It Is Time for “Vision Zero” in D.C.

dc-ped-bike-fatalities-1999-2012
On Friday, I will be testifying on behalf of WABA at the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety’s annual oversight hearing on the efforts of the Metropolitan Police Department. On Monday, I will be testifying at the Transportation & Environment Committee’s oversight hearing on the efforts of the District Department of Transportation.

It’s time for me to say something different on behalf of the District’s bicyclists, and I need you to say it with me.

I sat down yesterday to write my testimony for these important hearings, and I realized that these agencies simply are not making the progress they need to make. They are not keeping up with the growth of bicycling in the District and region.

I’m not going to go back into those hearings again—for a third year—and say the same things: the Rock Creek Park Trail isn’t done; the Met Branch Trail isn’t done; protected bike lanes take forever to design, then are downgraded to simple bike lanes when someone objects; police don’t interview bicyclists when they’re involved in crashes; and the police department refuses to enforce the three-foot passing law and other safety laws.

All those things are still true.

But saying them last year didn’t get us anywhere, and saying them again this year won’t either. We need to try a new approach.

Let’s think bigger.

Recently, several big U.S. cities like New York and Chicago, as well as that often-cited bike utopia Portland, have publicly adopted “Vision Zero” policies, dedicated to ensuring that no one is killed on city streets. “Vision Zero” means that there will be zero deaths or significant injuries due to traffic crashes. D.C. pays lip service to this goal with a little-known website stating it, but has done virtually nothing to make it happen.

Let’s make it happen.

For D.C. to truly embrace “Vision Zero,” it can’t just put up a website and call it a day. Key agencies like DDOT and MPD need serious restructuring designed around that goal. Planners need to talk to engineers at all stages of project development. Officers need to be assigned to focus on traffic crime. Budgets need to focus on projects that protect pedestrians and bicyclists. Good designs need to be constructed rather than watered down at the first whisper of pushback. Public employees need to be trained on the importance of bicycling and walking, and how to protect the safety of those who bike and walk.

Vision Zero is more than a slogan. It is more than just a goal. It is a philosophy of prioritizing the protection of the people who use our streets, trails, and sidewalks and organizing the activities of our local government in a manner consistent with that level of priority.

We can do this. The District can be a leader in creating safe streets, trails, sidewalks, and public spaces. The demand is there. People want safer streets. But we need our government leaders to do something bigger than complete a single bike lane or pass a single law. We need them to change their priorities and govern accordingly.

Help change the conversation.

In my testimony before these committees, I will push for precisely this prioritization of people, and the implementation of a Vision Zero policy. I want you do to the same.

Tonight, there is a mayoral debate featuring all the major candidates and the public can submit questions. Let’s hold the candidates accountable to prioritizing safe streets and ask them how they plan to do so. Click here to submit your question to be asked at the debate.

Don’t forget that residents are always welcome at council oversight hearings to discuss the work of District agencies.

  • The MPD hearing is this Friday, Feb. 28, at 10 a.m., and you can sign up to testify by calling 202.724.7808.
  • The DDOT hearing is Mon., March 1 at 11 a.m., and you can sign up to testify by calling 202.724.8062.

D.C. Office of Police Complaints Issues Follow-Up on Police Enforcement of Biking Laws

Biking Police

The DC Office of Police Complaints has issued a follow-up report on the Metropolitan Police Department’s efforts to improve in the enforcement of laws related to bicycling. You can find a bit of background and the original 2011 OPC report here.

