Contributory Negligence Bill Tabled for 2014

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Today, D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety tabled a proposed bill to improve access to compensation for crash victim–effectively killing it for this legislative session. Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced the motion to table. Councilmember Evans (Ward 2) and Chairman Mendelson voted to table the bill. Councilmember Wells (Ward 6) voted against the motion.

The “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014″ (Bill 20-844) was introduced by Councilmember Grosso, Wells and Cheh in July to provide relief to vulnerable roadway users whose claims are inappropriately denied by insurers, and who cannot secure representation in the courts due to the economic effect of the liability standard.

We are deeply disappointed that the economic concerns of the insurance industry and the D.C. Trial Lawyers Association derailed progress on a bill that would have meaningfully helped hundreds of crash victims receive the recovery they are fairly due for injuries resulting from another party’s negligence. We will continue to work to resolve this systemic problem.

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Vote on Crash Victim Fairness Bill Postponed

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Today, the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety held a legislative mark-up session on a number of bills, including the Bill 20-884 “Vulnerable User Recovery Act of 2014″. The Committee voted to postpone mark-up until next Wednesday, November 12th to allow all involved parties one last opportunity to craft a bill that meets the needs of vulnerable roadway users and the concerns of other stakeholders in the legal community. Councilmembers Jack Evan, Mary Cheh, Anita Bonds, Tommy Wells and David Grosso (not a member of Judiciary Committee) were in attendance at this morning’s mark-up.

Councilmember Tommy Wells and David Gross with WABA and All Walks DC held a joint press conference and rally in support of the legislation before the DC Council. The bill, if passed, would move the District to a fairer negligence standard to enable crash victims to collect compensation from driver’s insurance.

Yesterday’s press conference was attended by dozens of local residents calling on the DC Council to move the bill forward to protect the most vulnerable road users. Following votes from next week’s mark-up, WABA will post the vote results and a legislative scorecard online. You can learn more about the scorecard here and more about WABA’s campaign to bring fairness for crash victims.

As we all wait until next week’s vote, take some time to read the press coverage from yesterday online here, here, here, here, here , here, here and here. Please also take a moment to contact your Councilmember to ask for their support of the bill.

Take Action: Ask DC Council to Support the Bill

Rally for Justice on Thursday at 10am

November 5th Update: Due to weather concerns, the location has change to Room 123 inside the Wilson Building. The press conference will still be held at 10 am.

Join DC Councilmember Tommy Wells, DC Councilmember David Grosso, WABA and All Walks DC on the front steps of the John A. Wilson Building for a press conference and rally in support of legislation to exempt bicyclists from the harsh and unfair contributory negligence standard. You can learn more about our campaign here and read more about this unfair law here, here and here. At the press conference, WABA will introduce our legislative scorecard for this bill ahead of mark-up on Friday. Learn more about the scorecard here.

What: Joint Press Conference and Rally
Who: DC Councilmember Tommy Wells, DC Councilmember David Grosso, Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), All Walks DC.
Date: Thursday, November 6, 2014
Time: 10:00am
Where: Front steps of the John A. Wilson Building, Room 123, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004

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Can’t make the press conference? Please email, visit or call your Councilmembers and ask them to support the Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014 (B20-884).

Take Action: Ask DC Council to Support the Bill

Keeping Score on DC Legislative Positions, Starting with the Contrib Bill

As many of you know, WABA is working hard to change the contributory negligence doctrine in DC. We have been publicly pushing for this change for years because of the negative effects the doctrine has on the District’s cyclists. Hundreds of you emailed your Councilmembers to show support for a bill that would change the doctrine to the fairer comparative negligence. However, the insurance industry and others oppose the bill, and have sent a swarm of lobbyists to work the Wilson Building and sway the votes of our elected officials.

So, it’s time to publicly hold those Councilmembers accountable for their votes and show everyone which officials use their power to support people who bike, and which officials bow to insurance industry lobbyists.

The Scoring System

We view it as our responsibility to educate our members and the public on  key votes by elected officials that affect cyclists in the District.*

On key bills affecting bicyclists, we will score each legislator’s Yes/No vote on a 0-100 scale. A vote in support of the bicycling position will receive a score of 100. A vote against the interest of bicycling will receive a score of 0. Individual votes will be averaged, and the legislator assigned the appropriate letter grade based on that score, using a quintile system. (So, 0-20 is F, 21-40 is D, 41-60 is C, 61-80 is B, and 81-100 is A.)

Results of scored votes will be shared with all DC members and supporters via email once the vote is complete, and maintained on the WABA website, both on the homepage and in the “Resources” section.

Scoring Votes on B20-0884, The Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014 

When over 600 DC residents email their legislators on an issue this important to crash victims and all bicyclists, we need those legislators to listen to those constituents–not to the paid lobbyists protecting their industry’s financial interests at the expense of justice.

