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AAA not at war, just concerned about process?

The backlash against AAA firebrand Lon Anderson's anti-bike-lane diatribe has gotten the attention of his colleagues at AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Photo by Jayel Aheram.

WashCycle, the Bike League, FABB, WABA, Martin Austermuhle in the Examiner, myself, and others all criticized the inflammatory press release, which got picked up uncritically by Fox 5, Newschannel 8, and (mildly critically) the Post.

Cleveland Park listserv manager Bill Adler also chose to inaugurate a new op-ed feature with another version of what Herb Caudill called "Lon Anderson's heartfelt plea that our public policy be more car-centric, not less." Few Cleveland Parkers were persuaded, however, with more replies recommending people join Better World Club, an alternative to AAA that doesn't "sign 50 million people up for roadside assistance, and then ... turn around [and] tell lawmakers that those 50 million people all oppose the Clean Air Act, safety standards, airbags, mass transit, bike lanes, speed limits, and high fines for running red lights—all by virtue of their 'membership' in the 'club'," as Caudill put it.

Many people wrote here, on Cleveland Park, and elsewhere that they planned to cancel their memberships in AAA. Enough must have done so to trigger a response by AAA walking back the rhetoric. Kim Snedaker, Social Media Manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic, posted a comment on multiple blogs on behalf of Ron Kosh, VP of Public and Government Affairs, saying that "AAA Mid-Atlantic does not oppose bike lanes in the nation's capital," and John Townsend, AAA spokesperson, followed up with another statement.

Instead of talking about a "war on drivers," Kosh and Townsend choose to focus on process. Kosh wants "1) a published mobility analysis and full traffic impact study, 2) an environmental impact study, and 3) completion of a public comment period." There was a public meeting on the bike lanes, though the opportunities for public input were scarcer than some other DDOT projects, including the 15th Street cycle track. But doing a complete EIS for every bike lane is ridiculous.

Good process is important, and public comment isn't a step agencies should skip or try to minimize. However, opponents of a project tend to hide behind process when they're losing the argument on the merits. At a recent DC Council hearing, Meg Maguire of the Committee of 100 reiterated her opposition to overhead wires and also insisted that she supported streetcars. However, the Committee wants a thorough set of studies, including a complete EIS for the complete streetcar system before a single foot of rail is laid.

I told the Councilmembers that I had a hard time believing all the protestations of support for streetcars, given the many procedural hurdles wire opponents would like to add to the process in addition to the issue of propulsion technology. At the same time, I agreed with Ms. Maguire that I'd like to hear more about the propulsion, and we got to do just that at last week's seminar.

We do need public involvement in decisions. Agencies need to explain what they're planning to do, give people a chance to comment, then announce what they've chosen. In the case of streetcars, I believe DDOT is providing ample opportunities for input. They did for the 15th Street lane as well. For Pennsylvania Avenue, it might have been on the light side, as the single public meeting happened after DDOT had already nearly finalized the design and already presented it to the Commission on Fine Arts for review.

However, AAA really opposes the lanes themselves. And they're entitled to. I disagree. WashCycle has a thorough rebuttal of their arguments. But if Snedaker, Kosh and Townsend are being forthright, perhaps AAA Mid-Atlantic is ready to step back from their "war on drivers" screeds.

The "war" rhetoric is destructive. It pits drivers against everyone else, when increased walking, bicycling and transit ridership is good for drivers, and many people are sometimes drivers and sometimes users of other modes. It tends to maximize Anderson's chance of getting quoted in the Post, which is why he does it. But it doesn't reflect the actual opinions of AAA's members, who just want to know they can get a tow if their car breaks down and don't actually resent every square inch of space that's not dedicated to their exclusive use.

Enough of the war rhetoric. If AAA really wants to represent their members, they'll tone down the hyperbole and work on making progress on issues that really are serious, like distracted driving and badly-designed roadways that make it too easy for drivers to inadvertently kill people.

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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Mr. Pot: "Enough of the war rhetoric...tone down the hyperbole"

Mr. Kettle: "Cost of killing Holden: $4.3 million"

by Fritz on May 10, 2010 10:58 am • linkreport

Okay ... now, I'm really confused ...

Whenever I've questioned certain biases which GGW clearly holds, and suggested that as part of the 'new media' it could play a more important role in discussions of facts and issues if it took a more nutral role in these discussions, I've been reminded that first and foremost GGW exists to advocate those issues towards which it holds clear biases ...

Now "AAA" ... is an organization which exists solely for the advocacy of the interests of automobilie owners. At least I think that's what one of those 3 "A's" stands for. So ... remind me ... what is wrong with AAA also holding clear biases towards the issues that affect the folks it advocates for?

by Lance on May 10, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

As a AAA member, I e-mailed AAA MidAtlantic to express my dismay with the tone of their comments regarding bike lanes. I received two separate e-mails with the same canned answer, which was somewhat disappointing. The most interesting part of the e-mail was when it referred to the section of Pennsylvania Avenue where the bike lanes are being installed as one of the most traveled east-west sections of the city. I don't know if they have ever driven this particular stretch, but it is low on my list of most crowded east-west sections of roadway in DC. Furthermore, the response clearly favored commuters over DC residents, with emphasis on the need to move THROUGH the city, not within. I appreciate that AAA should advocate for the needs of safe driving, but that tone used in the instance only increases animosity rather than advocating safe and better streets for everyone.

by Merritt on May 10, 2010 11:30 am • linkreport

@Lance what is wrong with AAA also holding clear biases towards the issues that affect the folks it advocates for?

