D.C. Bike Ambassadors to Reach Out on L Street Next Tuesday

The L Street protected bike lane has been open for a few months now. But its unique design–on the left side of L Street’s car lanes—is still causing confusion. And some drivers continue to disregard the lane’s numerous “no parking” signs.

D.C. bike ambassadors have teamed up with the city’s traffic control officers to educate drivers and cyclists the proper use of L Street’s facilities. Next Tuesday, we will be out on L Street, raising awareness about safety and enforcement issues related to the bike lane.

The L Street protected bike lane is a mile long and runs from New Hampshire Avenue to 12th Street NW. It’s a different design from other dedicated bike lanes in the city, so WABA and the D.C. bike ambassadors are making an effort to educate drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians on how to use the new facility safely and lawfully.

The Bike Ambassador program is a group of bike-loving volunteers who are dedicated to educating and encouraging people of the district to get on bikes. To learn more about the Bike Ambassador Program and volunteer outreach opportunities like this one, sign-up for a new bike ambassador orientation.

For questions, please contact the Bike Ambassador Program Coordinator, Megan McCarty, by email (megan.mccarty@waba.org) or by phone (202.518.0524 ext. 200).

A Quick Note on Automated Enforcement

In a Washington Post column yesterday, Courtland Milloy quoted from an email I wrote stating WABA’s position on speed cameras, implying that we favored a more punitive automated enforcement system.  That is a significant mischaracterization of the position stated.

Mr. Milloy’s column speaks for itself, so I will not respond to its points here.  However, the full email from which he quotes is pasted below, typos and all.

Thanks for creating an opportunity for the public to comment on automated enforcement priorities.  As I’m sure you’ve guessed, WABA strongly supports the expansion of automated enforcement.  Understanding that there are both public safety and political considerations on the matter, we hope to see the automated enforcement program used in a manner to promote the greatest overall impact on roadway safety for vulnerable roadway users.
In our view, that includes setting fines at a level that provides deterrence of unsafe behavior but not at such a punitive level that the continued placement of cameras is curtailed.  Essentially, we would prefer broadly distributed automated enforcement designed to keep motorist speed within the safe and legal range.  If lowering of fines so that they not seem punitive is necessary to the expansion of the program, we support such lowering up to the point the deterrent effects begin to erode.
Additionally, we hope that a significant portion of the funds generated through automated enforcement will be designated improve roadway safety.  Other jurisdictions have used funding from cameras in school zones to provide additional funds for Safe Routes to School programming.  In DC, where SRTS funding is relatively strong, funding from such cameras could be used to bolster funding for traffic calming, road diets, retrofits of high-crash areas, or–in the most direct linkage–specifically for interventions to reduce design speeds of roadway segments in which data reveals that automated enforcement is failing to deter speeding.
If additional detail would be helpful, please feel free to reach out on this issue any time.  We completely support the program, with a primary goal of deterrence of unsafe behavior and–failing that–the use of funds derived from penalties to create safer conditions.
Best,
Shane

 

 

WABA Testimony Urges Officer Training, Legislative Fixes

Today, I testified along with a number of bicyclists in the third in a series of hearings before the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary focused on bicyclist and pedestrian enforcement issues. The focus of that testimony is on the need for better training of MPD officers who are trusted with enforcing the laws that protect cyclists and their rights on the roadway, but are currently not given sufficient training to help them do so properly.

Previous hearings have brought dozens of cyclists telling stories of wrongful citations and poor enforcement, and an Office of Police Complaints (OPC) report stating that this is a systemic problem, not just a few isolated incidents. So the problem has been highlighted by individual cyclists, WABA, and OPC.

It is time to stop highlighting it and begin to solve it by developing a concrete plan to educate MPD officers and investing the funds necessary to carry it out. It is the Committee on the Judiciary that oversees MPD’s performance and their budget, so we hope that today’s hearing will mark a turning point in which the Committee will demand a workable improvement plan and hold MPD accountable for meeting it.

In addition to this focus on improved training of officers to enforce existing laws, we also reiterated the need for legislative changes (1) to create an exemption from the contributory negligence standard for vulnerable roadway users and (2) to pass the Assault of Bicyclists Protection Act that is currently before the Committee but has not been allowed to come to a vote.

WABA’s full testimony is below:
WABA Testimony: DC Enforcement Hearing 5.30.2012

What “Riding Abreast” Shows about Enforcement in DC

It should surprise no one that WABA has been working to improve traffic enforcement and the protection of bicyclists on the District’s roadways. We have worked countless hours on this issue and testified at two hearings held by the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary on this matter. Those hearings led to a finding by the Office of Police Complaints of deficiencies in the Department’s enforcement and relationship with cyclists and led MPD to appoint a liaison to the bicycling community to work with the District’s Bicycle Advisory Council.

These are positive steps, but there is much more to be done.

