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DMV believes U-turns on Penn are legal

WABA is reporting that the Department of Motor Vehicles isn't upholding tickets for U-turns across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.
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.
Rob Pitingolo asked on Twitter, "If [DDOT] designs a street and decides certain turns are unsafe, why does [the DMV] get to decide whether said unsafe turns are punishable? The whole thing calls into question whether any traffic sign in DC is actually legally binding or just a suggestion."

In the camera debate, MPD has been saying that they enforce the speed limits that are posted. Anyone want to look through the DC code to figure out if posted signs like "no U turn" actually have the force of law?

Perhaps Mary Cheh could introduce some emergency legislation to fix this problem, but Rob's point is a good one—we shouldn't have to rely on legislation to clarify every element. Unless the law really has a big hole that makes it impossible to enforce, a "no U turn" sign should be enough to make U turns illegal.

WABA's Shane Farthing added,

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.)
So far, we know that many drivers are not obeying the rules in the cycletrack, though DDOT's Mike Goodno has been urging people to be patient as DDOT finishes up paint, signs. and bollards. The Express' Vicky Hallett interviewed some truck drivers who are, so far, just refusing to pull a little farther to an actual loading zone, and Nicholas Donohue sent over some pictures of trucks parked in the cycletrack.

Photo by Nicholas Donohue.

Cycle tracks, separated bike lanes, or whatever you call them can work wonders for bicycling, but only if drivers respect them and District officials can properly enforce rules against unsafe driving and parking.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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star chamber, anyone?

by charlie on Nov 9, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

"In The War On Drivers, An Armistice"

by oboe on Nov 9, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

A. The DMV handles tickets? That seems to be unique to DC. Then again I've only been to traffic court in Va. where it's definitely the police vs. yourself.

B. I noticed twice the police instructing someone who was in the car travel lane trying to turn left that they did have to merge into the bike lane further back if they wanted to turn left.

by drumz on Nov 9, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

Are there any no-u-turn signs posted on Pennsylvania Avenue other than at intersections? The absence of signage may be a basis for rejecting the citations.

Perhaps what they should be cited for is a violation of 2201.8:

"No vehicle shall be driven over, across or within any dividing space, barrier or section, except through an opening in the physical barrier or dividing section or
space or at a crossover or intersection or an unraised, paved dividing section with pavement markings only, unless otherwise directed by official traffic control devices."

by ah on Nov 9, 2012 12:00 pm • linkreport

Their reasoning is simply wrong. Under the law, a bicycle lane is considered a preferential travel lane (see MUTCD 3D.01-06). In DC, u-turns across travel lanes are prohibited. 1+1 = No u-turns on Penn. Simple as that.

by Dave on Nov 9, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

Yes, in DC, "traffic court" is held before a DMV adjudicator. Moving violations, parking tickets, it's all the same. DC does not have an equivalent to the General District Courts in Virginia, which try minor offenses. I've only gone to adjudication for parking tickets, but it seemed like the rules of evidence were very lax. Mostly it was an endless series of sob stories.

by Paul on Nov 9, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

"...unless otherwise directed by official traffic control devices."

Per 18-21 TRAFFIC SIGNS, SIGNALS, SYMBOLS, AND DEVICES of the DC code, DC drivers must adhere to the specifications of the Uniform Traffic Control Devices manual by FHSA. Page 370 of the FHSA UTCD manual states:

"Where crossing the lane line markings is prohibited, the lane line markings shall consist of a solid double white line."

The use of solid double white lines, which are valid and official traffic control devices, for the bike lanes prohibits crossing the line in any circumstances. This includes passing other vehicles, making u-turns, etc. UTCD states that a single solid white line shall be used where crossing is permitted but "discouraged". DMV is absolutely mistaken.

by Sam on Nov 9, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

I've noticed a lot of cars using the L Street Cycletrack as an express route to the left turn lane. In addition to a couple rides down the length of the track earlier this week, I walked along the route last Wednesday around rush hour. On my walk, I saw at least three or four cars enter the track at a garage entrance mid-block to access an upcoming left turn lane, and at least one cab drove on the cycletrack for the entire length of a block. Those cars were driving really fast (relative to a bike). I realize that we're supposed to be giving drivers some time to react to the traffic pattern, but since rush hour is after dark these days, maybe MPD should solve that problem earlier, rather than later.

