What’s Next for the Contributory Negligence Bill?

Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee voted 3-0 to move the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act out of committee and recommended it for consideration by the full D.C. Council.

The version of the bill that came to markup had two minor but substantive changes from the one that was introduced last January. First, it now includes a definition of “non-motorized user” to mean “an individual using a skateboard, non-motorized scooter, Segway, tricycle, and other similar non-powered transportation devices.” These vulnerable road users are now explicitly  covered by the bill, in addition to bicyclists and pedestrians.

Secondly, the bill expressly retains the last clear chance doctrine, something that is already available under the law in the District. Reserving it will likely result in greater protection for bicyclists, because in circumstances where the bicyclist is contributorily negligent, for example, where the bicyclist’s negligence exceeds 50% of the harm, the bicyclist still has the last clear chance doctrine at his or her disposal, which would allow the bicyclist to recover— even if the bicyclist was contributorily negligent— when the motorist had the last clear chance to avoid the collision. In our view, it cuts in favor of bicyclists. We support both changes to the bill.

What’s Next?

We’re not done yet! The bill will now be considered by the full DC Council when it meets as the Committee of the Whole sometime before summer recess. It needs seven votes to pass the Council, and the Mayor’s signature to become law. The bill’s sponsors are Councilmembers Cheh, Grosso, Evans, Bonds, and Allen; Councilmember Alexander is a co-sponsor.

We are closer than we’ve ever been to fixing this obvious problem in the law—something we’ve been told couldn’t be done. Our opponents didn’t think could be done, and they’re still working to keep the legislation from becoming law.  Between now and the final vote, we’ll need to do everything we can to make sure we have sufficient support on the full Council. Keep your eyes out for action alerts about opportunities for further public comment and testimony as they arise. We’ll need everyone’s involvement to get this across the finish line.

The Contributory Negligence Bill is Moving!


Big news! We have heard from Councilmember McDuffie and Judiciary Committee staff that they plan to bring the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015 (B21-0004) to markup, this Thursday.

The doctrine of contributory negligence is a legal dinosaur. This unfair legal standard is used to deny a bicyclist or pedestrian access to compensation for medical bills and property damage suffered when a negligent driver inflicts injuries on a less-negligent road user.  This doctrine unfairly compounds legal vulnerability upon physical injury and limits bicyclists access to justice. When a bicyclist or pedestrian is involved in crash with a driver, he or she should be able to focus on recovering from injuries without worrying that medical and property damage claims will be denied due to an outdated legal doctrine.

Contact your Councilmember 

The District of Columbia is a national outlier, as it is one of only five states that still use contributory negligence to allocate fault. The vast majority of states have updated their negligence standard to a fairer system.

WABA has been advocating for reform of this antiquated law since early 2014. The bill before the Judiciary Committee would change the law so that if a bicyclist or pedestrian is less than 50% at fault for the crash, he or she would not be automatically barred from recovery. Passing this law will give people a chance at having their expensive medical bills and damaged property covered.

The current version of the bill represents a good compromise between many powerful stakeholders and we hope it will pass out of committee without any changes that would jeopardize the widespread support it enjoyed when it was first introduced last January.

Click here to tell your Councilmember that you support passage of this bill without amendment, to give bicyclists a fair chance at justice after a crash.

No safe accommodations on L Street for more than two years.

Side walk closed L St

Two projects that WABA worked for years to bring to fruition, the L St Protected Bike Lane and passage of the Safe Accommodations law and accompanying regulations, have been undermined by a permit issued by DDOT for the old Washington Post building site construction.