The report has an excessive focus on the single “riding abreast” citation, rather than general issues related to wrongful citations and officer knowledge of biking laws. But it also contains a number of further findings,

The OPC finds that “there is no evidence of any widespread problem with officers erroneously issuing riding abreast tickets within the past few years.”  We agree that there is no “widespread” problem, because the issuance of this citation is not “widespread.”  However, there is a high likelihood of the citation lacking proper basis if it is issued. However, we do not want to over-emphasize this particular issue. Our choice of the “riding abreast” citation to conduct our own analysis was based on two factors: (1) The ability to get a manageable sample size to analyze given limited resources, and (2) conditions that do not require a significant judgment call to determine whether the issuing officer was mistaken about the fundamental meaning of the law.  Our goal was to use evidence of officers’ lack of understanding of this law to show the overall need for better training—not to overemphasize the importance of this relatively minor regulation. The report seems to recognize this need for better overall training, stating “there are additional measures that can be taken to ensure both that patrol officers are properly enforcing the regulations and that MPD supervisors are quickly identifying areas of the law where offices need more training.” We appreciate OPC’s recognition that the concerns with the “riding abreast” citation are indicative of a larger concern, and we look forward to MPD’s response for this call for improvements.

OPC requested three years of crash reports from MPD and was provided with just shy of two years of data, from January 2011 through November 2012. Based on a random sampling of 120 reports, OPC found that cyclists involved in crashes were interviewed at the scene only 63 percent of the time, with only one report including the interview of a cyclist subsequently at a hospital. OPC recommends that MPD improve its reporting by including the narrative each party told the officer rather than an unattributed synopsis. Additionally, OPC encourages MPD to better use its system of receiving supplemental information after the investigating officer’s shift ends and of recording witness statements.

In addition to these investigative findings, OPC reviewed MPD’s performance in implementing the original reports’s four recommendations, which were:

  1. Change its method of investigating bicycle-motor vehicle crashes in order to provide appropriate safeguards for bicyclists and revise General Order 401.03 to allow officers to keep reports open until necessary statements are received;
  2. Include a bicycle-specific field on the PD-10 crash report form;
  3. Better train officers on the applicable bicycling laws to ensure that they are properly enforcing bike regulations; and
  4. Increase participation in the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC).

OPC found that (1) MPD had amended its General Order, but had not allowed reports to remain pending until all necessary statements were taken; (2) rejected the OPC’s suggestion to include a field for bicycles on the crash report form; (3) taken some steps to improve training including roll call training and the provision of WABA booklets; and (4) improved its engagement with the BAC.

We agree with the fourth finding and appreciate the involvement of the officers who routinely attend the BAC and its Safety Committee, and who often work with WABA on safety initiatives. However, the other three findings are unacceptable. The only two structural recommendations of the OPC—to allow crash reports to be left open to allow time for injured witness statements and to include bicycles on crash report forms as an available type of vehicle for data tracking and consistency—were both rejected. The recommendation for further training has simply not been implemented at a scale commensurate with the need.

We will continue to review the report and determine next steps to ensure that the flaws still highlighted by this follow-up report are addressed, and we look forward to the opportunity to raise these issues again before the Public Safety Committee.

Photo by Flickr user rho-bin

How Can D.C. Deal With Group-Ride Growing Pains?

Bike DC 2001

Many of you have seen the video of the cyclist struck while riding illegally during a community ride last week. We’re glad the cyclist is OK, but we’re disappointed at the way the incident and the video portray the bicycling community. I have no doubt, given the number of voicemails I have received, that this video is being used to paint cyclists as nothing but scofflaws. But it raises some serious questions about how the District is going to deal with the growth of bicycling and group rides. So far, the answer has been, in too many cases, “not very well.”

Many know that the annual BikeDC event was cancelled this year because permits could not be secured, due to restrictions that were overly burdensome individually and self-contradictory, and therefore impossible to meet. Fewer know that smaller events, including the Tour de Fat parade, were also unable to meet permitting requirements. In the case of the Tour de Fat parade, WABA went to the affected ANCs to voluntarily ask for support. Though we did receive ANC support, we were still unable to obtain a permit for the ride and were thus unable to limit motor vehicle traffic along the route or, importantly, exclude participants who might have been riding or celebrating in inappropriate ways.