Often, when there is a major crash or a cyclist is cited for an infraction that he or she feels is undeserved, that cyclist or a family member calls WABA for advice. And often, when a WABA staffer or an attorney for the cyclist/family follows up on the facts of the case, we find that the story is quite different than the one contained in the police reports. In some cases, the facts presented in the reports or the citations issued simply do not match the stories of those on the scene.  In other cases, even as presented, the facts do not justify the conclusion drawn or the citation issued.

We have been working to make the case that as cycling grows in the District with the support of District programs and infrastructure, the District also has a responsibility to educate police officers on the application of traffic laws to bicyclists. Absent the physical protection of an automobile surrounding us, we rely on the protection of the law.

Unfortunately, we tend to encounter these enforcement errors on an individual basis, one at a time, as impacted cyclists contact us. We have worked to systematize this and get better data through the creation of our crash tracker survey, and it has been useful in getting more information on more crashes. But we are still working to show that the issue is not an occasional error by an occasional officer who misunderstands a provision. Rather, it is a systemic lack of appropriate training for all officers that needs to be rectified by a significant training effort.

Lacking the resources to launch a full analysis of every crash report related to bicycling, we recently chose to focus on a single regulation and review every citation for a violation. We submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to MPD and the DC Department of Motor Vehicles. Because the names and contact information of the cited party are not disclosed through the FOIA process, we attempted to select a provision in which we would not need to contact the cited party or follow up with witnesses to show errors. For this reason we selected the District’s “riding abreast” regulation, 18 DCMR 1201.7:

Persons riding upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or part of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a lane roadway, shall ride within a single lane.

Note that this law:

  1. Cannot apply to a bicyclist riding alone;
  2. Does not relate to the relationship between any bicycle and any non-bicycle vehicle.

We submitted our request seeking information on citations for violation of the “riding abreast” regulation on March 16. The statutory period for acknowledgment passed without response from MPD. On April 9, we followed up with MPD, noting the delay beyond the statutory limit, and also submitted an identical request with the District’s DMV, which oversees adjudication services. On April 19, we did receive acknowledgement of the initial request from MPD but have received no substantive response to date.

DMV, however, has provided both an initial response with overview data of the citation history in its records, as well as a more detailed supplemental response including individual Notices of Infraction. Both responses are below.

Dmv Foia Riding Abreast 1 of 2

Dmv Foia Riding Abreast 2 of 2

A very quick analysis reveals that not a single citation is supported by the officer’s description. In many cases no description is provided, so one cannot conclude whether the citation was justified. But in every case in which a description was provided, a violation of 18 DCMR 1201.7 is not described. Also, notably, there was no instance of two citations being issued at the same location, as might be expected for a law requiring two bicycles.

We continue to be concerned that officers entrusted with enforcing the laws that we need to help keep us safe on the roadways are not adequately trained on those laws or the application to cyclists. Wrongful citations have ramifications, and those ramifications can go well beyond the $25 fine or the frustration of being ticketed when the other party committed the unlawful act. Under the District’s contributory negligence system, insurers will frequently rely on a citation to deny coverage for injuries in a crash, forcing the cyclist who acted entirely within the law to run a complicated legal gauntlet of contesting the wrongful citation and winning, then taking legal action to compel the insurer to provide compensation for any injuries.

In short, bicyclists need MPD to get these citations right. We have seen recent cases in which the intervention of the officers appointed to act as liaisons to the cycling community–Lt. Breul and Commander Crane–have led to the withdrawal of improper citations. The documents provided reveal another such instance. But this sort of intervention is only available in the rare and clear-cut cases in which the officer’s description fails to match the citation as a matter of law. Intervention of this sort is unavailable when the dispute is a factual matter, such as which party has the duty to yield. In any event, the District cannot rely on one or two individual officers to catch the mistakes of many. MPD needs to improve its understanding and application of laws as applied to bicyclists, and that requires a real, robust, and funded training effort.

We hope that the District’s leadership will view this analysis broadly and conclude that we have a real, systemic problem with MPD training that needs a solution. In the absence of that, we hope that this law–which seems to do nothing but provide an invitation to wrongly cite bicyclists–will be amended or repealed to ensure that the wrongful application stops.

And finally, we hope that this analysis will spur others to help us to evaluate the application of laws to bicyclists and push for improvements. We focused on a single, seldom-used citation in this analysis. There are many other provisions that need exploration, but that will generate much more data and, potentially, require much more investigation and follow-up. If you are interested in focusing on these issues, WABA has applied for and received a $3,000 Advocacy Advance Rapid Response Grant to provide stipend(s) to support this campaign and our efforts to show the need for better training of law enforcement officers in the District.

If you are interested in helping WABA make our streets safer by helping us in this manner, send an email to advocacy@waba.org explaining the approach you would take or provisions of law of interest to you.

And please mark your calendar for the next hearing on bicyclist and pedestrian safety and enforcement before the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary: May 30th at 10am. It is important that as these hearings continue bicyclists continue to show up, tell their stories, and ensure that the Committee and the Council takes bicyclist safety seriously. To sign up to testify, contact Jessica Jacobs at jjacobs@dccouncil.us.