Several weeks ago, WABA sent a formal letter to DDOT outlining our concerns over the traffic control permit issued to Carr Properties for the project, noting that DDOT, under its own regulations, is required to provide accommodations to bicyclists and pedestrians that are equal to the level of protection that is being disrupted by the construction. The permit issued for this project completely eliminates the protected bike lane and the sidewalk on the north side of the street, while leaving two vehicle lanes open. For more than two years, the publicly accessible portions of L Street will consist of a 13 foot motor vehicle lane (with “sharrows”—the stenciled paint indicating the lane is to be shared with bicyclists), an 11 foot motor vehicle lane (no longer used for automobile parking), and the southern sidewalk.

Here’s why it matters.

As we explain in our letter, the L Street protected bike lane is a key part of the city’s transportation infrastructure. Because of the physical separation from traffic, a protected bike lane attracts people who would not necessarily be willing to ride on a street with no infrastructure.  Following completion of the protected bike lane in 2013, bike ridership on L Street exploded, increasing 65 percent within the protected bike lane’s first year of installation. The 1500 block section of the L St protected bike lane is a particularly important piece of the network because it intersects with the 15th Street north-south protected bike lane, which is itself connected to the westbound M Street protected bike lane. Without a safe L Street protected bike lane, the utility of the M Street protected bike lane is also diminished.

The City Council anticipated the problems that would ensue if the city’s bike lanes were made unsafe because of construction like this project. After repeated bike lane and sidewalk closures, the Council unanimously passed the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act in 2013. The Act provides, among other things, that “The Mayor shall require permittees blocking a sidewalk, bicycle lane, or other pedestrian or bicycle path to provide a safe accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists.” DDOT testified in favor of the legislation. The following year, DDOT proposed and finalized regulations implementing the Act.

DDOT’s regulations define a safe accommodation for bicyclists in three ways.

First, the regulations define the term “safe accommodation” as a “safe and convenient route for pedestrians and bicyclists that ensures an accommodation through or around a work zone that is equal to the accommodation that was provided to pedestrians and bicyclists before the blockage of the sidewalk, bicycle lane, or other public bicycle path.” (Emphasis added). Second, the regulations state that the routing for a safe accommodation for bicyclists “shall replicate the safety level of the existing bicycle route.” Finally, the regulations state that a safe accommodation to bicyclists must be provided by prioritizing methods, in this order from highest priority to lowest priority:

  1. Closing a parking lane and keeping the adjacent bicycle lane open;
  2. Shifting the bicycle lane to a location on the same roadway to by-pass the work zone, and if necessary, shifting and narrowing the adjacent motor vehicle traffic lanes; 
  3. Closing the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane to provide space for a bicycle lane; provided that a minimum of one motor vehicle travel lane shall remain;
  4. Merging the bicycle lane and the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane into a shared travel lane adjacent to the work zone, installing sharrow lane markings in the shared travel lane and installing work zone signage directing bicyclists to merge into the shared travel lane; provided the shared travel lane shall be maintained at no less than thirteen feet (13 ft.) wide; and
  5. As a last resort, detouring bicyclists onto an adjacent roadway, in which case the detour route shall replicate, as closely as practicable, the level of safety found on the bicycle route being blocked.

Collectively, DDOT’s regulations provide a clear and comprehensive scheme that must be followed when DDOT considers a permit application for a developer to close a bike lane: the developer’s plan must provide an accommodation that is “equal to” the closed lane, the accommodation must “replicate the safety level of” the closed lane, and DDOT must select the highest priority option for a safe accommodation that is possible under the terms of the regulations.

DDOT approved a traffic control plan for the construction phase of Carr Properties’ project that violates the Act and DDOT’s regulations.

First, a 13 foot motor vehicle lane with no dedicated space for bicyclists is in no sense “equal to” the protected bike lane that existed before the demolition.  Second, the 13 foot motor vehicle lane will not “replicate the safety level of” the protected bike lane. Third, DDOT did not follow the regulations’ mandatory priority scheme when it selected a method of safe accommodation. Before it may adopt the fourth method on the regulations’ priority list, DDOT must adopt the third method on the list unless it would be impossible to do so under the terms of the regulations.

