Posts Tagged ‘law’
Yesterday, I wrote about some of the changes coming to the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. Unfortunately, nothing I wrote about there is likely to fix the issue of illegal U-turns by motorists through the bike lanes.
But I also spent much of the day yesterday trying to get to the bottom of the enforcement issues and why we aren’t seeing more police ticketing motorists for this. In past weeks I have communicated with numerous police officials, including Chief Lanier, who have seemingly understood the issue and the safety concern. So I kept pushing a bit on why we aren’t seeing more enforcement.
Bottom line: It’s a problem with the law.
When an MPD officer writes a ticket, the person ticketed has the opportunity to challenge that ticket through adjudication. This process is handled by the DMV, not the police. And on this issue, the DMV adjudicator has interpreted the laws in a way that does not prohibit mid-block U-turns across the cycletrack. Thus, MPD is reluctant to ticket motorists when the agency adjudicating the tickets has deemed such a ticket invalid.
WABA disagrees with the interpretation DMV is applying. Bike lanes are travel lanes, and it is illegal to make a U-turn across an adjacent travel lane. But we do not mean to villify DMV here. The agency seemingly shares a concern for the safety of cyclists and would support a change in the law to make the mid-block U-turns legal. They simply don’t believe current law allows for such interpretation.
So where does that leave us?
This is an opportunity. There is a solution to this problem and it can come in either of two ways. Either the District can interpret existing law as prohibiting U-turns across the lanes (which would accord with WABA’s interpretation and seemingly DDOT’s based on the design and MPD’s based on the initial willingness to ticket), or the legal ambiguity can be clearly resolved by legislation.
We intend to work on both possible solutions and push quickly for resolution. This may be especially important as the L Street cycletrack comes in. We do not know DMV’s detailed legal reasoning, but it is possible that the same interpretation that would find U-turns across Pennsylvania Avenue to be legal might also find left turns by motorists who skip the “mixing zones” and cut across the cycletrack through the intersection on L to be legal. (That is speculation, but it sufficiently concerning speculation that we need to move quickly to find a solution so that MPD can enforce the rules of the cycletracks in a way that is consistent with their design.)
As we just discovered this root cause of the enforcement difficulties, our approach is developing. But we will need action from the District–whether the executive or legislative–quickly on this. If you are willing to be engaged in this campaign to make our cycletrack safer, please click the link below. We will need the help of the bicycling community to get this resolved quickly.
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
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:
- Cannot apply to a bicyclist riding alone;
- 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.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prince George’s County Council voted unanimously to support becoming a more walkable and bikeable county this past week. Voting 9-0, Councilmembers passed the “Adequate Public Pedestrian and Bikeway Facilities in Centers and Corridors” Act (CB-2-2012) which requires developers to build bicycle and pedestrian connections from their new developments to nearby destinations. This bill seeks to begin fixing the years of allowing street designs that were inhospitable to pedestrians and bicyclists.
This is giant step forward for Prince George’s County. The County has one of the highest rates of pedestrian deaths in the Maryland and has recently been dangerous and deadly for bicyclists too. The County Council, under the leadership of Councilmembers Olsen and Franklin, has made a statement about a future vision for the county and has recognized the need to begin building safe, connected and protected places to walk and bike.
WABA staff testified several times in support of this initiative and we are pleased with the unanimous result. We would like to thank the Prince George’s County Council for providing county residents with expanded transportation choices. We would also like to thank our friends at the Coalition for Smarter Growth for their dedication to this initiative and their work in Prince George’s County.
An Opportunity to Help Motorists and Cyclists: A “Change-Lanes-and-Pass” Rule
My neighborhood has many polite drivers who wait behind me as I ride on two-lane MD-953, which has double yellow (no passing) lines the whole way. I am usually in the center of the 10-ft lane, pulling a trailer with my daughter. Even when I don’t have the trailer, 95% of the drivers wait until the oncoming lane is clear, change lanes, and pass. And when I am riding toward the right side of the lane for some reason, the vast majority still change lanes to pass.
Countless drivers have probably done you the same favor on another road. But they are technically breaking the law.
We think Maryland should legalize changing lanes to pass a bike riding in a no-passing zone. Not only are these drivers being safe, they actually enhance safety.
Why would cycling organizations initiate a reform that increases motorists’ rights? Aside from the fact that it probably will make us safer, cyclists probably understand this issue better than motorists. Cyclists have discussed many “rules of the road” that make sense for motor vehicles, but do not enhance safety when applied to bicycles. We would love to see those laws reformed. In some cases we may lack the political power to compel the changes we hope to see. But we probably do have the power to secure the right to change lanes and pass a bike when there is a double yellow line. So I think we should.
