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Bicycling


DC Council postpones fixing an injustice to pedestrians and cyclists because Kenyan McDuffie's dog ate his homework

I'm on vacation in Copenhagen, but am writing a post anyway )using a Danish keyboard where the punctuation is all in a different place= because I'm sufficiently annoyed at Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie. He seems to have just read a very important bill to protect people walking and bicycling at the very last minute, then asked for an extension because it didn't say what he thought it did.


DC's contributory negligence debate wouldn't happen here in Copenhagen. Photo by the author.

A quick history here. Bicycle riders have been talking about the unjust "contributory negligence" rule for years. This rule says that if someone is even 1% at fault for a crash, he or she can recover nothing from the insurer of, say, a driver who hits and seriously injures him or her.

Two years ago, Tommy Wells (ward 6) was chairing the committee with jurisdiction to change the rule, and he tried a bill to change to "comparative negligence," where you can recover in proportion to your fault (if you're 25% at fault, you could recover up to 75% of your injuries). But Councilmember Mary Cheh (ward 3) opposed the bill, as did trial lawyers, because it would interfere with another legal doctrine called "joint and several liability." You can learn more about this here.

But suffice to say, there were two possible ways to fix the problem, and the one Wells was promoting didn't have political support. Cheh promised to write a bill that fixed her concern, and she then introduced it the following year, in January 2015, along with Jack Evans (ward 2), David Grosso (at large), Anita Bonds (at large), and Charles Allen (ward 6 and Wells' successor).

Here's a chart by David Cranor explaining the difference between the two bills, in terms of how much a victim can recover based on his or her fault under current law, the 2014 bill, and the current bill.


Here, the X axis is for how much the cyclist was at fault, and the Y is for how much the driver has to pay. The red line shows how the law works today, the green one explains a 2014 bill that didn't pass, and the purple and blue ones show Kenyan McDuffie and Mary Cheh's proposals, respectively. Graph by David Cranor.

Kenyan McDuffie was now chairing the committee with jurisdiction, and nothing happened for over a year. The committee then marked up the bill on April 21, 2016. The committee report endorses the bill, saying:

The Committee finds, based on the testimony, significant risk of injury, and national trend, that the District of Columbia law should institute a modified comparative negligence standard for bicyclists and pedestrians in the District. Therefore, the Committee recommends that the Council enacts Bill 21-0004, the "Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016."
Suddenly, the bill is in crisis

Monday night (Copenhagen time, anyway), Martin Di Caro broke the news that McDuffie was suddenly concerned about the language of the bill. David Cranor breaks down McDuffie's apparent concern, which is that someone 10% at fault might be able to recover more than 90%. McDuffie wants the purple line in the graph above, where the recovery slopes down to 50% and is zero after that.

But the sloped-line approach failed two years ago. Suddenly it seems we're back where we were then, with some councilmembers willing to support one solution, some wanting another, and not enough for a single solution.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association says it supports either approach, but is insistent that one of them be enacted. I might not be seeing everything, being in Denmark let alone not privy to conversations between McDuffie and Cheh, but it sure seems like McDuffie, after sitting on the bill for 15 months, suddenly read it for the first time very recently, realized it said something different than what his own committee report endorsed, and got cold feet.

The council has now postponed debate on the bill for two weeks, until July 12.


Photo by the author.

McDuffie needs to get this solved in two weeks

One of my elementary school teachers had a sign with the old phrase, "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." This is like the student who procrastinates on an assignment until the last minute, then needs an extension. Only McDuffie is a very smart professional legislator with extensive legal experience and staff who also have law degrees.

But fine, McDuffie got his extension. It will mean cyclists and pedestrians are in jeopardy for two months more, because the council can't take a second vote until September thanks to its August recess, but they've been waiting years for a fix.

If McDuffie decides to go along with Cheh's approach, great. If he can convince her and a majority of the council to go with another solution palatable to WABA, that's also fine. But what won't be fine is if two weeks pass (during which time there's a holiday, by the way) and then the council is still not ready to move forward. Two years ago, the bill got delayed two weeks also, and instead of then passing, it was delayed more and more and ultimately almost two years.