The statute and regulations do not include an exception for expediting a developer’s construction. They do not include an exception for accommodating structural issues that a developer might encounter on its own land, like the Pepco vaults underneath the Carr Properties project site. Finally, they do not include an exception for streets thought to be too important to motor vehicle travel for drivers to be inconvenienced. To the contrary, the statute specifically states that it applies to “all permittees.” DDOT and the developer must find a way to comply with the law, not stretch the law to accommodate the developer’s challenges and expose the public to risk in the process. The law has little force if it can be set aside in the circumstances where it is needed most, like this project.

WABA proposed alternatives to the traffic control plan in the permit, any of which would comply with the law and protect vulnerable roadway users.

Option 1: Installation of Temporary Sidewalk and Temporary Protected Bike Lane with Closure of One Car Lane

First, a temporary sidewalk and a temporary protected bike lane could be installed, and a lane of motor vehicle travel removed. Bicyclists and pedestrians would have safe accommodations that would be “equal to” and that would “replicate the safety of” their accommodations before the construction. All modes of transportation would be accommodated and physically separated, as they are now. Drivers could still drive down the street and, in an improvement from the current plan for the construction phase, would not have the prospect of hitting a merging bicyclist. Any excess motor vehicle traffic would naturally move to any of the nearby eastbound streets: K Street, H Street, Pennsylvania and New York Avenues, or N Street. And the developer could still use double truck loading lanes within the project site, if DDOT still wished to accommodate that request.

Option 2: Reclamation of Public Space to Provide a Sidewalk and a Protected Bike Lane With No Further Closures of Car Lanes

Second, the developer’s permit could be conditioned on the developer finding a small amount of space within the currently envisioned boundaries of the project site to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. DDOT could narrow the proposed 13 foot motor vehicle lane to 10 feet, build a temporary 7 foot wide or buffered bike lane, and use any incremental space that could be found within the project site beyond those 4 feet to build a temporary sidewalk. This option would preserve two lanes of automobile traffic, a protected bike lane, and a sidewalk. All modes of transportation would be accommodated and physically separated.

Option 3:  Reclamation of Public Space to Provide a Protected Bike Lane With No Further Closures of Car Lanes

Third, DDOT could require the developer to find only 4 feet within the project site to accommodate bicyclists but not pedestrians. The result would be similar to Option 2 above, but without a sidewalk. Option 3 is not our preferred approach because arguably it does not provide a safe accommodation to pedestrians under DDOT’s regulations.

WABA met with DDOT officials last week to discuss our concerns and our proposed solutions.

DDOT officials maintain that they are in compliance with the law and regulations requiring safe accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians. They assured us that they fought for every foot of space they have on the road, and within that space, there is simply not enough room to create safe accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists.  They believe reducing L Street to one lane of vehicle traffic would create dangerous conditions throughout the downtown area by increasing traffic volumes on parallel streets, as well as increasing traffic turns onto parallel streets. DDOT officials did not provide a satisfactory explanation for why they are imposing an analysis that prioritizes traffic flow over multi-modal safety in a situation where the law does not require, and in fact seems to explicitly reject, that approach. DDOT officials also failed to explain why this developer was granted an expedited permit that allows the double truck parking that has gobbled up so much of the public space, especially when that permit seems to be the basis for this less than stellar safety outcome.

DDOT officials did acknowledge that it would have been better to involve the public earlier in the permitting process, and indicated an inclination to improve that process in the future. They also agreed that it is time to update the Pedestrian Safety and Work Zone Standards or Construction Management manuals to reflect the agency’s  own safe accommodation regulations and the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act.

