Prince George’s County? Register for training on Saturday, August 27th.

What: The training, hosted by WABA’s advocacy team, is for Prince George’s folks interested in making their community more bike-friendly. We’ll explore how decisions are made in the County, dive into some of the fundamental tools and approaches to influencing those decisions, and see how we, as individuals or groups, can push Prince George’s County to be more bike-friendly.

Why: Every week, our advocacy team gets emails from local citizens, asking what seems to be a simple question: “I have a great idea that will make it easier and safer to bike in my community. How do I make it happen?”

We love these questions because behind every one is someone riding a bike on the way to work, to the grocery store, or with their kids, thinking “biking is great, but it could be better, and I know how.” Sometimes that idea is as simple as restriping a lane or trimming a bush to improve sight lines. Sometimes it is bigger: a new protected bike lane, lighting a dark stretch of trail, improving an intersection or changing a city policy. We hope that the ideas never stop coming because while parts of the region have made great strides recently, we have  a long way to go.

But the idea is usually not the challenge. Getting a solution implemented is. And that’s what advocacy is all about. That’s what we work towards every day. And while advocating for a great solution can be challenging, it doesn’t take a degree or years of training. Anyone can be an effective bicycle advocate. A little training helps, though.

When/Where:

9:30 am – 1:00 pm
Hyattsville Municipal Building— 4310 Gallatin St. Hyattsville, MD

 

Breakfast and light snacks will be provided. Registration is free and open to all. No advocacy background or experience required.

Register Here

 

Matthew Henson Trail Crossing at Viers Mill Road is Still Deadly

On Sunday July 17th, Oscar Mauricio Gutierrez Osorio, 31 of Silver Spring, was killed crossing Viers Mill Road in Silver Spring where the Matthew Henson Trail crosses a high speed Maryland State Highway, according to the Washington Post. The exact details of the deadly crash involving Mr. Osorio are not public, but the trail crossing is a known safety hazard. This is the same location where Frank Towers, 19 was killed in December 2016,  just days after receiving a new bike for Christmas.

Trail users must cross 7 lanes of traffic where drivers regularly exceed the 45 mph speed limit. For reference, a person walking or biking struck by a driver at 40 mph or greater has an 80 percent chance of dying. At this trail location, there is no traffic light requiring drivers to stop for people walking and biking across the road. Compounding the problem, the trail crosses Viers Mill Road at the bottom of a hill with poor sight lines.

After the death of Frank Towers, the Maryland State Highway Administration “improved” the trail crossing with overhead flashing yellow lights which must be activated by trail users. The crosswalk beg button provides visual and audio cues that the yellow lights are active which was a deficiency of the previous design. This was a flawed approach from the beginning, as yellow lights only require drivers to exercise caution, but not to stop. Any design that requires less than a full stop will continue to cause safety issues. WABA pleaded with engineers to design and constructed a traffic light or HAWK signal which would require drivers to come to a full stop. The request was denied, now with deadly consequences.

Montgomery County is committed to Vision Zero. This is the principle that we must design our streets so that no person (bicyclist, pedestrian or driver) will be killed while using them. This requires that policy makers and traffic engineers be ultimately accountable for design decisions made in our transportation system. People make mistakes when they use our streets, but streets should be designed to be so safe that those mistakes aren’t deadly.

Following Sunday’s crash, WABA reached out to local and state elected representatives, and transportation officials requesting action. On Thursday, July 21st, the entire Montgomery County Council sent a letter to Maryland Governor Hogan, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Johnson requesting immediate prioritization of trail crossing improvements. The letter calls out the current dangerous conditions and the need for immediate action.

Fixing the Matthew Henson Trail crossing at Viers Mill Road is just the beginning. This needs to happen now to prevent future injuries and death at this location. But there are dozens of other trail crossings in the Montgomery and Prince George’s County that need attention too. We need the leadership of the Maryland State Highway Administration to work with localities to protect vulnerable road users by focusing on critical street and trail crossings. This means prioritizing the life and safety of people walking and biking over the convenience of people driving.