If that happens because McDuffie wasn't paying attention, this will all be on him, under the "you break it, you buy it" doctrine. It would reflect very poorly on him. Fortunately, he has several ways out of looking bad—just get some dmn bill passed )where the heck is the asterisk on this keyboard=, either Cheh's version or something else that has seven votes.

To stay up to date on how this unfolds, fill out the form below. Meanwhile, I'll go back to walking the streets of Copenhagen, where Danish law places the presumption of fault on the driver in any crash. Hey, how about amending the bill to say THAT instead?



Bicycling


DC's harmful traffic law needs to go, one way or another

If a driver hits you while you're walking or biking in DC, the law makes it almost impossible to collect from the driver's insurance. A bill to fix that is suddenly in jeopardy just hours before a scheduled vote. Please ask the DC Council to move it forward.

As of now, DC's "contributory negligence" law says that if a person on foot or bike who is involved in a crash is even one percent at fault for what happened, they can't collect any damages. The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2015, which is scheduled for a vote today, would let people collect damages as long as they were less than 50% at fault.

Today, Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie plans to introduce an amendment that would change exactly how much a person could collect, using a "comparative negligence" standard that basically means that a person's claim to damages would be proportional to their fault in the crash. It looks as though Councilmember Mary Cheh would oppose the bill if it includes McDuffie's amendment.

Efforts to end contributory negligence, which really does have harmful effects, have been going on for years. There are credible arguments for both McDuffie's and Cheh's positions on how to word the new law, but we need to pass one or the other.

With or without the amendment, the proposed bill will improve the rights of pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorized road users on DC's streets. That is very much needed, especially as the number of people who use our streets for something other than driving continues to swell.

Update: Councilmember McDuffie moved for the Council to vote on the bill on July 12, and his motion passed.

This morning, 75 people sent 450 letters to Councilmembers urging them to do away with contributory negligence, one way or another. Thank you for your efforts, and look for more from Greater Greater Washington on how pass the bill as the vote nears.

Bicycling


DC is on the verge of ditching a harmful traffic law

Right now, DC has a law that keeps drivers from being held responsible for damages when they harm vulnerable road users. After years of organizing and effort, the DC Council is about to vote on a proposal to change this. You have a chance to speak up.


Photo by mjmonty on Flickr.

Traffic collisions happen every day. Sorting out who is responsible for the damages afterwards is a complex job that often involves the police, insurance adjusters, lawyers, and even judges and/or juries. In our region, however, a strict legal standard called "contributory negligence" has made things harsh, but simple: If you are even 1% at fault in a collision, you cannot collect any damages.

If that sounds weird to you, you're not alone. The District, Maryland, and Virginia are among the last holdouts in the US to use this standard. Forty-seven other states have switched to a more common-sense standard called "comparative fault," where damages are assigned in proportion to blame.

I shared my own personal story in a a recent post about how I came to learn about this obscure legal topic—the hard way, courtesy of a minivan driver, while I was riding my bike. While I am grateful I survived and recovered, I know I'm not alone, and others aren't as lucky as me with the court system. That's why myself and others have been advocating since 2014 for the District to adopt the "comparative fault" standard for pedestrians and cyclists who are hit by drivers.

Road users who don't have insurance adjusters or legal representation to advocate on their behalf are victimized a second time after a collision when their claims for damages are denied because insurers are confident most victims will not have the evidence to prove they are untainted by even 1% of fault.

Various DC Council members have explored legislation to make this change, but have faced stiff opposition from AAA and the insurance industry, who can afford multiple full-time lobbyists. However, patient and persistent advocacy from leaders on the council and community groups like WABA and All Walks DC have brought us to the brink of victory.

On Monday, the DC Council's Committee of the Whole scheduled the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2015 for a full Council vote on Tuesday, June 28, 2016.

On top of making it so a person on a bike or on foot who was contributorily negligent in a crash with a motor vehicle would still be able to collect damages if they were less than 50% at fault, the bill makes it clear that it covers people using non-motorized vehicles outside of just bikes (or people on foot), and retains what's called the "last clear chance" doctrine, which says that even if the person who was hit was contributorily negligent, the person who hit them can still be responsible if they had a clear chance to avoid the collision.

