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.

Yay! DDOT Releases Final Safe Accommodation Regulations

IMG_1232

Capital Bikeshare shows how to maintain safe accommodations for bicyclists while they install a new station at 15th & L Streets NW.

DDOT released final regulations for safe accommodations of bicyclists and pedestrians during construction. Future public space permits issued by the city must maintain access for people traveling by foot or bike. A growing number of District residents and visitor rely on walking and biking everyday. Bike lane and sidewalk closures create hazardous situations and have a discouraging effect. With proper enforcement, the final rules should go a long way to maintaining safe access for people walking and biking.

Overall, the regulations are pretty good. Draft regulations were released in August and there have not been any substantive changes between draft and final.

The regulations give an explicit order of priority for providing safe accommodations:

  • Priority one would be to have no impact on existing bike lanes. This could be achieved by keeping construction activities restricted to the parking lane.
  • If that’s not possible, the next best choice is narrowing or reducing other travel lanes as long as at least one remains open.
  • The next option would be to create a shared-lane.
  • Finally, as a last resort, a detour could be set-up. Any detour option would need to replicate the existing infrastructure as practicably possible. Again, the overarching goal would be to simply reduce impacting the existing bike lanes.

The Bicycle Safety Amendment of 2013 became law in the beginning of 2014. WABA worked hard to with DC Council on this law. After it’s passage, this legislation triggered the rulemaking process. The law compels city agencies changes regulations for new permits that effect sidewalks, bike lanes and paths. Future permits must provide “safe accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists” during construction. DDOT completed the task in less than a year.

Thank you DDOT!  We look forward to working together on enforcement of these new regulations. Safe passage during construction makes walking and biking a more reliable mode of transportation.

10 Questions about Contributory Negligence, answered

The Council of the District of Columbia is considering legislation to exempt bicyclists and pedestrians from the contributory negligence standard. Last week, we wrote about the proposed legislation and the upcoming hearing on September 29th. Since then, we’ve received a number of questions about what the proposed law would do. Below, you’ll find our answers for the most common questions we’ve encountered.

But first, here is a reminder about the upcoming hearing:

DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Hearing
September 29th, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Wilson Building, Room 500
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004
View the hearing notice (PDF)
Please email Nicole Goines or call 202-724-7808 to sign up to testify.

We are hosting a conference call on Sept. 23rd at 7pm to answer questions about testifying on this issue. Email advocacy@waba.org if you’d like to join the call.

What is being proposed in this bill?

The Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014 (bill and legislative history) exempts physically vulnerable roadways users (bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users) from the doctrine of contributory negligence, which holds that no one who is deemed at fault in any way for a crash can recover any damages after a crash.

Under current law, what happens after a crash?

Generally, after a crash between a bicyclist and a motorist, there is an injured bicyclist and an uninjured motorist. So the cyclist often will seek compensation for injuries from the motorist and the motorist’s insurer. If everyone involved agrees that the cyclist behaved perfectly and the driver was completely at fault, the cyclist will be able to recover compensation. Unfortunately, such agreement is rare.  If the cyclist was at fault to any degree, or if the insurer or a police officer believes the cyclist was at fault through misunderstanding or misapplying the law, the cyclist will not be able to recover compensation for injuries suffered in the crash. This is true even if the crash was 1% the cyclist’s fault, 99% the motorist’s fault, and all of the injuries were suffered by the cyclist.

How will this change under the proposed bill?

Crashes between motorists and vulnerable road users will be governed by a form of comparative negligence in which each party is able to recover for the other party’s negligence, but not from his or her own.

For example: a motorist exiting her vehicle at night opens her driver’s side door into the bike lane, striking a cyclist who had no light at night. The motorist’s door is not damaged and the motorist is unharmed, but the cyclist suffers a broken arm from the fall and ends up with $1000 in medical bills.

Under the present contributory negligence standard, the cyclist’s failure to have a light would prevent all recovery of damages. even though the motorist broke the law by opening her door into traffic.