Also, parking in the cycletrack is a bigger deal than parking in a normal bike lane. Since a car in the bike lane also slows down the adjacent car traffic, it's a lot easier for a bike to safely get around the stopped car. Drivers also expect the bike to move into their lane, and are far more courteous since the stopped car affects them as well. That's not the case on the cycletrack. The adjacent traffic lane is not affected by the parked car; drivers are oblivious to the obstruction in the cycletrack, and aren't looking out for bikes that move into their lane to get around the parked car. Again, I'm sypathetic to the notion of giving drivers time to adjust, but I think MPD should react to these kinds of safety issues sooner, rather than later.

by Steven Harrell on Nov 9, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

Double white line on Penn:

DMV is completely wrong about this.

by MLD on Nov 9, 2012 2:04 pm • linkreport

L St cycle track-I rode it yesterday for the 1st time, from 21st to 13th. On every block at least one car or truck was parked in the cyclelane, on at least two blocks it was two vehicles. I also saw cars getting into it far earlier than they should to get over to make a left turn. Very problematic.

by Tina on Nov 9, 2012 2:07 pm • linkreport


DDOT has installed some plastic bollards at the entrances to the L St cycletrack to discourage people driving in it:

by MLD on Nov 9, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

@MLD: yay! thanks for the update!

by Steven Harrell on Nov 9, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

It looks very natural for cars to use the midblock openings to get into what used to be the left turn lane.

In terms of parking, again, delivery trucks. You do need enforcement, but those trucks also need to delivery somewhere.

The better solution would be narrow the bike lane a bit, bring back some parking on the left side, and allow the delivery trucks to drop off there.

by charlie on Nov 9, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

The better solution would be narrow the bike lane a bit, bring back some parking on the left side, and allow the delivery trucks to drop off there.

That's not a better solution for bicyclists. That's a better solution for scofflaw drivers. There are plenty of places for them to unload, they need to use those places.

by thump on Nov 9, 2012 2:48 pm • linkreport

I ask this as a person who commutes by bike every day (but not through downtown) - Why is the cycletrack so wide, anyway? Bikes take up much less space than cars; why not just make the lane, say, 5 feet wide, and put up bollards such that cars CAN'T fit? I suppose it's too late for that now, but it seems weird to me. The bike lanes I commute on are the standard width (30 inches? I've never measured) and it seems like even a particularly bike-busy area would be okay with about twice that. Anyway, I'd rather have a bit less space and never have to worry about cars parking in the cycletrack.

by Andrew M on Nov 9, 2012 3:24 pm • linkreport

Any decent bike lane should be five feet so that a cyclist can comfortably stay in it while out of the door zone.

by drumz on Nov 9, 2012 3:33 pm • linkreport

@Andrew - They have to be wide enough for cars to enable the "mixing zone", where cars turn left from the bike lane. When people use it correctly it actually works really nicely - I suspect it will take some time before that's the norm.

@drumz - No (legal) parking on that side of the street, so there's no door zone.

by Jon on Nov 9, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

In terms of parking, again, delivery trucks. You do need enforcement, but those trucks also need to delivery somewhere.

charlie, Vicky Hallett's article points out that that there was a loading dock the truck driver blocking the bike lane could have used. It wasn't even tucked away in a back alley. It was right there. He just didn't bother. And most, if not all, of those downtown buildings along L and K have loading docks. When I worked at 1735 K, the building refused to let even FedEx drivers make deliveries through the front door. They had to pull around to the back. I didn't appreciate it then, but I do now.

by TJ on Nov 9, 2012 4:53 pm • linkreport

1. Signs do not create law -- they are only valid if in fact they reflect what the law says -- and thank God for that. It's just human nature to want to make up rules for other people, and the guys who make signs are not immune. For example, a "walk bike" sign means cycling is prohibited -- someone walking a bike is a pedestrian. Yet you often see them in places where cycling is in fact legal. The DC code does delegate to DDOT the ability to create certain restrictions and post signs to that effect, such as speed limits and restricted lanes.

2. In DC, it is generally legal to double-park for the purpose of making a delivery, so there's nothing to enforce with delivery trucks.

by contrarian on Nov 9, 2012 6:13 pm • linkreport

Actually, there may be an even stickier problem with DC's traffic signs and regs.