Nothing. Which is what David says when he write "AAA really opposes the lanes themselves. And they're entitled to." What is wrong is using hyperbolic "War on Drivers" speech, fear-mongering and half-truths. Where does David say that it is wrong for AAA to hold clear biases?

by David C on May 10, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport

@ Merritt: Who did you e-mail there? I'll send them an e-mail as well. They should understand that they members are not exclusively car drivers.

by Jasper on May 10, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport

Hey there. I work for AAA M-A and also posted a few comments (mostly on bike blogs).

You are correct. AAA definitely misrepresented their position. AAA Mid-Atlantic is not anti-bike (I'm sure you already got the info on the cycling programs they are involved in), but they are certainly not for the lanes. I appreciate your comment about the company's entitlement to do so, even though you disagree. One of the best things to come of this is the ability to talk with the community about the issue.

In terms of driver awareness, that is something AAA is quite active in - especially when it comes to cell phones. That's a big issue internally (as well as for anyone on the road, really).

@ Merritt - sorry your response came off as canned. If you'd like to email me at kdriscoll@aaamidatlantic, I would be happy to talk things over or try to get additional info for you.

@ Lance - good points. I think both parties can agree that there will be a difference of opinion. I think the author makes a good point that AAA is entitled to theirs (and I would say that he has some valid points as well) but that perhaps AAA could've handled things better from the start (and perhaps throughout). We're working on it. :)

by kati on May 10, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

My family switched from AAA to Better World Club (mentioned in the article) a few years ago because we were fed up with AAA's heavily car-centric lobby. I have only good things to say about Better World Club, which also offers road-side assistance for bikers! The only minor downfall is that you can't get AAA discounts with hotels and car rentals, although some people will give it to you anyway. Don't be shy about asking!

by Inez on May 10, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

@ Lance -

The problem is that many of us AAA members - and auto drivers - are also people who happen to bike, walk, ride metro, etc.

The comments AAA made "on my behalf" are actually contrary to my viewpoints and desires. This is the problem: I joined up so I can get a tow when I need it (plus some convenient discounts). I think that's why most people are AAA members. I'm not a member of AAA because I hate all not-car forms of transportation - unlike, apparently, AAA MA leadership.

If AAA actually desired improved traffic flow in DC, they would have already been working with DDOT and other interested parties to make improvements that would benefit users of all types of transportation. However, I have seen no indication they've been involved... just an indication that they want press time and that they see bicycles as somehow threatening to their organization.

by Matt on May 10, 2010 11:53 am • linkreport

@David C: What is wrong is using hyperbolic "War on Drivers" speech, fear-mongering and half-truths.

mmm ... and what is "Cost of killing Holden: $4.3 million"?

Pot calling kettle ...

by Lance on May 10, 2010 11:58 am • linkreport

@Lance: A snarky headline for a minor breakfast link?

by David Alpert on May 10, 2010 12:01 pm • linkreport

also, no one paid a membership fee to GGW to do anything for them while people like Matt did pay for something from AAA and got in addition something they don't want -inaccurrate representation in a lobbying capacity.

Like DA says, many people are multi-mode roads users. I'm one and I also use transit. Plus, demading an EIS for every bike lane that's installed on an already existing road? That's BS that stinks completely of trying to stall a project to death.

by Bianchi on May 10, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

@MattThe problem is that many of us AAA members - and auto drivers - are also people who happen to bike, walk, ride metro, etc.

And the problem with "Cost of killing Holden: $4.3 million"? is that as a blog participant here I also happen to be a citizen who benefits from a summit of world leaders looking to make the world a safer place for us all ... and who require security in order to meet.

And btw, I am cyclist, and a pedestrian, and car driver. And honestly, I look at the hyperbole from all sides and take it all with a grain of salt. I just get surprised when I hear it's okay for one point of view to make use of these tactics and not another. Personnally, I give more credence to those who abstain from such tactics altogether ... though I realize we're all tempted to do so at some point. Let's just not get on our high horses just 'cause it's someone else that we don't agree with doing this ...

by Lance on May 10, 2010 12:06 pm • linkreport

@Lance Let's just not get on our high horses just 'cause it's someone else that we don't agree with doing this

Or...let's criticize dishonest advocacy wherever we see it.

by David C on May 10, 2010 12:08 pm • linkreport

@ Lance -

In your case, you're objecting to hyperbole from a blogger who you in no way subsidize.

In my case, I'm objecting to an organization of which I am a member and which I support financially through membership fees bringing its weight down against a project that is intended to improve downtown access and transportation options.

If your requirement is that everyone be honest, how about you come up with a comparison case that's actually equivalent?

