Pedestrian Safety Tools Can Help Cyclists Too

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:

  1. Allowing bicyclists to proceed during the Lead Pedestrian Interval, and
  2. 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)

Tell the Senate: Bikes Belong on the Road!

No Room to Pass

Tell the Senate bicyclists should have the freedom to choose the sidepath or roadway in Rock Creek Park. Photo Credit: MV Jantzen

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.”

Take a minute and sign the petition now to tell the Senate to remove the provision requiring bikes to use sidepaths!

District of Columbia Residents: Please note this petition is targeted at the entire Senate and not Senator specific.  Please sign!

Bicycle Enforcement & Anti-Assault Bill Hearing Recap

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.

For a recap of the hearing, see coverage from TBD, the Georgetown Patch, and DCist.

WABA’s public testimony is below.
November Bike-ped-Assault Hearing Testimony (Public)

Wednesday: Show Support for the Protection of DC’s Cyclists, in Enforcement and in Law

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.

Announcing Dates for Testimony Open House Sessions

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.

Testify in Support of Safer Streets, Better Legal Protection

WABA needs your help to make a compelling case to the DC Council that more effort is needed to improve bicyclist safety.

In February, WABA–along with many of you–testified before the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary regarding the need for better enforcement of traffic laws to protect bicyclists.  The stories told that day were compelling and, in some cases heartbreaking,  and led Councilmember Mendelson to refer the issue to the Office of Police Complaints for investigation.  Earlier this month, the Office of Police Complaints released its reports verifying our claims and finding that, indeed, the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is in need of improvements to its crash reporting and response systems and training regarding bicyclists.

Now, on November 2nd, we have the opportunity to appear before the Committee on the Judiciary again on the issue of bicyclist safety with this report in-hand to demand on-the-ground improvements and accountability and better protection of bicyclists on the District’s roadways.

This November 2 hearing gives cyclists who ride in the District the opportunity to address two separate, but deeply related, safety issues: (1) overall bicycle safety enforcement by DC MPD, and (2) the proposed Protection of Bicyclists from Assault bill that will help provide a civil cause of action allowing cyclists to fight back against those who intentionally attack and harass us on the roadways.

If you have a story to tell about either issue and want to help ensure that cyclists are protected on DC’s streets, we need you to come and tell that story to the Committee on the Judiciary on November 2nd.  We have put in many hundreds of hours of work to get this far, with a report officially stating that the police need to do more and a bill introduced by over half of the members of the Council.  But without a strong showing at the hearing, that progress can come to a hault.  The report can be filed on the shelf with others from the past.  Bills can die in committee.

If you want better enforcement, or if you want a better civil cause of action for assaulted cyclists, we need you to join us in saying so.

Those wishing to testify in person should contact Jessica Jacobs, either by telephone (202.724.8038) or via email (jjacobs@dccouncil.us).  Written testimony can also be submitted until November 16–though in-person testimony is likely to be more impactful and effective.  Full details for providing in-person or written testimony are available HERE.

If you do plan to provide testimony, we would appreciate your taking a moment (in addition to contacting Jessica at the Committee Office) to let us know by CLICKING HERE so that we have a sense of the likely turnout of bicyclists.

And finally, for those who would like to testify but would appreciate assistance in telling their stories more clearly and within the rules and time limits of the Council, WABA will be holding open-house sessions to help cyclists to testify more effectively.  Please email us at advocacy@waba.org to let us know if you would like our assistance in crafting your testimony.  The sessions will be scheduled once we have a better sense of the number of cyclists seeking this support.

Why the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act?

The Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act, recently introduced in the DC Council and set for hearing on November 2, is meant to be a very specific response to the specific, but not uncommon, situation in which a bicyclist is assaulted or otherwise intentionally harassed on the roadway and is unable to seek redress through existing legal means. These cases generally produce no witnesses other than the bicyclist and the driver. Thus, there is no outside witness and, in many cases, no physical evidence. So if the assaulting motorist simply leaves the scene or denies the incident, there is little possibility of overcoming the relatively high criminal burden of proof. Thus, in most cases the U.S. Attorney declines to bring suit–leaving the cyclist assaulted or harassed, but with no criminal charges filed.

This leaves the option of the civil suit, and it is true that there is an existing civil tort cause of action. However, like most torts, the ability to secure legal representation to bring such a case depends–due to the contingency fee system–on the extent of the injury rather than the egregiousness of the conduct. This law will allow egregious conduct be to be addressed in civil court by changing the economic incentive for attorneys to represent assaulted cyclists.

It is true that the fee-shifting is relatively uncommon, but fee-shifting is an available mechanism that is frequently used in cases where injunctive relief is sought. Roadway assault cases like those at issue here–in which the attacks and harassment are often enabled by the inherent vulnerability of the bicyclist as compared to the motorist–have some interesting parallels to the circumstances that led to the body of civil rights law, where such fee-shifting is most common. Certainly the situations are not the same. It would be a stretch to argue that cyclists, as a group, fit the traditional definition of a protected class. But cyclists are, in the context of the roadway, inherently vulnerable, and it is that vulnerability–combined with an element of minority–that underlies and justifies the civil rights-style remedy proposed.

Within the roadway context specifically, bicyclists as a group possess the attributes of vulnerability and minority that have traditionally made fee-shifting, the primary attribute of this proposed law, appropriate.

The bill provides a means of civil access to justice to combat egregious behavior that is already illegal, but that current legal mechanisms do not penalize. Without it we maintain a system in which cyclist-victims continue to lack access to justice and those who engage in vehicular assault and harassment face no penalty.

The District’s leaders have continually, over a period of years, stated a commitment to encouraging bicycling as a safe and viable transportation alternative in the District. This demands not just infrastructure, though infrastructure is part of the equation, but also enforcement, and fundamental fairness on our roadways such that no class of users can be routinely victimized without redress.

Those first two elements–infrastructure and enforcement–are long-term, ongoing goals that will require long-term partnerships and ongoing accountability of government officials.

A significant step toward addressing the third can and should be made now, this year, by passing the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act.  It should be.

To add your name to the list of supporters of this law to address harassment, assault, and battery of cyclists: CLICK HERE.