Under the new bill, the decision-maker (whether judge, jury, or insurance adjuster) would have to determine the proportionate fault of the parties and determine the damages accordingly. So, if the decision-maker finds that the unlawful opening of the door into the bike lane without looking was 75% responsible for the injury and the failure to have a light was 25% responsible for the injury, the injured cyclists could recover 75% of her damages, or $750–for the portion that was the motorist’s fault.

Contributory negligence applies to all sorts of situations. Does the proposed law change the standard for all cases?

The proposed law creates an exemption from contributory negligence only for vulnerable road users in crashes with motor vehicles.

Have other states changed their negligence standard?

Forty-five states, and the federal court system have adopted comparative negligence as a basis for apportioning fault between parties in tort suits.

How many states still retain the contributory negligence standard?

Currently, just four states (including both Maryland and Virginia) and the District of Columbia continue to use contributory negligence as a bar to recovery and access to courts.

Is there any precedent in current law for an exemption such as the one being proposed?

Yes, current District of Columbia law extends additional legal protection of comparative negligence to railroad workers.

If I’m following traffic laws to the best of my abilities and I am involved in a crash, could I still have my medical bills and damages reduced or totally denied?

Yes. Poor descriptions in accident reports, wrongly issued tickets, and misunderstandings or misapplication of bicycling laws can result in insurance companies denying claims for medical expenses.

Who benefits from this bill becoming law?

Vulnerable road users and motorists alike benefit from the equitable distribution of damages resulting from a collision. Comparative negligence facilitates the recovery of medical expenses or repair costs without long and costly litigation or arbitration. The apportionment of damages creates a limit on the amount of damages which can be recovered. The amount of recovery is ascertainable by looking at the extent of the damage and the percentage of each party’s fault. This is more predictable than jury awards and less harsh than the all or nothing system under contributory negligence.

So who loses if this bill becomes law?

Insurance companies, who presently are not required to pay for the negligence of their insured if the other party is negligent (to any degree). Contributory negligence is not an economically efficient or fair method for determining compensation after crashes because it leaves injured parties who were not primarily responsible for their injuries uncompensated and allows the insurers of the primarily negligent party to avoid compensating the injured.

 

If you have further questions about this proposed legislation and its effects, please email advocacy@waba.org

 

Contributory What?

Often referred to as the “one percent” rule, the Contributory Negligence doctrine prohibits you from recovering damages (money) from a crash if a court thinks you are in any way responsible for the crash.

A few examples of what this looks like:

  • You slow down and look, but roll through a four-way stop, then a drunk driver runs the sign and crashes into you.
  • You get doored, and a police officer incorrectly tickets you for riding too close to parked cars.
  • The battery on your blinky tail light dies while you’re riding home from work, and a texting driver veers into the bike lane and crashes into you.

In any of these cases, you may not be able to collect any compensation for your smashed up bike, your broken leg, or the days of work you missed while you were healing.

Only four states (Maryland and Virginia among them) and the District of Columbia retain this outdated legal doctrine.

DC Councilmember David Grosso recently introduced the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014″ to update DC law to the fairer, more modern Comparative Negligence standard for crashes between drivers and bicyclists or pedestrians.  This means your compensation would be reduced to the extent the you were responsible for the crash, but not eliminated entirely.  Most of the rest of the country has already adopted this more sensible standard.

Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells are also co-introducing the bill. The legislation has been referred to the DC Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which will hold a public hearing on the bill at the end of the month. If you or other bicyclists you know have been hit and had your insurance claim reduced or denied, please consider testifying.

DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Hearing
September 29th, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Wilson Building, Room 500
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004
View the hearing notice (PDF)
Please call Nicole at 202-724-7808 to sign up to testify.

We are hosting a conference call on Sept. 23rd at 7pm to answer questions about testifying on this issue. Email advocacy@waba.org if you’d like to join the call.

If you don’t have personal experience with this issue, please sign-up now to receive updates and we will let you know when there is an opportunity to take action in support of the legislation.

Learn more about the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014″ our advocacy campaign page. We will be posting additional information the campaign page in the coming weeks, including an FAQ early next week.