No one should die walking or biking across the street.

July 29th, 2016 Update: The delegation from Maryland’s 19th District sent a letter to Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Johnson requesting immediate corrective action at the Matthew Henson Trail crossing of Veirs Mill Road.  A special thank you Senator Manno (D-19th) for organizing this action on this important community safety issue.

One step closer to reforming Contributory Negligence in DC

At the #FixContrib Rally

At the #FixContrib Rally

Today the DC Council voted unanimously to approve the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015  as part of the consent agenda. This vote is a huge step towards final passage of the bill, and is the result of years of organizing efforts. In spite of roadblocks, delay, and concerted opposition from AAA and the insurance lobby, we’re the closest we’ve ever been to changing the unfair doctrine of contributory negligence for vulnerable road users.

The bill has now cleared the major obstacles to passage. The Council will vote on the bill a second time in late September / early October, after which it will require a signature by Mayor Bowser, and will undergo a 30 day Congressional review.

We would never have gotten to this point without our members and supporters. Thank you for becoming an expert on this arcane issue, signing petitions, sharing information with your networks, writing and calling your Councilmembers, attending rallies, and all the other ways you’ve leant your support to this campaign.

Kudos to the D.C. Council for doing the right thing. In particular, we recognize the leadership of Councilmember Mary Cheh for crafting, introducing and championing the bill, Councilmember McDuffie for bringing it before the Council, and Councilmembers Allen, Silverman, Grosso, Evans, and Nadeau for their early and steadfast support. This is a huge step towards a necessary reform that’s been a long time coming.

We’re so close, but we’re not done yet. We will stay vigilant through the final stages of the process to ensure there are no surprises, and keep you updated along the way.

A Trail Along New York Avenue in Northeast DC? Yes, Please.

On a toasty Friday afternoon, over 30 trail enthusiasts came out for a two-mile walk along the proposed New York Avenue Trail in Northeast DC. This trail would connect NoMa to the National Arboretum and the neighborhoods in between, and bicyclists in the surrounding area are thrilled to hear more separated infrastructure could be in their futures.

A trail within the New York Avenue corridor is not a new idea. In fact, it was included in the District’s 2005 Bicycle Master Plan, and thanks to development along the corridor, specifically in NoMa and Ivy City, there is renewed interest in the trail concept.

Trail Rendering courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

The group, including representatives from the Bicycle Advisory Committee, local businesses, nonprofits and interested citizens, started out from Union Market. After navigating to Florida and 4th St. NE, trail development professionals from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), who completed a concept plan of the corridor which was released this January, described the connections that could happen to the south, linking up with the Metropolitan Branch Trail and providing access to NoMa. We peeked down the way to the Uline Arena, where the new REI store will open this fall, and Matt Liddle, REI’s Mid-Atlantic Manager spoke to the benefits that REI sees in having bicycle and pedestrian connectivity not just to their store, but throughout the entire city.

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We headed north to a tunnel that burrows under New York Avenue. Eli Griffen from RTC shared the opportunities and challenges associated with using the tunnel as part of the trail alignment. The proposed trail would follow the railroad tracks eastward, but without a trail to walk on, the group walked along a dirt path along New York Avenue. The heavy car and truck volume (and high speeds) was a stark reminder of how unpleasant (and for many, unsafe) the arterial would be to ride, and underlined the importance of having alternative options for walking and biking along the corridor.

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As we reached Ivy City, we were joined by Andrea Gourdine from Douglas Development, who talked to participants about Douglas’s involvement in the project and why they see trails and other bike infrastructure as central to their work. Erik Kugler from BicycleSpace shared why they chose to open a store in Ivy City and what a trail connection would mean for him and his business.

While the idea of the corridor itself could be transformative, other visionaries including Robert Looper III, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Single Member District 5C03 – Fort Lincoln, see the potential to go even further east. Looper spoke about his view for what the corridor could be, and the positive impact it would have on his constituents. Continuing the trail along the New York Avenue corridor could open up biking and walking options to neighborhoods beyond the current study area.