The DCMR calls for the DPW to maintain a list of the places where regulations such as prohibited U-turns are in effect. This is a legacy from the era when transportation operations and DDOT were a part of DPW. However, DPW does not maintain that list anymore.

The letter of the law stops there, so it's a longshot but quite arguable that many of DC's traffic regulations are not in effect anywhere.

If we assume that the responsibility was transferred by inference when DDOT was split from DPW, then the list of such locations should be available from them, of course. I asked for a specific section of that list, and while the data was provided it wasn't in a human-friendly format.

Also, from a process perspective, any changes in the applicable rules and locations are supposed to be entered into the DC Register on a regular and ongoing basis. I don't know if that happened under DPW, but I know it has not been happening in recent record.

So not only is DMV making a fairly abstract judgment call for any enforcement action, MPD can't really argue otherwise, and I'm surprised some desperate defense attorney hasn't hooked in on this.

Traffic signals are also included in the categories of regulations that must be published, so this problem might technically invalidate every red light camera ticket ever issued in DC...

by DaveS on Nov 9, 2012 7:27 pm • linkreport

There's a difference between prohibiting U-turns and prohibiting U-turns across the bike lane. When on the road, bikes are vehicles, and a lane designated for them is, therefore, a vehicle travel lane. The law already prohibits U-turns across travel lanes. Therefore, if the bike lane is a travel lane (which it is), then making a U-turn across it is illegal. Period. If someone made a U-turn from the right lane of a road that had 2 lanes traveling in the same direction, that would be illegal, as it crosses the left lane; the same holds true for the bike lane. No new law had to be written, the relevant law already existed. If someone made a U-turn from the right lane of a road with multiple lanes going the same direction, and caused an accident, the driver of the U-turning car would be liable for the damage, and get much scorn from everyone. Why is this so hard?

by Ms. D on Nov 9, 2012 8:09 pm • linkreport

In DC, it is generally legal to double-park for the purpose of making a delivery, so there's nothing to enforce with delivery trucks.

If this is the case (and it sounds suspicious to me) then the H Street streetcar line is DOA.

by oboe on Nov 9, 2012 11:44 pm • linkreport

@Ms. D: You're right that U-turns across other travel lanes are automatically prohibited, and no new law has to be written specifically to cover the Pa Ave bike lanes.

But DPW and DDOT apparently haven't adhered to the laws about establishing that space as a travel lane for bikes. It's not illegal to cross a travel lane that doesn't actually exist.

They could enforce the "left lane to left lane without entering other lanes" aspect of the U-turn regs, except that could actually make "legal" U-turns across the median more dangerous for bikes.

by DaveS on Nov 10, 2012 9:25 am • linkreport

If this is the case (and it sounds suspicious to me) then the H Street streetcar line is DOA.

2401.2 Unless prohibited by § 2402, a vehicle may stop parallel and as near as practicable to parked vehicles while loading; Provided, that the vehicle while so parked will not unreasonably impede or interfere with orderly two-way traffic, or on a one-way street, that at least one lane is kept open for moving traffic.

2401.3 On any street, highway, or any portion of a street or highway, where parking is prohibited but stopping and standing are not prohibited, passenger vehicles may stop momentarily to load and unload passengers, and any vehicle may stop long enough to actually load and unload materials.

2402.4 The loading of materials shall be restricted to loading zones in each block where such zones have been designated by official signs; Provided, that this limitation shall not apply during hours when parking (but not standing) is prohibited in such block.

by contrarian on Nov 10, 2012 9:36 am • linkreport

RE: new bollards at entrance of lane. Im disappointed they went with two instead of just one, can a pedicab fit through that?

If a truck of all vehicles can fit between the plastic bollards than theyre too far apart.

In this case, I dont see why they couldnt have gone for more permanent divisions between the lanes.

Heres what Mexico City did, I like this treatment (still allows for emergency vehicles to get by)

San Francisco went all out, putting an entire fence in the way

by JJJ on Nov 10, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport

In this case, I dont see why they couldnt have gone for more permanent divisions between the lanes.

Because the bollards and line painting can easily be set up in a day by a small crew, but putting in concrete curbs and such is much more difficult.