Bottom Line

A bike lane network is only as robust as its weakest link, not the average of the stress on its constituent links. Ordinary people will not use a bike lane that disappears when it is needed most on a busy street.  The likely outcome of the traffic control pattern authorized by this permit is decreased ridership and increased motor vehicle trips, to say nothing of decreased safety for those who chose to continue riding.  Rather than force the developer to find more space within the site or adjust its timeline accordingly, DDOT approved a traffic control plan that ratifies the unnecessary encroachment of public space.  This is not what we expect to see from an agency and administration committed to Vision Zero.  We hope DDOT will improve its processes for making decisions on future permit applications that would involve bike lane and sidewalk closures. We stand ready, as always, to provide our advice and viewpoints on best practices that will safely accommodate all modes of transportation.

 

Mayor Bowser Releases the Vision Zero Action Plan!!

Vision Zero Cover

Just before the holidays, Mayor Bowser released the greatly anticipated Vision Zero Action Plan. WABA has been actively engaged in advocating for Vision Zero over the past two years and is pleased that the Mayor is moving ahead with her commitments to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2024. The plan details strategies for using education, enforcement, engineering, and data evaluation to prevent death and injuries on the roads.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  1. Codifying safe streets law that prioritizes the safety of the most vulnerable users, designing streets that self-enforce a safe speed, and increasing enforcement and protection for pedestrians and bicyclists in work zones.
  2. Protecting vulnerable road users by expanding and upgrading the sidewalk network by filling 40 blocks of gaps and the bicycle network by installing or upgrading 20 miles of on-street bicycle facilities.
  3. Cracking down on dangerous driving through targeted enforcement and increased penalties for drunk, distracted, and dangerous driving,  and creating arterial, neighborhood, and other safe zones with lower speed limits.
  4. Establishing a public location for all crash and safety data on the Vision Zero website. The city will also publish geospatial analysis of safety-related citations issued and adjudicated and hold quarterly safety meetings to refine enforcement strategies based on safety outcomes.

As part of the District’s strategy, the D.C. Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles has proposed regulations to increase penalties for drivers who endanger public safety by violating traffic laws. (More on that next week.)

In 2016, WABA will be working with stakeholders to ensure these programs are implemented, and hold our leaders accountable to the bold vision they represent. We will also be working to get commitments to Vision Zero from leaders in other jurisdictions in the Washington region. We are on our way, and this is a great step forward!

Hey! 100% of our advocacy is funded by contributions from people like you. Want to help make a region wide vision zero a reality? Donate today!

Better bike laws before the DC Council next week

CIMG0316

Three important pieces of legislation will be considered by the DC City Council Committee of Transportation and the Environment December 8th.

  1. B21-0335, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015;
  2. B21-0383, the Vision Zero Act of 2015; and
  3. B21-0021, the Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015

Adoption of these bills would represent a major step forward in the District of Columbia’s stated goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries by the year 2024. These bills would make the streets of the District safer and friendlier for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike, enshrining the important principle that streets are for people. These bills would also enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors and improve the economy and environment of the District of Columbia.

Over the past year, we’ve worked hard to bring these bills to the table. Now we need you to show your Councilmembers on the transportation committee that you support these bills and the bold vision they represent. 

Submit Comments Here

Here’s a rundown of the key issues addressed by the bills.

(Believe it or not, this is the short version…)

Complete Streets Policy:

One of the most important sections of both the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act and the Vision Zero Act relates to complete streets policies.

Each bill lists the principles and purposes of the city’s complete streets policy. The Vision Zero Act would “ensure the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, users of mass transit, people with disabilities, the elderly, motorists, freight providers, and emergency responders.” (p. 2, l. 19.) The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act includes similar language. (p. 8, l. 183.)

In order to actually change the status quo and create streets for people, the complete streets policy should elevate the safety and convenience of pedestrians, bicyclists, users of mass transit, people with disabilities, and the elderly over the convenience of motorists and freight providers.