If you care about this issue, now is the most important time to let your councilmember know that you support fairness for pedestrian and bicycle crash victims. You can rest assured that they are hearing from the insurance industry, so let them hear from you too.

Budget


On Metro, not all off-peak discounts are created equal

Riding Metrorail outside of peak hours is less expensive, but the amount discounted off of the peak price varies quite a bit by how far you travel. Riders with the largest discounts are more likely than others to wait until off-peak fares start before they enter the system.


Photo by Malcolm Kenton.

Metrorail bases its fares on distances, meaning that usually, the farther you travel, the more you pay. Riders can find the peak and off-peak fares for their trips on the top of the fare payment machines in each system.

Peak fares are charged on weekdays from opening to 9:30 am, and again between 3:00 and 7:00 pm. Off-peak fares are in effect all other times. Around 9:30 am and 7:00 pm, you may notice riders idling outside faregates, waiting for the cheaper off-peak fares to kick in prior to swiping into their origin station.


Graphs by the author.

Presumably, these riders know what it would cost them to ride during both peak and off-peak times, and have decided that the savings are worth the wait. That doesn't mean, however, that they're more frugal than those who swipe in just before 7:00 pm and pay the more expensive peak fare—what's actually more likely is that those waiting get a bigger discount off their peak price than those who aren't.

What's interesting is that a lot of people don't know that off-peak fare discounts vary—Metro's planning blog itself describes off-peak fares as "generally a 25% reduction from peak fares" when in actuality, off-peak fares can range from a 19% to 40% reduction of peak fares. Riders simply know that they get a discount of some size, and they act accordingly.

Off-peak fares are capped differently from peak fares

So why do off-peak discounts vary so much, and who are the lucky riders getting the biggest savings?

Metro's off-peak fare structure was updated to its current fee-per-mile structure in 2012. At that time, to lessen the impact of a large off-peak fare increase for some riders, WMATA limited the percent increase between the old (2010) and new (2012) off-peak fares to 27%.

It turns out this "cap" only affects trips of just under seven and ten miles. WMATA also set the maximum off-peak fare at $3.60. This fare cap benefits riders with trips longer than 11 miles. Metro's current peak fare structure is simpler; the only limitation is a maximum peak fare of $5.90.

As seen below, when off-peak fare limits kick in, the difference between peak and off-peak fares is accentuated. Riders with trips of specific lengths (highlighted green) benefit from higher-percentage off-peak savings.

Basically, the large off-peak discounts are the unintentional outcomes of well-intentioned policies. These off-peak fare limits were aimed to benefit off-peak riders, but not necessarily sway would-be peak riders into off-peak travel.

And while the off-peak fare caps at just under seven and ten miles made sense in 2012, they seem a bit arbitrary now since most riders traveling these mileages probably aren't the same riders who the caps were initially intending to protect.

But hey, we'll take it!

You can read a more formal analysis of ridership patterns on my website.

Politics


Silverman, White, Gray, and White can form a paint caucus on the next DC Council

Tuesday night, three incumbents lost their primaries for re-election to the DC Council: Robert White beat Vincent Orange at large, Vincent Gray unseated Yvette Alexander in Ward 7, and Trayon White took out LaRuby May in Ward 8. Many observers noticed that there's something similar about all of their last names: They're (achromatic) hues.

We supported Robert White and Gray, and from a policy standpoint, this election means a big step up for the quality of the DC Council. White and Gray will likely cast many better votes than Orange or Alexander would, and write better quality, better thought through legislation as well.

But putting all of the serious stuff aside for a moment, after each election recently I've made a graph of the number of elected officials whose names are also on the Photoshop palette.

While Orange, the most colorful sitting member (literally) lost, the three new ones bring the total up to four, the all-time high last achieved in 2011. That's the three victorious challengers plus Elissa Silverman, who came onto the council two years ago.

(Note that these folks haven't technically won election; they all are on the ballot in November. But in overwhelmingly Democratic DC, a Democrat is virtually assured of winning the general election.)

This chart excludes Carol Schwartz, whose name derives from the German word "schwarz," meaning black. She was on the council from 1985-1989 and again from 1997 to 2009, when Michael Brown defeated her for a non-Democratic at-large seat.