But Let’s Not Go Too Far: The “Partly-Cross-the-Line and Pass” Rule
By coincidence, some other Maryland advocates are considering a similar reform, but they would go even farther. Their idea is to allow drivers to cross the double yellow line to pass bikes, without the requirement to fully change lanes. This “partly-cross-the-line and pass” rule seems to be motivated by the observation that some cyclists ride far enough to the right so that a car barely has enough room to squeeze between the bike and the yellow line, and some drivers do. This rule would allow motorists to move only partly into the adjacent lane to pass the cyclist by the required three feet.
We prefer the requirement that the motorist fully change lanes. Motorists frequently report difficulty in gauging the three feet of space they are required to leave when passing, so why not apply the normal requirement that motorists change lanes? It is an existing behavior with clear rules and expectations. There is no need to encourage drivers to pass while occupying parts of two lanes.
Additionally, the requirement to change lanes before passing would discourage the idea of “squeezing” around others—whether the cyclist or a potential oncoming motorist. Finally, the State of Maryland will soon start erecting signs that say “Bicycles May Use Full Lane”. We think that “change lanes and pass” better reinforces the message of those signs, than partly crossing the line and sharing the lane.
Over the next few weeks, advocates in Maryland will be deciding which approach to take. While WABA took a major role last year in the promotion and passage of the Maryland vehicular homicide law, this year WABA intends to play a supporting role to Bike Maryland, which frequently leads statewide efforts to enhance cyclists’ rights through state legislation.
(Jim Titus is a member of WABA’s Board of Directors from Prince George’s County)
Yesterday, DC’s Committee on Environment, Public Works, and Transportation held a hearing on a number of pedestrian safety bills. WABA provided testimony in support of:
- Allowing bicyclists to proceed during the Lead Pedestrian Interval, and
- Addressing roadway design speeds by adding appropriate traffic calming measures, rather than relying solely on speed limit enforcement to lower motor vehicle speeds.
Full testimony can be found below:
Cheh Ped Testimony (Signed)
For decades, cyclists have cherished their beautiful morning commutes and family bike rides through Rock Creek Park. Both the road and trail through the park provide two options for different types of cyclists. Children and adults, less experienced riders, and those looking for a gentle and slow ride, all enjoy the multi-use path (which is in need of much improvement: read more here). The roadway provides a space for bicyclists to travel faster (above 15 mph) to achieve a solid workout or arrive at their destination more quickly. If the Senate passes the current draft transportation authorization bill in its current form, all bicyclists will be REQUIRED to use the Rock Creek Trail and all other sidepaths (within 100 yards) on Federal land roads with speed limits over 30 mph.
This is bad policy! Sign the petition, make your voice heard.
From the League of American Bicyclists:
“The draft of the Senate’s transportation authorization bill, S. 1813 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, includes language that would introduce a mandatory sidepath law on roads in our National Parks and other Federal lands. It requires cyclists on Federal lands to use a path or trail, instead of roads, if the speed limit is over 30 MPH and a trail exists within 100 yards, regardless of its condition or utility of the path. The provision sets a terrible precedent. Passing it would send the wrong message to transportation agencies that these policies are acceptable. Laws like this have been taken off the books in states over the past 30 years. This takes us in the wrong direction.”
District of Columbia Residents: Please note this petition is targeted at the entire Senate and not Senator specific. Please sign!
Last week, WABA and a number of local cyclists testified in support of improved enforcement of laws to protect bicyclists, better training of police officers, communication between law enforcement officials and the cycling community, and the passage of the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011.
Thanks to Councilmember Mendelson, Chair of the Committee, for holding the hearing, and to Committee members Cheh and Wells for attending the hearing and speaking strongly of the need for protection of cyclists.
WABA’s public testimony is below.
November Bike-ped-Assault Hearing Testimony (Public)
To all who want better protection of bicyclists’ safety in the District, please join us next Wednesday as we–and your fellow cyclists–testify in support of both better enforcement to protect bicyclists and better laws to allow cyclists access to justice when they have been assaulted on the District’s streets.
The hearing will begin at 11am in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW.
More details on the hearing can be found HERE.
Background documents on police enforcement concerns are HERE.
Background documents on the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act are HERE.
In preparation for the November 2nd hearing before the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary on Bicycle Enforcement and the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011, WABA is hosting two open-house sessions in which those planning to testify can get assistance in drafting their testimony. We will discuss the topics and answer questions, and we can help with tips for communicating clearly, staying within time limits, and generally making the most of your time before the Committee.
There will be a brief group discussion at each session, but participants are welcome to come and go anytime and are free to come discuss testimony without being present for the group discusion.
Open House #1: Thursday, October 27th, 3pm-7:30pm. Group discussion at 6:30.
Open House #2: Monday, October 31, 10am-5pm. Group discussion at noon.
Both sessions will be held at the WABA office at 2599 Ontario Rd., NW.