The Vision Zero Act would specifically require facilities for all users to be included in any construction, reconstruction, retrofit, repaving, and rehabilitation of a street. (p. 3, l. 16.) This means that DDOT would presumptively install bicycle lanes or separated cycle tracks any time it repaved a street that did not previously have such facilities. WABA strongly supports this provision and recommends its inclusion in any transportation safety legislation that is adopted.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas:

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would require DDOT to designate priority areas where the area is used heavily by bicyclists and pedestrians and the area has a high number of collisions. DDOT would be required to make improvements to traffic patterns and infrastructure in priority areas to enhance bicyclist and pedestrian safety. WABA strongly supports this program and recommends its inclusion in any transportation safety legislation that is adopted.

We would like to see the bill revised to provide that DDOT shall actually implement, and not just recommend, safety changes to the priority areas.

Open Access to Data and Information:

WABA strongly supports open access to crash and road safety data. Accurate, complete, and accessible data will help the District accomplish many of the goals of its Vision Zero Initiative by:

  • Identifying high priority streets, intersections and neighborhoods for safety improvements;
  • Analyzing the effects of street design features;
  • Creating more accurate benchmarks for measuring the District’s Vision Zero performance over time;
  • Enabling public health practitioners to develop a greater understanding of the relationship between crash variables and medical outcomes; and
  • Promoting transparency and ensuring the public’s ready access to important safety information.

WABA has encouraged the Mayor’s office, DDOT, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the City Council to modernize the District’s crash data collection, integration and disclosure policies in three ways:

  1. Updating the crash intake form of the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) to better align with national minimum standards so that the circumstances of a crash are captured accurately at the scene of the crash;
  2. Integrating crash data with medical data so that the physical outcomes of people injured in a crash are reflected in the record of the crash; and
  3. Disclosing crash data automatically, in a timely and intuitive manner.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would take important steps to further these goals by mandating DDOT to publish on its website monthly collision data. One factor required to be disclosed for each crash is the “apparent human factor or factors that contributed to the collision, including intoxication, driver inattention or distraction, speeding, failure to yield, and use of cell phones or other mobile devices.” Unfortunately, it is WABA’s experience that crashes can also be caused by a driver’s intent, recklessness, or aggressive driving. Accordingly, this list should be expanded to include those potential contributing factors.

The bill should require MPD to disclose the number and location of tickets issued to motor vehicle drivers for parking, idling, or driving in a bike lane. Like moving violations and unlike most parking violations, parking, idling, or driving in a bike lane creates a safety hazard. Cars and trucks obstructing bike lanes cause bicyclists to merge into car traffic, sometimes abruptly, and sometimes directly into the path of a speeding driver. This is an all-too-common experience for bicyclists in the District, one that discourages inexperienced or apprehensive riders from riding their bikes. A requirement to disclose the number of tickets issued for parking, idling, or driving in bike lanes would send an important message that enforcement is needed in this area, and would allow the City Council and the public to monitor levels of enforcement.

Finally, DDOT and MPD crash data has often been released in static reports that do not enable the public to sort the underlying data to produce maps and charts. Therefore, all crash safety data subject to the disclosure provisions of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act should be disclosed in a format that is easy to read and should be downloadable by the public.

Submit Comments

Stop as Yield:

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would permit a bicyclist approaching a stop sign or steady red light to cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping if there are no vehicles with the right of way in or approaching the intersection.  WABA supports this provision because it would focus scarce traffic enforcement resources on road user behaviors that pose real risks to others – including distracted driving, driving under the influence, speeding, and failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians.

Curbing Dangerous Driving:

The three bills being considered would improve the safety of our streets by defining new moving violations, strengthening the enforcement of existing violations, and revising education programs.