Let's focus on the issue here - which is AAA, not GGW - and keep our comments to that. If you want to write your own blog complaining about GGW, that's fine... but that's not really what the rest of us are discussing. Thanks.

by Matt on May 10, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

Also, seriously, maybe that headline was hyberbolic, but we're talking about a 5-word headline. AAA wrote a major press release and submitted something to neighborhood listservs.

by David Alpert on May 10, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

The problem with AAA is governance. You, as a member, don't get a voice in their public policy discussions. The staff run everything for their own benefit.

I've said before the real scam with AAA is that they make money from auto-insurance as well, and so are often anti-driver if they find ways to jack up insurance premiums. Their support for $3000 speeding fines in VA was no accident. Barking at bikes helps conceal those lapses.

Interesting they only have 80K members in DC proper. I'm guessing there are about 400K drivers in DC?

I'd agree that this was a pot/kettle moment. It is hard to take the high ground.

by charlie on May 10, 2010 12:19 pm • linkreport

Is AAA calling for environmental assessments of various road projects?

by ah on May 10, 2010 12:22 pm • linkreport

@ah - I sent off an email to our Public & Gov't affairs group asking for instances. I'll post more when I hear back.

by kati on May 10, 2010 12:27 pm • linkreport

Everyone needs to back off Alpert. Did The Washington Post interview him this morning on the cost of the NSS? Was his response "DC spent over 4 million dollars to kill a cyclist. For shame!"?

No. These are two entirely different animals. AAA MA is out actively pushing for more 'studies' which they know delays/kills projects, while simultaneously bemoaning the 'War on Drivers.' Major media outlets are picking up on it verbatim, and instead of doing the right thing, AAA is manufacturing astroturf support behind its outdated claims.

David had a stupid tagline, which is occasionally understandable, considering he needs to come up with many every day. It's also his blog. He doesn't purport to represent 50 million people when he sits down with congressmen.

Totally different. Back off. Keep the focus on AAA.

by JTS on May 10, 2010 12:38 pm • linkreport

I feel like i might be partly to blame for the rhetoric. I just interviewed Mr. Anderson not 2 weeks ago for a class paper on AAA as an interest group. One of the questions I asked led to him recalling his successful (and beneficial for everyone) "War on the GW Parkway" in 1997 when people were dying from head-on collisions at the few points of the road where the opposing traffic is right next to each other. His "war" go the Park Service to finally put in jersey barriers at those points. Hasn't been many, if any, head-ons since. I think in having him recall this story, might have given him an idea. haha. whoops

by student on May 10, 2010 12:38 pm • linkreport

Back to the facts of the bike lanes themselves...

I've worked on Pennsylvania Avenue for 20+ years now. I take the bus or Metro or bike or walk to work. I'm certainly NOT car-centric.

But the design of these bike lanes is simply ridiculous. To take up a FULL TRAFFIC LANE on each side of street -- in the middle of the street -- is just overkill. For goodness sake, they even put in a turn lane for the bikes themselves. Does someone really think we bikers are going to queue up in a lane at a light, wait for a turn signal before turning, and that the other bikers will need their own thru lane to keep moving while we're waiting? On BOTH side of the Avenue. C'mon...

I've already seen eastbound traffic backed up in the afternoon from 10th Street all the way back to 14th. And when tour buses and cars are parked along the Avenue in non-rush hours, we've effectively reduced three lanes of through traffic to one in some places. And of course that one lane also needs to be used by Metrobus to pick up and discharge passengers.

I ride a bike and I love bike lanes. I use them. I want more of them in the city. But this is massive overkill that was not well thought through from a practical perspective.

by Ralston on May 10, 2010 12:45 pm • linkreport

@Ralston: I've twice driven down Penn Ave, seen the bike lanes layout, and don't see how a car turning left won't "attempt to kill". The design doesn't appear to be well thought out, and some of the signage at intersections is just befuddling.

by Fritz on May 10, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

@ Fritz and Ralson:

1) DDOT is supposedly installing separate turn signals for bikes. FWIW, I saw an idiot pedicab try to go straight against a red light when a left arrow appeared, and almost got hit in the process by a car legally turning left. If I were reporting it, I'd say the pedicab driver was attempting to kill himself and his passengers.

2) Penn. Ave. was 4 lanes each direction before. I can't recall the last time I didn't see traffic clear each light, with the exception of right turns held up by pedestrians (i.e., the number of lanes is more than adequate for main travel.

3) Parking is not legal along Penn. Ave. Any buses stopped should be there temporarily, and at most reduce it to 3 lanes. That's a problem of enforcement of parking restrictions, not the bike lanes.

by ah on May 10, 2010 1:14 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, I e-mailed John Townsend and Kristen Nevels. Their e-mail can be found on the government affairs page on the AAA-MidAtlantic Website.
@Kati - I received, almost verbatim, the same e-mail from Mr. Townsend and Ms. Nevels. Thank you for offering to clear this up. I don't feel the need to continue the discussion with them, as I expressed my dismay. I was a little frustrated that my response to Mr. Townsend, which was hastily written, only received a "Thank you, Ms. X" response. I am sure my e-mail came across as frustrated, but I had hoped he would reassure me that AAA is not concerned more with commuters than DC residents.
I also e-mailed the National office the express my appreciation for the wording of their statements. I haven't heard anything back from them yet.

by Merritt on May 10, 2010 1:26 pm • linkreport

Last week I rode the PA bike lanes. I'm an experienced urban biker and I was disappointed with the layout. The signs at intersections warn cyclists to "obey this signal", pointing to the straight green light, which is a good idea.

