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Bike-ped Enforcement Hearing Testimony (WABA)

Bike-ped Enforcement Hearing Testimony (WABA)

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Published by: tonalblue on Feb 07, 2011
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03/03/2014

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 February 2, 2011Council of the District of ColumbiaCommittee on the Judiciary1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW 20004Chairman Mendelson & the Members of the Committee:Thank you for responding to the pressing safety need among vulnerable roadway users within the District andholding this hearing on the topic of Enforcement of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety. Over the past weeks, I havesent to the Chair numerous complaints from individual bicyclists whose safety was compromised while using theDistrict
’s roadways, or whose ability to seek compensation for a crash was limited or precluded by lax or improper
enforcement.
As bike advocates, we often say that “Bikes have equal rights.” We mean that to convey
that we have a right tothe full use of the roadway, just as a motorist does. But it also means that those public officials
whetherlegislators, police officers, or traffic control officials
have an equal responsibility to understand bicycleinfrastructure and law, and to protect cyclists just as much as any other roadway user.Currently, this does not happen in the District of Columbia. While bicycling facilities have improved over recentyears, enforcement has not kept pace with infrastructure. Additionally, the consequences of a primarily auto-centric police force have included a widespread ignorance among police officers of the realities of bicycling inurban environments and a lack of fair and proper application of traffic laws to cyclists. Systemically poorenforcement and inconsistent procedures cause significant and long-lasting harm to our roadways' mostvulnerable users--often compounding physical injury with grievous financial and legal hardships.We appreciate the willingness of this Committee and the Council to consider and, we hope, quickly address theseproblems by ensuring that equal protection of roadway users becomes a reality. We ask the Council to:
 
Require MPD officials to track and report on bicycle enforcement metrics, and explain significantdeficiencies in citations for common infractions as part of annual oversight reporting.
 
Mandate proper training of enforcement officers on the applicability of traffic laws to bicyclists, and onthe duties of motorists and bicyclists regarding bicycle-specific facilities.
 
Empower and require officers to protect cyclists in bicycle facilities and ensure safe riding conditions forbicyclists; and
 
Replace the victim-blaming contributory negligence liability standard with a more appropriate andmodern comparative negligence standard for vulnerable roadway users.Thank you for your efforts to improve the safety of cyclists of the District of Columbia, and please do not hesitateto contact WABA at any time if we can help with this, or any other matter to improve roadway safety for bicyclistsin the District.Sincerely,Shane Farthing,Executive Director
 
 Testimony of Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Executive Director Shane Farthing before theCommittee on the Judiciary: Public Oversight Hearing on Enforcement of Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety
As the region’s largest and longest
-standing bicyclist advocacy group, WABA is know
n as the area’s
premierresource for cyclists with safety and enforcement concerns, or who have been involved in a crash and needguidance. We average three to five calls per week during peak riding periods from cyclists struck by motorists, anddozens of complaints regarding lax enforcement of laws such as harassment and intimidation by motor vehicles,parking in bicycle lanes, and distracted driving while texting or talking on the phone.In many cases, the complaints of bicyclists are the same as those of any other roadway user. Standard trafficinfractions--such as speeding, reckless and distracted driving, failure to yield, and failure to follow signs andmarkings--affect cyclists as well as motorists. But while motorists have the protection of their vehicles surroundingthem to buffer the harm resulting from illegal behavior, cyclists have nothing but the law to protect them whilesharing the roadway with larger, more powerful vehicles.Fundamentally, there are two issues that need to be addressed: (1) non-enforcement and (2) improperenforcement.Non-Enforcement:Bicycling is a vulnerable mode of transportation, so cyclists need the protection of both the law and facilities likebike lanes that dedicate a portion of the roadway for the use of cyclists. The District has made great strides inrecent years in improving the facilities, but the enforcement has lagged behind.1.
 
Improved Enforcement of General Roadway Safety Laws
There are no “fender
-
benders” for cyclists as there are for motorists. We disproportionately bear the physical
consequences in any crash with a motorist. And we know from countless studies that certain behaviors likespeeding, and phoning or texting while driving, contribute significantly to the likelihood and severity of collisions.And this Committee and the Council know this, because they have taken steps to make these behaviors illegal dueto the increased danger they pose. But these laws are not enforced systematically or diligently enough to impactmotorist behavior. So to be clear, WABA supports increased and improved, even-handed enforcement of trafficlaws to combat speeding, distracted driving, and other behaviors that tend to lead to collisions.2.
 