  1. Ignition Interlock Devices—The Vision Zero Act would require a person who has been convicted of certain drunk driving offenses to install an ignition interlock device. (p. 6, l. 15.) WABA supports this requirement, and believes it should be strengthened with an enforcement provision. Currently, the only consequence of failing to install a required ignition interlock device appears to be an extension of the mandatory term for which the device is required to be installed.
  2. Drunk Driving Penalties—The Vision Zero Act would increase penalties for drunk driving offenses.   (p. 7, l. 21.) WABA supports these provisions.
  3. For-Hire Vehicle Operator Training—The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would revise for-hire vehicle operating training and taxi operator training to add training in specific traffic concepts, including the rights and safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. (p. 12, l. 276.) WABA fully supports these revisions, which will help educate our city’s most active and frequent drivers on the rights of the most vulnerable road users.
  4. Repeat Offenders—The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would provide an escalating series of fines for repeat offenders of serious driving violations, including entering crosswalks, crossing through a red light, failing to yield the right of way, or parking or idling on a sidewalk or bike lane. (p. 14, l. 322.) WABA supports this provision, but believes it could be strengthened by clarifying that separate violations of two different offenses on the list would also trigger increased penalties.
  5. Distracted Driving—The three bills being considered would address some of the flaws of the Distracted Driving Safety Act of 2004.First, the Vision Zero Act would amend the law to increase the penalty for distracted driving from a $100 fine with no points to a $500 fine plus two traffic points. (p. 9, l. 1.) The fine and points would be suspended upon the purchase of a hands-free accessory.Second, the Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act would amend the law by keeping the $100 base fine, but providing an escalating series of fines for repeated violations within an 18 month period, including a suspension of the driver’s license for the third violation. (p. 2, l. 41.) Points would not be assessed for a single violation that did not contribute to a crash, but may be assessed for a subsequent violation that occurs within an 18 month period, regardless of whether the violations contributed to a crash. (p. 2, l. 55.) There would be no suspension of a fine or points for the purchase of a hands-free accessory.Third, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would amend the law to further limit the situations in which a person could use a mobile telephone while operating a vehicle. (p. 15, l. 347.)WABA supports adopting a combination of all three bills. The base penalty for distracted driving should be increased to include higher fines and traffic points, because a $100 fine is far too low to be a deterrent. Moreover, drivers should not be free of punishment for purchasing a hands-free device, since research now shows that hands-free phone use is nearly as distracting as handheld phone use. Rather, an increase in the penalties applicable to repeat offenses should provide first-time violators with the incentive to comply with the law in the future. Finally, the scope of proscribed conduct should be expanded to include all situations where a driver is operating a motor vehicle other than an emergency.
  6. Aggressive Driving—WABA supports the creation of an aggressive driving offense for drivers who commit three or more specified dangerous offenses at the same time or during a continuous period of driving one mile. (Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act, p. 15, l. 352.) Given the seriousness and number of offenses underlying an aggressive driving violation, we believe the proposed penalty of two traffic points and a $200 fine is too low and should be increased.

What’s Missing:

  1. Speeding LegislationUnfortunately, none of the bills being considered would lower the speed limit on the city’s residential streets from 25 mph to 20 mph, despite widespread recognition that speeding is one of the most important determinants of traffic injuries and deaths.  Cities larger and more congested than the District of Columbia have adopted lower speed limits. The evidence is clear that lower speed limits save lives:
    • A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the risk of severe injury for a pedestrian hit at 23 mph is 25 percent. At 31 mph, the risk of severe injury increases to 50 percent. At 39 mph, the rate of severe injury jumps to 75 percent.
    • According to AAA research, a person is 74 times more likely to be killed if struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph than at 25 mph.WABA urges the City Council to pass legislation lowering the speed limit on residential streets to 20 mph.
  2. No Right Turn on Red—Pedestrians are especially vulnerable to crashes by drivers making quick and dangerous right turns at red lights. Drivers are violating the pedestrians’ right of way if they turn through an intersection with a pedestrian present. Often, drivers do not come to a full stop behind the stop bar or slow down before making a right turn on red. There should be an increased application of or a city-wide adoption of No Right Turn on Red.
  3. Increased Fines for Parking in Bike Lanes—Parking, standing, or stopping in bike lanes causes a dangerous situation for bicyclists and drivers. When a bike lane is blocked, even temporarily, bicyclists are forced to merge into a regular traffic lane. This sudden need to merge out of a bike lane and into mixed traffic often creates a safety hazard for drivers and bicyclists.