However, the straight green light at one point was on at the same time as the protected green arrow, which directs traffic at my right to cross my path while the green light is directing me to proceed straight.

A less experienced biker would be vulnerable to a overtaking, left turn crossing accident. I ended up leaving the bike lane for that intersection, proceeding in the leftmost lane that was allowed to go straight. This allows left-turning vehicles to not cross my path when I'm going straight.

It's a pretty common problem for bike lanes that are on the right side of the roadway, which is solved in some cases by making the car and bike lanes switch places before the intersection. I'm surprised they didn't do that here.

I will expect left-turn accidents to be a problem with the layout.

by Michael Perkins on May 10, 2010 1:31 pm • linkreport

@ Merritt -

At least you've received a response... I submitted my comment via their website, and have yet to hear back.

by Matt on May 10, 2010 1:31 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins:
I assume that this is because DDOT is not yet done with work, but they assured me at the meeting at the Navy Memorial, that the Protected Left Turn cycle for cars would also protect cyclists: namely that it would always be red when cyclists had the ROW.

by Matt Johnson on May 10, 2010 1:41 pm • linkreport

@Ralston: Um, how are you going to take a turn from the bike lane, if you don't stop and wait for the light? And if you stop, how are the bikes behind you going to go straight without hitting you? Think about it for half a second and you'll realize that what they have done makes sense.

One of the problems with the bike lanes we do have is that they often don't provide much guidance for turning cyclists.

by egk on May 10, 2010 1:56 pm • linkreport

@Merritt. Any time. I'm really sorry that the responses you received did little to foster dialog. Canned responses are sometimes beneficial for Public & Government affairs to communicate quickly, but the emphasis should've been on communicating personally. That is AAA Mid-Atlantic's mistake.

@Matt did you leave a message in the community? If not you are welcome to do so on the message board or just email me at kdriscoll@aaamidatlantic. I'm typically a quick responder.

by kati on May 10, 2010 1:57 pm • linkreport

Seconded. I also dumped AAA several years ago, joined the Better World Club, and have never looked back. My car is 13 years old, and when my battery died, it didn't cost a thing to have someone come out to jump it. I love the fact that the Car Talk guys on NPR like them, too.

Kati may claim that AAA is not anti-bike, but it is still anti-public transit. I will never go back.

by Banksy on May 10, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport

I assume that this is because DDOT is not yet done with work, but they assured me at the meeting at the Navy Memorial, that the Protected Left Turn cycle for cars would also protect cyclists: namely that it would always be red when cyclists had the ROW.

The signaling has been changed. Previously, EB on Penn at 7th, there was a protected left onto 7th (NB) along with a general green for all EB traffic. Now there is only a protected green arrow, and it's red for everyone else. Cyclists can proceed left with turning cars. Those going straight can wait for the green light. The only potential hazard (and it may still be addressed) is a car turning left without the protected green with cyclists going straight (not sure if there will be a red arrow)

by ah on May 10, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport

@ah - got a response back on whether or not AAA MA has fought against new roadwork being done without due process. The response I received was that environmental studies for roadwork are required by law so AAA MA has not had to raise the issue prior.

@Banksy I wouldn't go so far to say that AAA is anti-public transit either, especially as a HUGE portion of the workforce uses it and (really) that's not practical. Not to mention they have partnerships with Amtrak. I will agree (and I think this may be what you are getting at) that AAA Mid-Atlantic may not always side with those policies.

by kati on May 10, 2010 2:32 pm • linkreport

Adding 6 lanes to a roadway requires an EIS, yes.

However, restriping a roadway does not. So, does the AAA object to using white paint to add auto capacity when asphalt is not required?

I very seriously doubt it.

by Matt Johnson on May 10, 2010 2:34 pm • linkreport

@ Matt. Thanks for your comment. Restriping a roadway does not, but the changes that are being made actually do require process and permitting.

Here's the official breakdown (from Public & Government Affairs):

"as you know, the Transportation Planning Board (TPB) is currently receiving public comments on the projects submitted to the 2010 update to the National Capital RegionÂ’s Financially Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP) and the Scope of Work for the Air Quality Conformity Analysis. The comment period ends at midnight Saturday.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) recently submitted to the TPB  four projects that it identified as  Â“ regionally significant” for inclusion in the 2010 CLRP, including the Bike Lane Pilot Project. 

While the District has published a bicycle Master Plan and it recently held one meeting on the newest bike lane proposal, it did not submit any documentation to the TPB, as is the norm for projects included in the CLRP.  For example, DDOT did not submit a traffic impact study nor did they present an air quality conformity analysis or data derived from a Bicycle Compatibility Index study of the proposal.