Are there any more Quentin Tarantino characters waiting in the wings for 2018? There's often speculation about a comeback for Kwame Brown or Michael Brown (which, let me say, would be a terrible idea). Orange also could seek another seat in the future; it wouldn't be the first time he left the council and then returned.

Development


Washington ranks #2 in walkable urbanism; Maryland and Virginia outshine other cities' suburbs

The Washington region is second in the nation in having housing and jobs in walkable places, a new report says. A real stand-out for our region, compared to other similar cities, are the walkable places even outside the center city like Silver Spring and Reston.

The report, by Christopher Leinberger and Michael Rodriguez from the George Washington University School of Business, ranks the US's 30 largest metropolitan areas based on their "WalkUPs," or "walkable urban places."

A WalkUP is, in the report's methodology, a place with at least 1.4 million square feet of office space or 340,000 square feet of retail, and a walk score of 70 or better.

We're #2

The Washington region ranks second on this measure, after New York. The other top metros are about what you'd guess: Boston, Chicago, the SF Bay Area, and Seattle. The worst in the nation: Las Vegas, Tampa, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Orlando.

In Washington, 33% of office, retail, and multi-family residential space is in one of our 44 WalkUPs. In San Antonio, Phoenix, and Orlando, it's 3%; San Antonio has only 2 WalkUPs.

Fortunately, even in the lowest-ranked metros, that share is increasing, as new development is at least somewhat more likely to be in WalkUPs than old (in Las Vegas, 11% more likely; in Washington, 2.79 times; in Detroit, over 5 times as likely).

We have lots of walkable urbanism outside the center city

This region also shines on the share of walkable development in jurisdictions outside the (or a) traditional center city. In the Washington region, half of the walkable urbanism is not inside DC, but in places like Silver Spring, Reston, and Old Town Alexandria.


WalkUPs in Greater Washington, from a 2012 Leinberger report.

Not only are there some quite urban places outside DC (and suburban ones inside), but many of those weren't historically urban. Historic cities outside the region's center city like Newark (or Old Town Alexandria) have long been walkable, but Arlington and Silver Spring weren't. Very suburban land uses dominated not so long ago, and governments in these areas deliberately transformed them in a walkable direction.

In some other metro areas, that's not the case. The report notes that "the 388 local jurisdictions in the Chicago metro that control land use have many times stifled urbanization of the suburbs." Portland, New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Philadelphia all get mention in the report for high levels of "NIMBYism" in towns outside the center city.

That's not to say Washington's non-downtown job centers are perfect. Places like Tysons Corner have a long way to go before they really feel oriented around the pedestrian, and will likely never equal a historic center city in that way. But the governments of all counties around DC are really trying.

Even if they may move slowly, Fairfax County has a policy of making Tysons more walkable (and it did just get Metro). The same goes for Montgomery and Prince George's, and even a lot of folks in Loudoun, Howard, and so forth. Walkable urbanism isn't a fringe idea around here. Meanwhile, many of the SF Bay Area's towns downzoned the areas around BART stations to block new development when rail arrived, and a lot of those towns' attitudes haven't changed.

So, let's give a round of applause to Maryland and Virginia leaders, both in the 1970s (when Metro was being planned) and today, for at least being way better than their counterparts elsewhere in the country.


(Las Vegas is an outlier because it has very little walkable urbanism in the city, but the Strip is outside and counts as "suburbs" in this analysis.)

Walkable urbanism is also good for equity

The report also looks at how WalkUPs affect equity. In all of the metro areas, being in a walkable place commands higher rent (191% higher in New York, 66% higher in Washington, and only 4% higher in Baltimore, last on this list).

However, in the cities with more walkable urbanism, moderate-income residents living in walkable areas spend less on transportation and live nearer to more jobs, even if they may spend more on housing.

The report says:

This research has reached the counter-intuitive conclusion that metro areas with the highest walkable urban rankings have the highest social equity performance, as measured by moderate-income household spending on housing and transportation and access to employment. Of the top 10 metro regions ranked by social equity, eight also ranked in the the top 10 for current walkable urbanism The most walkable urban metros also have the most social equity.
Washington rated second in equity, again after New York. Washingtonians making 80% of the area median income spend just 17% of their income on transportation have access to an average of 56,897 jobs. In Tampa, meanwhile, such people spend 30% of their incomes on transportation and are near just 19,205 jobs.