It is illegal under District law to stop, stand, or park in a bike lane. The penalty is $65 per violation. In 2013, the District issued 4,200 tickets for unlawful parking and standing in bike lanes. The number of vehicles that continue to park in bike lanes demonstrates that this fine is clearly not a sufficient deterrent, especially for commercial delivery drivers.

The district should raise the penalty for illegal parking in bike lanes. Comparable cities have significantly higher fines than the District ($100 in San Francisco and New York; $115 in Chicago).

Submit Comments

If you’ve read this entire blog post, you are a bonafide bicycle law superfan, and we’ve got another ask: Sign up to testify at the hearing on Tuesday.

Are you in? Email abenjamin@dccouncil.us or call (202) 724-8062 to get a place on the speaker’s list. Then, email advocacy@waba.org to let us know you are coming. We’ll have talking points, resources, and staff available to help you write and deliver your testimony. You can also stop by the WABA office on Monday, Dec 7, between 4 pm and 7 pm to discuss in person.

Lights, Coffee, ACTION!

This week’s weather theme has been GO RIDE YOUR BIKE! Today’s 80 degree weather is no different. Since Daylight Savings Time ending caught many of our friends off guard, we decided to catch up with them while they’re out riding! DC Bike Ambassadors set up friendly bicycle light sting operations around town to equip lightless bicycle riders with their very own pair of bicycle lights.

IMG_2221

DC Bike Ambassadors set up in front of the Columbia Heights Metro on 14th Street NW…AT NIGHT!

 

DC Bike Ambassadors stop bicyclists on the 15th street cycletrack

DC Bike Ambassadors stop bicyclists on the 15th street cycletrack at P Street NW…AT NIGHT!

It gets dark so early these days, that 6 pm looks like midnight…AT NIGHT! Check out these handy tips about riding at night…AT NIGHT!

Aside from handing out bike lights, Ambassadors love giving out free coffee, bike maps, and law guides to our unsuspecting friends! Your smiling faces brings us joy that lasts all day long! Be on the lookout for our bicycling experts who ride around the city in bright red Ambassador shirts spreading the love of bicycling to all.

IMG_2306

DC Bike Ambassadors give a bicyclist a cup of coffee and a new copy of the DC Bike Law Guide

 

Want to become a DC Bike Ambassador? Email jon.gonzalez@waba.org for upcoming trainings.

 

Un-Protected Bikeways: Why is DC Still Undercutting Safety?

For every new trail, bike lane, and policy that makes the region a better place to bike, there are committed advocates working in their communities, with government officials, and WABA staff to improve our streets for people who bike. Here is an update from Joe Allen, a DC and Montgomery County advocate.

The protected bikeways throughout much of downtown DC have contributed to great increases in people bicycling.  These new bicycle facilities have a physical barrier as well as horizontal separation from moving vehicle traffic.  Protected bikeways offer improvements in safety, predictability, and comfort for the average person.  Unfortunately, the record for DC in maintaining protection of these bikeways during building or roadway construction is horrible despite a law requiring them to do so.  What happens when construction or other reasons impact these bikeways will impact their long term success.

People riding in these new facilities expect a continuity in the level of comfort and skill required to reach their destination safely.  Therefore, a major challenge for developing such lanes downtown is finding a solution for construction projects that require the sidewalk and curb lane closures.  Often years of thought and engineering go into the protected bikeway design to minimize conflicts and maintain separation.  This hard work should not be erased when roadwork happens.  Given the type of riders attracted to these lanes, who prefer not to mix with traffic, even a periodic one-block disruption could discourage future use.  The DC Council agreed in 2013 and passed a law requiring the Office of Permits to work with the DC Bikeways Coordinator in approving traffic plans for construction zones that provide safe accommodation for bicyclists and pedestrians. The law mandated that plans provide an equivalent bicycle facility wherever possible and a stepwise approach that maintains safety when space is tight.