In 1997 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed a special tool for evaluating and designing on-street bicycle facilities on both existing roadways and planned roadways.  Known as the Bicycle Compatibility Index (BCI), it was derived from rigorous statistical analysis of the responses to a large scale survey of cyclists. Two years later, in 1999, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) published the "Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities." It stated "the public agency and community support for bike lanes as a reasonable accommodation of bicyclists has been growing in many American cities."
DDOT has not submitted (a). data on roadway geometric and traffic characteristics, including peak-hour volume computations, motor vehicle speeds, the percentage of tour buses, taxis and trucks, right turn volume, etc.  (b)  its statistical analysis and description of the compatibility of the facility with cycling activity, including the Bicycle Compatibility Index (BCI) and Passing Event Model (PEM)  (c) its empirically based studies on the impact on the decision on the safety and mobility of  cyclists and motorists  under present and future traffic conditions, and (D)  projections of  operational level of  the bike facility for both cyclists and motorists.

DDOT wanted to add the bike lane project to the regionÂ’s constrained long range transportation plan (CLRP) without the data or documents. Because it did not, it is the TPB and not DDOT that imposed the six month trial status to the project.

In light of the heated public debate that followed, last Friday the TPB asked DDOT to submit the documentation before the TPB meeting on May 19. We hope this claries what we mean when AAA Mid-Atlantic asserts that DDOT has not, to date, followed or complied with the formal approval process."

So that is where the problems lie, not so much in a can of paint.

by Kati on May 10, 2010 2:38 pm • linkreport

I just wanted to note, that two fairly high officials from AAA said the press release incorrectly represented AAA's opinions, yet it's still sitting on their website:

At a bare minimum, if they actually considered press release wrong, you'd think they'd either remove or correct it.

by Dan on May 10, 2010 2:50 pm • linkreport

Hi Dan:

Washcycle actually called us out on that. I have requested that an update be made and that a new press release possibly be issued.


by kati on May 10, 2010 3:02 pm • linkreport

@ kati, as a DC taxpayer I really hope DDOT did not complete every study and test you list for every stripe of paint and painted silloutte of a bike put down on existing roads on which people were ALREADY riding bikes before the paint went down. (14th St NW, Monroe St NE, Kansas Ave NW/NE, Park Rd NW, on and on).

Its disingenuous of AAA to say they aren't against bike lanes then insist this list of expensive studies and tests be completed before painting a picture of a bike on an existing road that people ALREADY bike on.

The painted pictures and stripes are there to remind drivers to expect bikes and as such are a preventive measure for reducing crashes between bikes and cars. Doesn't AAA want to reduce the number of crashes its members are in?

The bikes are already using the roads. What you're suggesting DDOT do before putting down some paint is blatantly hostile to increasing safety infrastructute that prevents crashes. Does AAA insist on similar studies and tests for every newly painted crosswalk? Try and think of the paint as a communication device to drivers so drivers can avoid crashes.

by Bianchi on May 10, 2010 3:14 pm • linkreport


Perhaps I'm not presenting the information I've been given clearly or not understanding. I do think, personally, that it is important to consider the impact that adding these lanes will have.

As for the need for paint to signal to riders and drivers where each belongs, a few commenters have already pointed out that the lights and layout has been confusing or could confuse novice cyclists. AAA would definitely be interested in reducing the number of crashes Members are involved in. No question or argument there.

by kati on May 10, 2010 3:27 pm • linkreport


It would also be helpful to know why AAA is opposed to more punitive measures for infractions like red-light running or speeding? It seems to me, if AAA-MA was in favor of safe driving, it wouldn't have an issue with government sponsored deterrents.

by Andrew on May 10, 2010 3:28 pm • linkreport


Just a quick aside: Regardless of the issues at play, I'm very appreciative for you taking the time to discuss here and research the issues within your organization, not once, but repeatedly.

I'm sure many others in the audience here are similarly appreciative. While we don't all generally agree on your organization's talking points and policy stances, I think it's a net positive that you're facilitating a dialog here as a change from an exchange of press releases.

by Joey on May 10, 2010 3:36 pm • linkreport

I just went to the AAA website to see what the press relaese says. I have no idea if this is the original or the modified -I do find it very interesting that AAA reported results from its own study of DC members that: 20 percent of surveyed AAA members in the District said the changes would compel them to become regular bicycle commuters.. This was directly in response to the changes on Penn Ave, not increased biking infrastrusture in general. Doesn't AAA see that as a large proportion of it's own members? I sure do.

The press release compared the problems in traffic flow from closing Penn Ave in front of the White house in 2001 to what will result from creating bike lanes on Penn Ave. AAA can't see the difference between a completly blocked through-way and making space for bikes on a road that continues?