Positive Steps from MPD

Cyclists need law enforcement.  We rely on laws to set boundaries both on where roadway users should be and what they should do as they all try to get from Point A to Point B.  When something goes wrong in this system, we count on law to apportion the rights and responsibilities of those involved.  But on our streets, “law” doesn’t happen in the abstract.  It requires law enforcement officers to know the law and apply it properly.

We have frequently made the case that in the District enforcement of laws to protect bicyclists and vulnerable roadway users is unacceptable, and that MPD has demonstrated little effort to improve.

While we still have a very long way to go, we would like to thank MPD for making that effort to improve.  Though we still receive too many calls from cyclists wrongly cited and see too many roadway violations go unpunished, we have seen a number signs progress in improving the relationship with law enforcement in the District:

1. Quadrupling of the number of citations for blocking bike lanes.

2. Appointment of Lt. Breul to work on cycling issues.

3. Posting of WABA Bike Law Guide on MPD intranet. (We can’t link to that one, but we’ve heard it’s there.)

4. Use of WABA Bike Law Guide for training of cadets. (Just last week, Det. Millett, an instructor at the police academy and major crash investigator, stopped by for a stack of law guides to give to his students–indicating an awareness of the Guide and an effort to educate new officers.)

We hope that these advances, coming on the heels of this fall’s findings by the Office of Police Complaints and tense testimony at the Judiciary Committee’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Enforcement Hearing, are the start of a major improvement in MPD’s interactions with bicyclists.  These are hopeful signs, and we are appreciative of the efforts of Chief Lanier, Asst. Chief Burke, Lt. Breul, Det. Millett, and others who are working with us to improve bicyclist safety in the District.

Safety and Enforcement Update: BAC Safety Committee Meeting Recap

On Tuesday night, the Safety Committee of the DC Bicycle Advisory Council met with Lt. Nick Breul of MPD to discuss updates on various initiatives concerning bicycle safety and law enforcement regarding bicycles, motor vehicles and pedestrians.  Following concerns raised in several enforcement oversight hearings (February, November) this year, MPD has appointed Lt. Breul to act as MPD’s primary liaison to the bicycling community.  Some of the topics covered included:

  • An update on the November/December Street Smart campaign
    • Four days of enforcement against pedestrians endangering themselves at four different intersections led to complaints to MPD about police priorities. There is “a lot of work to be done” when it comes to preventing dangerous pedestrian behavior.
      • Pedestrian enforcement locations: 7th & H St. NW, 14th & U St. NW, East Capitol & Benning Rd., New York Ave. & North Capitol
    • Two days of enforcement against motorists endangering pedestrians at Minnesota Ave. & Blaine St. NE led to 56 citations and 2 arrests.
    • Four hours of enforcement against motorists endangering pedestrians along Georgia Ave. NW led to 223 contacts (written/verbal warnings and educational conversations) with motorists–that’s almost a contact per minute!
    • November 29th was the 1 year anniversary of the tragic death of a pedestrian who was struck by a bicycle in Chinatown. MPD officers spent the day stopping and warning bicyclists in the area of the crash (6th & Massachusetts Ave. NW), making 68 contacts with bicyclists. Additionally, MPD officers spent time at the 15th St. cycle track. In both locations, officers focused on education to bicyclists about wrong-way riding, sidewalk riding south of Massachusetts Ave. and obeying red lights.
    • Lt. Breul hopes to replicate the success of these operations in January after the Street Smart program ends for the year.
  • A Sergeant in the 3rd District is pushing for more outreach and education for officers regarding bicycles, specifically with how bicyclists are treated by the police during and after crashes.
  • Lt. Breul clarified that crashes where a bicycle is damaged minorly and the rider is unharmed would be very unlikely to generate a crash report, however even when damage is minor, insisting on police involvement can help a bicyclist not get taken advantage of by a driver or a driver’s insurance company later.
  • The PD-10 crash report form used by police officers was revised in 2010 and is unlikely to see another major revision soon.
  • There is no existing “violation code” that refers to a driver violating the District’s 3-foot passing law (DCMR Title 18-2202.10).
  • The MPD Academy will be adding additional traffic safety courses focusing on enforcement against motorists that endanger bicyclists, as well as enforcement against bicyclist violations.

Thanks to BAC Safety Committee Chair Jameel Alsalam for leading a productive and informative meeting, and to Lt. Breul for his engagement and insight on the concerns of cyclists.

DC Office of Police Complaints Releases Report on MPD-Bicyclist Interactions

In February, WABA and many District cyclists testified before the Committee on the Judiciary regarding concerns about enforcement of roadway laws and the protection of bicyclists on DC’s streets.  Following that hearing, Councilmember Mendelson forwarded those concerns to the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) for review.  Today, OPC released its report on the matter.

We thank Councilmember Mendelson for referring these issues to OPC, and we look forward to the follow-up hearing on November 2, where he will have the opportunity to question MPD about the systemic issues raised in this report.

Police Complaint Board MPD-Bicyclist Report & Recs