Organizers of rides frequently reach out to WABA asking for assistance in making their rides safe. But if the issue is a number of riders who refuse to follow the rules that the organizers set, the organizers are left with no recourse. Anyone can ride public streets along with a group.

What is the solution?

We do not want a system in which every group ride has to get a permit. That makes a mockery of our right to bike on public streets. But that was actually suggested in some our our prior permit negotiations with the D.C. permitting taskforce—that any time multiple cyclists ride together an event permit would be required. However, the mayor’s office quickly clarified that was not the case.

What we need is the ability to work with enforcement officials interested in balancing in a flexible way the safety of events with functioning roadways. Perhaps the one fortunate thing to come from this ridiculous demonstration of bad behavior is that Sgt. Terry Thorne, who has worked productively with WABA on numerous bicyclist safety issues, contacted us to figure out a way forward.

I will be contacting a number of groups with a specific interest in this issue to participate in a discussion with Sgt. Thorne and MPD to work out a reasonable approach to ensuring that community ride events can take place, and that MPD can focus its efforts on public safety.

That said, WABA does not support additional restrictions on group rides. We already have a permitting system with so much red tape and so many fuzzy “security” standards that only large and well-heeled fundraising rides and races can be held. Community events are either cancelled or left to operate on their own. But we do look forward to an open conversation with police about how we can better work together to find a balance that helps ensure the safety of group bike rides.

To that end, I will be reaching out to a number of ride leaders in the coming week to discuss the issue further. If you operate a group ride and want to be included in this conversation, email us at advocacy@waba.org to be on the list.

We don’t need any more viral videos of bad behavior, and we especially don’t need any more people hit by cars on group rides. Let’s work together and find a solution that meets the needs of bicyclists that WABA and ride leaders can collectively get behind.

Photo by Flickr user Mr. T in DC

U-Turns Across Pennsylvania Avenue Lanes Now Cost $100

 

Yesterday, representatives from DDOT, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the D.C. Taxicab Commission joined up with D.C. bike ambassadors to stop drivers from u-turning across Pennsylvania Avenue. Volunteers distributed literature on the consequences of the illegal maneuver, and MPD officers handed out warnings.

The event got plenty of attention: Area cyclists have been pushing for better enforcement of u-turning drivers in earnest since late last year, and the cycletrack was on prominent display during recent festivities for the presidential inauguration. WJLA reports that, last year, 11 out of 16 crashes on Pennsyvlania Avenue were the result of u-turning drivers. Beginning today, drivers who make a u-turn across the lanes will receive a $100 fine.

A visible awareness campaign, even for one day during an off-peak time, is great news. As Martin DiCaro reports for WAMU, “Bicycle advocates also see the need for the enforcement as a sign of progress. If D.C. hadn’t seen such growth in bicycling, there’d be no issues with cabbies crashing into bicyclists as taxi drivers and others make illegal U-turns. If D.C. weren’t such a big bicycling city, there’d be no bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue in the first place.”

We hope that DDOT, MPD, and DCTC will continue to educate drivers and enforce the illegality of u-turns.

Check out DDOT’s Facebook page for a gallery of photos and additional information on enforcement on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Photo via the DDOT Facebook page

 

Update on Pennsylvania Avenue Cycletrack U-Turn Enforcement

UPDATE (Dec. 12, 2012): The mayor’s office tells WABA that MPD “is out there is force right now” and “plans on having an enhanced presence every morning and afternoon this week.” MPD was waiting on the bike lanes to be completely finished, which included the rider marks in the center of the lanes being painted.

The Metropolitan Police Department tells WABA that it has been notified of the completion of the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack by the District Department of Transportation. Now that the cycletrack is considered complete, MPD is planning specific enforcement of drivers that violate Mayor Vince Gray’s Nov. 28 emergency ruling, which prohibits drivers from u-turning across the cycletrack.

WABA will follow up with both MPD and DDOT to ensure that enforcement of the ruling is established and continued.