I'm not buying it kati. It looks and feels to me like hostility from AAA towards bikes and bike lanes -even toward 20% of its own members. I can't help noticing that the AAA report doesn't mention that fewer then 50% of DC households owns a car. So maybe AAA just doesn't like DC'ers, as was suggested in earlier comments.

by Bianchi on May 10, 2010 3:42 pm • linkreport

Hi Andrew:
Here are some areas that AAA Mid-Atlantic has been working in.
-Slow Down, Move Over
-Instrumental in getting bans passed on Texting while driving in VA, MD, DC (some under consideration in DE)
-Tougher penalties for Drunk Driving
-Distracted driving has been a key issue with focus on penalties high enough to discourage the behaviour (VA would be a good example of where AAA Mid-Atlantic is looking to increase fines for texting while driving)
-Safety improvements on bridges
-AAA Mid-Atlantic has supported automated enforcement for red lights; however, AAA Mid-Atlantic has raised issues where cameras are being installed simply as a revenue generating model and not to reduce accidents. The position is that safety should be the main factor and not $.

by kati on May 10, 2010 3:50 pm • linkreport

@Joey: Hey, thanks a lot! It has not been easy, but I wanted to get involved since I can see both sides of the issue as both a cyclist (DE) and AAA Employee/Member. It hasn't been easy, but it has been a good learning experience for myself and everyone here. To be fair, some canned responses were sent, but I know that I prefer personal contact and I think it's important to extend that same courtesy to everyone. Although, with all the blogs & tweets, it hasn't been easy. So thanks for the comment. Although I don't expect that both sides will see eye to eye, I'm glad that I'm able to get them talking.

by kati on May 10, 2010 3:55 pm • linkreport

@kati, you didn't say, or maybe you said you don't know if AAA expects every painted stripe and silloutte to go through the expensive studies you list before they're put down on roads where people already bike.

Yeah I know AAA wants to avoid crashes but you didn't acknowledge that marked bike lanes are a crash prevention measure. So Does AAA see marked bike lanes as a crash prevention measure or not?

The project on Penn Ave isn't completed as Matt Johnson has pointed out and many of the observed problems will be addressed.

And for me personally, one of the impacts these lanes will have is a safer bike ride, Eg a reduced risk of collision with someone driving a car, maybe a AAA member.

by Bianchi on May 10, 2010 3:58 pm • linkreport

@Bianchi - I believe we are working to update that press release now.

I'm not sure what you aren't buying. Sure, AAA MA may not be in favour of the process and, for sake of your argument, let's just say (again, for sake of argument) they aren't in favour of these lanes in particular. That wouldn't make the company anti-bike, just anti-these-particular-lanes.

Thanks for the comments. Definitely a good point and I am appreciative of them. Also, my first bike was a Bianchi (sold it to a friend who converted it to a fixie) so props.

by kati on May 10, 2010 3:58 pm • linkreport


I will echo the appreciation for the time and effort you are taking on behalf of AAA.

A follow up, Mr. Anderson's note on the Cleveland Park listserv (the so-called unfortunate comments) states that the increased fines for 71 different moving violations will raise $28 Million for the District of Columbia. I would submit that if motorists (of which I am often one) simply followed the law, there would be zero dollars of increased revenue. However, the infractions noted in Mr. Anderson's post are among the most dangerous and distracting (phone use, speeding, red-light running, etc) that motorists execute. It seems to me the public safety value ought to supersede the scare tactics of the so-called "war on motorists".

Mr. Anderson takes the deployment of speed and red-light cameras to task. I believe the deployment of a camera in Alexandria, VA has reduced infractions by a magnitude of 10. Alexandria is taking in less money because motorist behavior has changed. That seems to be an effective use of technology, no?

With respect to the issue of bike lanes and biking, I would submit that the population of commuting cyclists is growing dramatically in the District. This should be seen as a positive. It is more environmentally responsible, bikes are smaller than cars and take up less space to operate and be stored. Overall, the increase in bicycle capacity in the District means mobility for cars will improve. It should be seen as a win-win.

However, the rhetoric from the AAA would lead one to believe otherwise.

by Andrew on May 10, 2010 4:04 pm • linkreport

@Bianchi. You comment fast! Yikes! Marked bike lanes are very helpful and can add to safety, for sure. The question becomes - where? Also that's sort of a trick question! In saying "yes" does that mean that bike lanes can be slapped anywhere simply because they're marked? I don't think that makes it safer for everyone - especially cyclists.

by kati on May 10, 2010 4:05 pm • linkreport

To everyone who's worried that the lanes are poorly designed: they aren't done yet. In fact DDOT specifically asked that people not use the bike lanes yet, because as they are now, they're dangerous. Hence the cones. But when they're done, they will be safe. Let's not judge the cake by the way the raw batter tastes.

by David C on May 10, 2010 4:10 pm • linkreport

@ Dave -

"Let's not judge the cake by the way the raw batter tastes."