Read about the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013

What has been the record of Office of Permits since this law was passed and regulations were issued?  One only has to look at comments about the protected bikeways to see the law is regularly ignored, or even worse, implemented in ways that actually increase risk to people riding bicycles.  The stepwise approach that is supposed to prioritize safety over maintaining parking lanes and travel lane widths often does the opposite.  In some cases, accommodation is provided for people on bicycle but not people walking with the obvious result, people walking in the bikeway.  More often though, sidewalk detours are provided, but people on bicycle must quickly merge into mixed traffic. Nowhere has this more true than the M St. NW protected bikeway.  There are currently three construction projects on the protected bikeway, each which violate the spirit if not the letter of the law and regulations.  The traffic plans for these construction projects were approved by the Office of Permits. However, the approvals are in violation of the law and conflict with very clear direction by DDOT on how these projects should preserve and not eliminate the protection for people on bicycles.

M St. NW and 20th St. NW

M and 20th St. NW. Note the turning vehicle.

The worst implementation yet occurred during the past few weeks on the M St. protected bikeway at 20th St. NW.  The signage emphasizes the very violation of the law: “Bikeway Closed”.  A pedestrian passage is maintained on the same side of the street as the bikeway despite an available sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and the parking lane on the opposite side of the street is left intact.  The result is people on bicycles must merge at the last minute in the middle of an intersection.  The traffic plan goes further and closes the right hand turn lane to cars for no apparent reason, eliminating the predictable mixing zone developed to reduce conflicts and avoid right hand turning cars crossing in the path of bicycles.  The return to the protected bikeway is at the entrance to a parking garage which regularly blocks the protected bikeway in the morning as the valet parks cars.  The plan fails at a number of levels.  There is no predictable, safe path maintained and the safety of people on bicycle is actually significantly harmed by merging cars and bikes at the worst possible place.  The plan encourages cars to cross the path of bicycles and vice versa.  During two brief morning spent observing the result, I caught on camera at least three near miss conflicts of cars turning into bicycles as well as regular failure to leave safe passing distance for bicycles that finally made it into the auto travel lane.  To add insult to injury, two additional closures and detours occur within the next four blocks, including conflicting detour and closure signs posted at M St. NW and New Hampshire St. NW.  The signs at this intersection give conflicting directions regarding use of a correctly posted protected detour and an illegal closure two blocks away (including use of “Share the Road” sign rather than “May Take Full Lane”)..

M St. Protected Bikeway and New Hampshire St. NW - two Blocks from 20th St. NW closure

M and New Hampshire St. NW – two Blocks from 20th St. NW closure

I have captured these violations of bikeway closures on 15th and L St. during the past year on several occasions and the response from DC government officials has always been polite.  They acknowledge such traffic plans should not be permitted and state that the permit office will learn over time but are overwhelmed with the volume of construction requests.  DDOT recently issued further guidance for bicycle lane closures and acceptable traffic management plans. Yet, it is unacceptable that a law has been passed, regulations have been issued, and requirements to coordinate with the DC Bikeways Coordinator outlined, and bikeway closures which should be a last option are regularly instituted as the first option.

Bicycling as a means to get from point A to B has become a new norm thanks in part to the building a protected bike network.  However, the new norm also requires recognizing the responsibility to maintain protected bikeways according to the law.  DC would rarely close a commuter arterial to cars on a daily basis for weeks on end or force cars onto the sidewalk or into narrow alleys not designed for auto traffic.  DC can and should do better, and it should not require a lawsuit for the government to uphold its own laws.

Joe Allen is a WABA member and chair of WABA’s Action Committee for Montgomery County.