Putting up barriers that are seen as less permanent is an advantage for the bike infrastructure - it makes them easier to install and because of that produces less protracted fighting over these changes.

But DPW and DDOT apparently haven't adhered to the laws about establishing that space as a travel lane for bikes. It's not illegal to cross a travel lane that doesn't actually exist.

You paint the lines, that establishes it. Does your regulation about a list of where U-turns are prohibited extend to "there must be a list of where all the bike lanes are in order to establish them as travel lanes"? Because I don't see any evidence that that is necessary.

by MLD on Nov 10, 2012 2:40 pm • linkreport

@MLD - Are you saying the DMV should know things that haven't been listed as required in the DCMR?

I actually got on this search not from looking at the Pa Ave U-turns, not exactly, but from trying to understand why the bus/bike lanes on 7th and 9th have never been enforced.

The answer is close to the same thing we're talking about now, that DDOT didn't even try to put them into regulations before they painted and signed them. That probably trained MPD and DPW to ignore street signs and paint, and to only follow the official list of location-specific restrictions.

So now, if DDOT hasn't followed the specified process to establish each bike lane, it doesn't exist any more than the bus/bike lanes on 7th and 9th do.

And DDOT has indeed not followed the process, which was in place long before there even was a DDOT.

(DCMR 18 has all the info about what should happen, but the sticky part is 18-40. Also have to consider the DDOT establishment sections...)

by DaveS on Nov 11, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

All traffic signs are essentially suggestions. There are only two rules of the road that matter. Don't hit other people/vehicles and don't impede everyone else from getting around. In my book all signage/signals are open to interpretation in view of those two goals.

If you need to make a u-turn wherever and its not getting it anyone's way or endangering anyone then go for it.

by Doug on Nov 11, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

The whole point of the MUTCD is that you write into your regulations that you follow MUTCD and then all you have to do is paint lines and put up signs. (see 18-2100) The signs/paint designate the laws to be followed; you don't have to then also create a list of every single street and all the regulating rules on it. That's redundant. Reading DCMR 18-4000 it doesn't seem like there is any requirement that all signed/painted areas be put on the applicable list - in fact, the stop sign list is the only one I saw in a cursory look that has any streets listed on it at all.

See Sam's commend above.

by MLD on Nov 12, 2012 8:19 am • linkreport

@MLD - No. They can't paint lines and hang signs to create regulations any more than they can create regulations without painting lines and hanging signs. They need to do both.

The MUTCD is just the language guide for communicating regulations in effect. MUTCD doesn't contain one single regulation itself, doesn't provide model language for regulations, and doesn't even pretend that its guidelines always communicate one single meaning. (DCMR 18-2100 directs the district to use MUTDC markings, with exceptions including Pa Ave.)

You may be thinking of the UVC, but that's entirely a different animal in that it's a privately maintained document that only serves as a template. Each locality that uses the UVC as its model has to modify it where appropriate and codify the results per their own operating regulations. The MUTCD is federally mandated, the UVC is not.

Re: DCMR 18-40. Take a look at, e.g., 18-4012 - "listed in this section" doesn't mean in 18-4012, it means the list specified in 18-4000 which is to be kept by the Director (of DPW!) and available at that office. Same with 18-4005 - "streets listed in this subsection", and so on.

I suspect that's exactly the DMV's problem, that DCMR 18-40 describes the legacy process. They follow the DCMR, find no information from DPW, and quit. And even though I'm among the chief instigators of the efforts to improve the Pa Ave cycle tracks, I can't really disagree with the DMV for failing to enforce regulations it can't find.

by DaveS on Nov 12, 2012 4:14 pm • linkreport

I was just hit by a taxi making a U-turn through these bike lanes today. The taxi came from behind me and swerved into me, knocking me across the lanes. I never even saw him coming and if I was going a bit faster I probably would have gone over or under the car...or out in the oncoming lane.

Traffic police came and I have photos of the scene. The taxi driver (very apologetic) got a ticket for making an U-Turn under unsafe conditions (i.e. slamming into a cyclist). I see these U-turns happening everyday (I commute daily) and mark my words: it is only a matter of time before someone dies here. When that does happen, DDOT, DCDMV, CFA won't be able to say they didnt see it coming: they will all have blood on their hands.


by Colin Hughes on Nov 14, 2012 3:41 pm • linkreport

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