Ha! I like it.

by Matt on May 10, 2010 4:16 pm • linkreport

...but AAA isn't publicly expressing concern about bikers' safety or reducing crashes for its members regarding these bike lanes. Its lamenting that these bike lanes will increase congestion and decrease traffic flow equivalent to what completely closing Penn Ave in 2001 did, and that its a "war on cars'. Please. Besides, as I've said repeatedly - people ALREADY bike on [these roads ]Penn Ave included. 20% of AAA's DC members said they'd be compelled to become regular bike commuters with this single improvement. So AAA just wants to toss those members aside? Its a neat trick for you to say in one sentence yes bike lanes improve safety but not if they're slapped anywhere with no forethought. I think everyone agrees. Is that what AAA thinks of DDOT? That its slapping down bike lanes with no forethought?

by Bianchi on May 10, 2010 4:21 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: Thanks. I'm trying!

I understand what you are saying. I actually had spoken to Lon a little on the matter (this was sort of covered above) and his point was that increased penalties to increase safety is important and necessary but to do so only to increase revenue is foolish and greedy. Especially in areas with low/no accidents or fatalities. The same goes with red light camera installation. In some places, AAA MA has championed for them. In others, they have not.

I, personally, agree that as people find move to a variety of commuting options (mass transit, autos, bikes) it will likely improve mobility in the region for all.

by kati on May 10, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

yes. raw batter usually has raw eggs in it and thus carries an increased risk for Salmonella infection.

by Bianchi on May 10, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

Unless the writer of the press release is protesting, it really isn't hard to delete a file from a website. As for writing a new press release, how long does that take? It's not like AAA press releases have to be reviewed by multiple people in AAA's chain of command. If that were the case, then either the same people complaining this press release wasn't proper policy were the same people who approved it in the first place.

If the writer of the press release is protesting, could AAA be more honest that there are disagreements within the office about AAA's relationship to bikes?

I'm writing as someone who has been a AAA member as long as I've had my license and who is seriously considering leaving. The combination of advocating policies that I disagree with and incompetent responses when dealing with complaining members is embarrassing to the organization.

by Dan on May 10, 2010 4:33 pm • linkreport


What difference does it make where the red light cameras and speed cameras are placed? If they are calibrated properly and are fining drivers who are speeding or running red lights, then that is a good thing, isn't?

Maybe if drivers didn't run the lights or exceed the speed limit, thus respecting the laws and rules of the road, there wouldn't be an issue.

I am not sure what is hard to comprehend about this.

by Andrew on May 10, 2010 4:37 pm • linkreport

@Bianchi - that still doesn't make the company anti-bike. I don't think anyone is denying that there are already cyclists on the roads or that this change will compel people to switch to cycling. I find your comment about throwing those Members aside to be exaggeration. No where in my comments have I ever indicated that cyclists are to be disregarded. I certainly wouldn't be on here if I felt that way.

I was not speaking about DDOT in particular when I made that comment. The point I was trying to make (perhaps rather poorly) was that yes, clearly marked roads are good. Putting down paint without full consideration of consequence... not so much.

I'm not trying to add to hostility or frustration, but it seems as though this conversation has gone into conjecture. I'm just trying to talk it out here.

by kati on May 10, 2010 4:39 pm • linkreport


No protesting going on, but since the last release was pretty incendiary, a little extra time is going in to the next one. I'm not involved in this process other than requesting updates to the release/a new release be made.

In terms of an internal split of opinion, I haven't seen or heard of any party holding back because they aren't for cyclists. Then again, I'm a cyclist. :)

I would hope that you would reconsider leaving. AAA Mid-Atlantic has not in any way come out saying that bikes are a terrible thing. They have, however, voiced some concern/disagreement with the lanes. I'd be more than happy to connect with you personally and answer some questions you may have on the matter or clarify AAA MA's position. I can be reached at I will not disagree with you that we could've handled this a lot better, but know that we are trying.

by kati on May 10, 2010 4:46 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: you make an excellent point.

by kati on May 10, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport

kati I know you personlly didn't toss aside those AAA members who said they'd bike regularly with the coming bike lanes on Penn Ave, but what else can one conclude that AAA is doing given its very public protest to these bike lanes? Its a disregard of those 20% of its members that would like to bike with this improved safety condition.

So as a rep of AAA you acknowledge that bikes lanes reduce crash risk; and that people are already biking on Penn Ave (and many other roads w/o bike lanes). Great.

You specifically wanted to focus on these bike lanes on Penn Ave, no? I was agahast that AAA would insist that every bike lane go through the long list of studies you posted before paint went down, especially in the face of the knowledge that people already bike on the roads.

You said, I paraphrase 'no I mean these particular bike lanes on Penn Ave.' -and then you said 'yes bike lanes can decrease crash risk but not if they're slapped down willy-nilly.' (and I agreed) I couldn't help but to conclude you meant the Penn Ave bike lanes planned by DDOT as 'slapped down" with the implication of no forethought since those are the bike lanes you wanted to focus the discussion on.

So it's not the case that AAA thinks DDOT is slapping down these bike lanes w/o forethought? Then why exactly is AAA protesting these bike lanes -even with the knowledge that 20% of its own DC members would use them regularly?