With only a handful of legislative days left in this Council session, let’s find out who’s listening to whom and make our officials accountable for their decisions that directly affect our safety.

A vote in favor of the bill will receive a score of 100. A vote against the bill, or a procedural vote that would have the effect of delaying the bill past the present Council session (causing it to fail without voting against it) will receive a score of zero.

We will release the initial report card to members, supporters, and the public–based on votes on B20-0884–the day after a vote is taken. As the Council votes on other relevant legislation, we well include those votes on the scorecard as well.

If you haven’t yet, write your councilmembers today:

Take action

* We’re testing this advocacy tool in the District. If it proves effective, we’ll try adding our other jurisdictions.

 

Move DC is a Big Vision with a Slow Start

Shiny new protected bike lane on 6th St NE

Shiny new protected bike lane on 6th St NE (photo: Mike Goodno, DDOT)

DDOT released the final Move DC transportation plan last week. The District plans to make a significant investment in bicycling to support growth over the next 25 years. Along with the final plan, DDOT produced a two-year action agenda to get a jump start in implementation. The Move DC plan is giant step forward for bicycling in DC, but the document’s Action Agenda is a timid start.

The final plan is over 173 pages so we haven’t dug too much into the details yet. The final plan looks a lot like the draft plan from June. With the city projected to add 100,000 new residents in the coming years, DDOT  acknowleges that the District can’t accomodate that many new cars, and sets a 25% mode share for walking and bicycling.

To accomplish this growth, DDOT proposes to expand the bicycling network by more than 200 miles over the next 25 years. The complete network would be over 343 miles of dedicate bicycle infrastructure. Beyond trails and bike lanes, Move DC calls for a range of other initiatives including:

  • expanding bikesharing,
  • more public education,
  • increased coordination on enforcement,
  • and lots more policy recommendations beyond physical infrastructure.

Released alongside the Move DC plan, the Action Agenda is a two-year blueprint for the agency. Bike elements include:

  1. Complete Klingle and Kenilworth Anacostia Riverwalk Trail projects and advance Rock Creek and Metropolitan Branch Trail projects (Item 1.5)
  2. Install or upgrade 15 miles of on-street bicycle facilities (Item 1.6)
  3. Study east side of downtown bicycle facility improvements (Item 2.2)
  4. Determine East-West Crosstown Multimodal Study needs and identify solutions (Item 2.4)
  5. Complete review of existing bicycle laws and identify opportunities for changes (Item 3.1)
  6. Complete revisions to the Design and Engineering Manual (Item 3.40
  7. Create TravelSmart program to develop tailored transportation choices for District residents (Item 4.5)
  8. Fully train DDOT staff on multimodal design (item 6.4)

We are glad to see several long-planned trail projects moving forward (item 1), but it’s worth noting that they would likely follow a similar timeline in the absence of the Move DC plan.  Expectations for new on-street bike infrastructure (item 2), on the other hand, have been scaled down, from 10 new miles of bike lanes per year in the District’s 2005 Bicycle Master Plan to 7.5 miles per year in the Move DC Plan. This is a disappointment, but also a realistic average of what the agency has been able to get done over the past few years. That said, as you can see in the photo above, the new bike lanes are both better —more of them will be physically protected from car traffic— and harder to build, as the District has captured most of the low-hanging fruit, and many new bike lanes will require more comprehensive street redesigns that will involve reducing car lanes or parking spaces.

All told,  Move DC is a comprehensive, well vetted plan for improving and encouraging bicycling. DDOT began the public process 18 months ago and made extraordinary efforts to involve the community. Move DC represents a shared vision for transportation. We’re glad that the District has invested in developing such a robust plan, and we look forward to its implementation.

Also

The Bicycle Segment of this plan is good because bicyclists showed up and shared their thoughts at every step of the process. A huge WABA thank you to all of our members and supporters who submitted comments, testified at hearings, showed up at public meetings, and participated in the process!

 

Ask the DC Council to Support the Bicycle Bill

John A. Wilson Building, Washington, DCAs we speak, the insurance industry is lobbying hard to kill proposed legislation aimed at helping injured bicyclists. They like the status quo, which allows them to easily deny claims by bicyclists who have been hit by drivers. But the present system leaves too many injured people without recourse after they’re hit—and it especially affects bicyclists after crashes with automobiles.

It’s time for the DC Council to hear your voice. A proposed bill would make it possible for bicyclists involved in crashes to have their medical bills and damaged bicycle covered by a driver who crashes into them. Under current law if a person contributes in any way to the crash, her claim can be denied. Forty-five states abandoned this doctrine years ago. It’s time for DC to catch up.

Tell the DC Council to update our unfair and out-of-date law.

Last week, the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing for the bill. There was overwhelming support for the bill by local residents. Many people testified in favor of expanding the protection to pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

This is a rare chance for real change. Please take a minute and contact your Councilmember.

You can learn more about this campaign and read our answered to the 10 most common questions about this proposed law.

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.