NPS Begins Arlington Memorial Circle Planning

memorial-circle

Navigating the Arlington Memorial Circle is a major obstacle for area bicyclists. The Mount Vernon Trail, Route 110 Trail and Arlington Memorial Bridge (the direct connection to the National Mall) converge at the circle. Trail users are forced to dash across high speed traffic at grade to cross the many highways, parkways and the traffic circle. There were a number of serious crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists in 2010 and 2011, leading NPS to make some short-term safety fixes to trail crossing.

Now, the George Washington Memorial Parkway is starting a Transportation Plan and Environmental Assessment to study the long-term and major fixes need to vastly improve safety and the park experience for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers. The planning process will take almost two years to complete with a final decision document not expected until the summer of 2016.

There are a number of opportunities in September to learn more about the planning process. National Park Service is also accepting comments until September 30th during this initial phase. Visit the National Park Service Park Planning website to learn more about how to get involved.

Hey. Come ride with us!

Take on the fall with WABA’s education ride series!

When it comes to learning about biking, nothing beats real-world experience, so we’re embarking on a series of four rides — each covering a different topic or theme that will help you get around the city.

Our rides are certain to be a good time, but they’re also a safe space to practice riding with people who live and breathe (and teach) this stuff every day. Come to tour DC, come to ride, come to ask any of your deepest, darkest, secret-est bike questions, and come to have fun.

Still not sure? Did we mention that each ride will end at one of DC’s premier taco establishments?

Click on a ride below to register — advance registration costs 10 bucks a person, but you can join us for free on the day of, providing we still have space. Bring a bike, wear your helmet, and read the fine print here.

ch-ch-ch-changes

First up, we have our Ch-ch-ch-changes Ride on Wednesday, Sept. 17th! This ride is all about preparing for what comes next when you’re on your bike. We’ll be riding from trails to roads, from bike lanes to open lanes, and from Northeast to Northwest, all while summer changes to fall around us. Get ready to reinvent yourself and change the way you ride!

Starts at 6:30 p.m. @ M Street NE, between 1st Street NE and 2nd Street NE, in front of the NoMa Metro station

Ends at 8:00 p.m. @ Taqueria Nacional (14th and T Street NW)

Every other Wednesday, we’ll be setting off to explore riding in DC. And these rides are just the beginning. Next year, we’ll have a whole new series!

Check ‘em out:

On Wednesday, October 1st:

gotta get up to get down

And on Wednesday, October 15th:

bike lane blitz

And finally, on Wednesday, October 29th:

round round get around

 

DDOT Proposes Bike Ban Wherever Streetcars Operate

“Bike Prohibited” could be the next version of this sign. Photo source: mvjantzen

DDOT’s proposed streetcar regulations, released last week, prohibit “riding a bicycle within a streetcar guideway, except to cross the street.” On H St Northeast, that guideway is the entire street, effective banning biking on this popular corridor. This is a problem.

For years, WABA and others have raised concerns about the interaction of streetcars and bicycles and suggested a range of both equipment and communication best practices to improve the situation. Rather than seriously pursing these solutions, DDOT is proposing to ban bikes.

Tell DDOT Not to Ban Bikes

Streetcar tracks can pose a legitimate hazard to bicyclists, but banning bikes is not an acceptable solution. Please contact DDOT immediately, and demand that this bike ban be removed from the regulations before they are made final.

This restriction is not just a bad idea, it contradicts DDOT’s own Complete Streets Policy, which explicitly requires:

“All transportation and other public space projects shall accommodate and balance the choice, safety, and convenience of all users of the transportation system including pedestrians, users with disabilities, bicyclists, transit users, motorized vehicles and freight carriers, and users with unique situations that limit their ability to use specific motorized or non-motorized modes to ensure that all users, especially the most vulnerable can travel safely, conveniently and efficiently within the right of way.”

Bicycles and streetcars share space in cities across the world. There are a variety of technical and design solutions to this problem. It is past time for DDOT to commit to learning about and using these sorts of solutions rather than banning an entire mode of transportation from the road.