Even housing in WalkUPs isn't as expensive here as in many metros, controlling for income, according to the report: Moderate-income households living in WalkUPs spend 36% of their income on housing, on par with Houston and St. Louis. In Tampa, that's 44%, and hits 52% in Miami. (It's 47% in New York and LA and 42% in the San Francisco Bay Area).

Politics


If you live in Arlington or DC, your vote matters on Tuesday!

Virginia had its presidential primary long ago and DC's Democratic primary Tuesday won't affect who wins the nomination. But if you're a Democrat in DC or any voter in Arlington, your vote will absolutely matter in local races. Please vote!


Erik Gutshall (Arlington) and Robert White (DC).

Greater Greater Washington has endorsed Erik Gutshall for Arlington County Board and Robert White for DC Council at large, and Vincent Gray in Ward 7.

Why it's important vote in Arlington

Arlington's race may see low turnout because there's no federal or statewide contest at the same time, but the county board race will have a big impact on the future of Arlington. It's an important election.

Decades ago, Arlington was a declining inner-ring suburb where even getting a Home Depot was a faint hope. But a strategy of creating urban villages around the new Metro system has transformed the county into a national model.

The strong tax base from these urban areas (it gets 60% of its tax revenue from 11% of its land) let the county keep taxes low and services high. But when the recession, sequestration, and BRAC took a big bite out of office occupancy in Arlington, it created an opening for ambitious politicians to attack the county's leaders and appeal to voters who'd rather the county do less rather than more.

Libby Garvey was one of them. She has never articulated a strong vision for moving Arlington forward. For Arlington to retreat into mediocrity by slashing its ambitions to build a better place to live risks sending Arlington back to the past.

Erik Gutshall has demonstrated his commitment to a strong future for Arlington as a member of its planning commission. Also, as the owner of a home services business, he knows what it will take to woo businesses (and keep the county from driving them away); how to spend responsibly but also invest as necessary.

Residents of Arlington can speak loudly on Tuesday for a forward-looking—and responsible-spending—county by showing up to the polls and electing Erik Gutshall.

The primary is open to people of any party registration and all county board seats are elected at large, so all eligible voters can participate. Find your polling place here. Polls are open from 6 am to 7 pm.

Why it's important to vote in DC

While everyone on the DC Council is either a Democrat or a lifelong Democrat registered as an independent, that doesn't mean there aren't big differences between members—liberal versus conservative, urbanist versus not, motivated by a desire to improve DC versus personal ambition.

Too much (often all) of the political coverage is about things like who is on the "Green Team" or not, who's angling for another political office or not, and so on. That's mostly garbage. Greater Greater Washington focused on important issues facing the city, and if you agree with what we talk about, it's important to try to figure out which candidates actually would cast good votes on critical legislation.

Vincent Orange rarely does. Often it seems he doesn't even care about the issue, but is interested in angling for some political advantage, like when he agreed to flip a position on a key tax policy vote in exchange for an earmark for a parade at a theater whose board he's on.

I've talked to Robert White many times and he absolutely believes in the basic values our community holds dear. If you don't believe me, believe all of the other urbanist, environmental, and progressive groups and individuals that are supporting him.

David Garber also shares these values, but White has more experience, more political support, and the best chance of winning. From the beginning, I said I hoped people would figure out which of the two has the strongest support and all run to that side, hard as it might be for some.

Vince Gray was a dedicated, solid supporter of good urbanism, of a sustainable DC, of walking, biking, and transit, of adding housing to keep prices affordable, and much more. He's running against Yvette Alexander, one of the councilmembers who's been most consistently and openly contemptuous of the vision for DC we share here at Greater Greater Washington.

While allegations in a long-running investigation are potentially quite serious, that investigation was concluded with no charges, and he was objectively excellent on policy. Quite simply, having Gray on the council will shift a lot of votes in the right direction, and that matters.

Find your polling place here. You must be a registered Democrat in DC to vote in the Democratic primary (and no other party has a contested race).

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