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WABA will work closely with DDOT, RTC and other stakeholders to move the trail development process forward. But that’s not to say that it will be easy- there’s a significant possibility that this could get quite complicated. Virginia Railway Express (VRE), a commuter rail service linking DC and Northern Virginia, has plans to relocate it’s railcar storage in light of the expansion of Union Station. Their chosen location is from 4th Street NE to 16th Street NE- right below New York Avenue, right where the concept plan routes the trail. Learn more about the proposal here

What is clear is that New York Avenue is quickly becoming a residential and retail destination, and that both private developers and the city are significantly investing in the corridor. The planned trail connection will bring safe multimodal infrastructure to the community and should be built.

WABA would like to extend a special thank you to DDOT Trail Planner Michael Alvino for joining us for the walk and answering technical questions along the way, and to all of the event participants for spending their Friday afternoon with us.


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The Fix Contrib bill has been delayed another two weeks

At the #FixContrib Rally

At the #FixContrib Rally

On Tuesday, the DC Council voted to postpone acting on the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016 until July 12th. The legislation would repeal DC’s unfair and punitive contributory negligence standard for bicyclists and pedestrians involved in crashes with drivers.

While we commend the Council, particularly Councilmembers Cheh and McDuffie, for attempting to fix this unfair situation, we call on the Council to act quickly and decisively to adopt the Act on July 12th. There are real world, daily consequences that come with deferring action on this bill. Only an hour after the bill was postponed, a woman riding a Capital Bikeshare bike was critically injured in a crash with a motor vehicle. The details of yesterday’s crash are unknown to us but it highlights the absolute and day-by-day urgency to protect bicyclists and pedestrians who are hit by drivers. Our thoughts are with the injured victim, her friends, co-workers, and family.

Tuesday’s Council meeting, which we expected would result in passage of the bill after the first reading, began with an unexpected request. Councilmember McDuffie requested withdrawal of the bill and postponement of consideration until the next regularly scheduled meeting in October. Councilmember Cheh opposed this, sparking a procedural debate. The result is that the vote on this crucial bill has been postponed until July 12th.

It’s clear that Councilmembers McDuffie and Cheh both support fixing contributory negligence, as is evident in the overall support of the bill and elaborated on in the Judiciary Committee’s report. It’s also clear that a majority of the Councilmembers support changing the law. The question now is how to do it.

The current bill would allow for 100% recovery of damages in cases where the bicyclist or pedestrian is less negligent than the driver. In circumstances where the cyclist or pedestrian is found more negligent than the driver, the recovery is zero. This is the strongest legislation for vulnerable road users. It recognizes the unique and exposed nature of people walking and biking, and give them full recovery when they are injured by negligent drivers. We believe that this is the best approach to changing the current regime and that Council should pass the existing bill.

The alternative approach floated by Councilmember McDuffie in yesterday’s meeting appears to propose a different comparative negligence model. While the exact language of the Councilmember’s proposal is unknown, it is our understanding that his proposal would not only bar vulnerable users at 50% fault or more from any recovery (as does the present bill), but it would also reduce the recoverable damages of any plaintiff by the amount the plaintiff found to be at fault. Put another way, a bicyclist or pedestrian who is found to be 10% at fault when getting hit by a car will not be able to recover the full amount of her medical bills, damages to her bike, or lost wages. Under the existing bill, the vulnerable road user would be able to recover all of her damages. While we would likely continue to support the bill if Councilmember McDuffie’s amendment passes (it is still a measurable improvement over the status quo), we support the bill without amendment.

We will continue remain respectful and passionate throughout this campaign, We ask our members, supporters and the greater bicycling and walking community to remain respectful in the debate too.

We strongly supports abolishing the unfair contributory negligence regime for vulnerable road users, and believe that quickly passing the existing bill before the Council is the best way to achieve that goal. We thank Judiciary Chair McDuffie for moving this bill out of committee and before the full DC Council. The bill, as introduced and amended in the Judiciary Committee, represents a carefully negotiated compromise between the involved stakeholders and should be passed without further delay.