Protection of Bicycle FacilitiesBut in addition to the improved enforcement of generally applicable traffic laws, we call on this Committee tocompel those charged with enforcing the laws protecting bicycle lanes and facilities to explain their utter failure todo so, and to immediately take steps to improve. From the bike/bus lane on 7
th
Street Northwest, to the new 15
th
 Street cycletrack, to the miles of bike lanes across the city: it is nearly impossible to use any element of the
District’s bicycle infrastructure without finding it illegally blocked by a motorist. And enforcement efforts to keep
those facilities clear are nearly non-existent.
1
 This is not a mere griping about inconvenience. Rather, it is a significant safety concern and a major barrier tobroader adoption of cycling as a mode of sustainable transportation. When a cyclist encounters a blocked,standard bicycle lane, he or she must merge into already-flowing traffic in a narrowed lane. For experienced
1
WABA has filed a FOIA request with MPD for the number of citations written annually for violations of 18 DCMR2405.1(g) (standing or parking in a bike lane), but has received no response to date.
 
cyclists this is possible, but for beginners who may have chosen a route in order to take advantage of the securityprovided by the bike lane, this can be a terrifying and dangerous experience.Just this week, I have been frequently on the phone with representatives of the large parcel delivery services inresponse to numerous complaints of their drivers blocking the 15
th
Street cycletracks and thereby forcing cyclistsinto oncoming traffic. Fortunately, most have been responsive and are taking actions to address this illegal andunsafe behavior. But the very fact that I am calling fleet managers one-by-one in hopes of their making policychanges, rather than having this illegal and unsafe behavior controlled by law enforcement, shows the extent towhich the protection of bicyclists and bicycle facilities in the District has been abandoned.This widespread lack of enforcement sends the message to roadway users that illegally blocking bike lanes isacceptable. It is not. It is unacceptable and dangerous. And as the Committee with oversight of MPD, we ask thatprotection of bicycle facilities be prioritized, and that MPD be required to report regularly on its strategies andplans for protecting bicycle facilities and to provide data showing the results of such strategies (e.g., number of citations issued). We recognize that the setting of enforcement priorities is an executive rather than legislative
function, but oversight of the executive’s enforcement policies i
s the responsibility of this committee, and we askyou to take that role seriously, and press enforcement agencies to explain their failure to provide the protectionpromised to bicyclists under the law. Just as we have demanded fair accommodation from our transportationdepartment, we demand protection of our safety from our enforcement agencies.Improper Enforcement:As stated above, non-enforcement creates systemic difficulties for cyclists and, viewed broadly, makes cycling lesssafe for all. But where an individual cyclist is involved in a crash, such that enforcement action is triggered,improper enforcement can acutely harm a cyclist precluding all financial recovery for injuries and propertydamage.1.
 
Lack of Training on and Knowledge of the Application of Traffic Laws to Bicyclists, and Lack of Understanding of the Duties of Cyclists and Motorists regarding Bicycle Facilities.No one can deny that understanding the complexities of urban traffic practice and law is a difficult task, but it issimply unacceptable for officers charged with enforcing traffic laws
whether employed by DDOT or MPD
to beignorant of (1) the proper application of generally applicable traffic laws to cyclists and (2) the proper andimproper usage of bicycle facilities. Yet this is often the case.Cyclists are routinely wrongly faulted for legal behavior and cited after a crash, despite having followed the law.
2
 
Most enforcement officers are not cyclists and have not experienced the District’s streets from the cyclist’s
perspective, nor are they required to be trained on the applicability of traffic laws to cyclists or on the usage of bicycle infrastructure. Thus, they often lack the most basic understanding of cycling in the District, such as: thevery fact that cyclists are rightful users of the roadways; that cyclists are not required to
and in fact should notalways
stay within bike lanes; the areas in which cyclists are and are not allowed on sidewalks; the prohibitionagainst parking in a bicycle lane; and the requirement that motorists merge appropriately when turning across bike
2
 
This most frequently occurs when a cyclist is “doored,” yet cited for “riding abreast;” when a cyclist is “lefthooked” yet cited for failure to control speed when, in fact, the motorist failed to yield; when a cyclist is struck by a
passing motorist in the same lane, yet cited for some version of impeding traff 
ic; or when a cyclist is “right
-
hooked” (often while in a bicycle lane, as in the well
-known Alice Swanson fatality) yet cited for failure to yield.

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