What is so wrong with these bike lanes that AAA has so vociferously protested against them? Please clarify. Here's what I know so far: A. they (bike lanes) will reduce crash risk, B. 20% of members want them/would use them regularly. C. DDOT, which I would guess has access to more knowledge of traffic studies in DC then AAA, doesn't think the impact will be anything like closing Penn Ave in front of the White House in 2001. So what's AAA's beef?

by Bianchi on May 10, 2010 5:18 pm • linkreport

So when AAA sends out surveys on issues they then claim their members support, what's the response rate? I mean, are they claiming their bazillion members support this or that issue based on a thousand survey responses? Two thousand? How many members are aware of all the lobbying they do? From what I recall their advertising revolves around the roadside assistance and travel discounts, not auto advocacy or educational programs. And if they're relying on their magazine to get the word out to their members about drivers' issues like distracted driving and sharing the road, I hate to break it to them, but in our house those always got tossed as junk mail.

by stacey2545 on May 10, 2010 5:25 pm • linkreport

@Bianchi, It's really not a complicated thing to understand that doing anything, be it building a road or 'slapping paint down to make a bike lane', can often do more harm than good IF it is not well planned out.

There are standards in place for doing this planning, and as Kati has explained, these standards (read: RULES, LAWS, REGS) have not been adhered to by DDOT in this case. And I don't find it surprising since DDOT similarly has not followed the rules for planning that they were supposed to in regards to the Streetcar lines that have already been started. This planning isn't a 'on the fly' requirement, it is THE LAW. And it is based on the reasoning that taking certain planning actions will prevent unforeseen consequences that can end up harming everyone and/or anyone. AND allows for fairly balancing all interests in an open and transparent manner.

Now do I find it surprising that a DC cyclist is arguing against following THE LAW. Not one bit. And you are entitled to take the risk of breaking the law all you want (even if you don't apparently realize that there are usually practical reasons for laws and consequences to not following them that are above and beyond the wheels of justice), but you are NOT entitled to put the rest of us at risk because of your bias against following the law.

by Lance on May 10, 2010 6:10 pm • linkreport

@ Lance -

Your argument boils down to:
- DDOT isn't following the law
- Cyclists don't follow the law
- Cyclists not following the law by using (illegal?) DDOT-built bike lanes puts others at risk (??)
Therefore, the bike lanes shouldn't be built?

Ummm yeah, thanks for trolling!

by Matt on May 10, 2010 7:43 pm • linkreport

@Matt, If that's how you conveniently dismiss problems with legal processes, then I seriously hope you aren't involved in any of this. You're reasoning isn't sound. My argument boils down to 'do it right'. YOU'RE the one trolling.

by Lance on May 10, 2010 9:36 pm • linkreport

This whole discussion needs to be re-framed to better fit the reality of the situation....

The vast majority of cyclists are also motorists. Cyclists are mostly a group within the larger motorist group, not outside it.

This is not a war on drivers - rather a war between two types of drivers:

1) divers who only use cars and only want to drive around people using cars

2) drivers who use bikes IN ADDITION to cars, and who will safely drive their cars in the presence of other people who are using bikes.

The first group is greater in numbers, while the second group has a lot more perspective to contribute to the discussion.

by Lee on May 11, 2010 10:44 am • linkreport

@Lee, I'd suspect there are many more 'types' of drivers out there than you spell out in a "black and white", "'good driver' or 'bad driver'" manner.

For example, what about drivers who are also cyclists but who acknowledge there's a place for 'cars only' (e.g., high speed roadways), a place for 'cycles only' (e.g., the many bike trails we have around the region), and places where the two modes can 'safely' and efficiently 'share the road'. (Or where pedestrians and cyclists can safely 'share the sidewalk.)

And by efficiently, I mean we need to acknowledge that bicyling as a means of transportation cannot be used by as many people as the automobile (or their feet) ... And if we have a situation where thousands of people get deprived of their means of mobility so that a far fewer number of people can cycle instead of walk, bus, or drive, then we are not being 'efficient'. We are putting 'idealism' above pragmatism.

by Lance on May 11, 2010 11:11 am • linkreport


Disagreeing with the bike lanes is not the same as ignoring cyclist members. That AAA Mid-Atlantic is OK with me discussing the issue with DC cyclists (many of which are not AAA Members, might I point out, and without the intention of converting them) indicates to me that there is a willingness to recognize despite obvious disagreements.

I wouldn't say all bike lanes reduce crashes all by themselves. What I do think is that properly added, well marked, thoughtfully planned, well maintained and appropriately portioned lanes CAN help to reduce crashes. I think that safe driving and cycling decrease that risk more than anything.

I understand and respect that you disagree with the position that due process should be followed, but AAA Mid-Atlantic remains firm on that position.

No, AAA Mid-Atlantic believes process should be followed. They are protesting the lanes because something that will have a dramatic impact on the area was done without going through the appropriate steps. As I mentioned before, you clearly disagree with AAA MA's reasoning on that, which is your entitlement.

@Lance I appreciate the support. AAA Mid-Atlantic does feel that these standards are in place for the sake of both safety and order.

I understand that, especially in the city, it is common to see younger riders rolling through lights and stop signs or failing to signal, but it doesn't benefit anyone to generalize DC cyclists as a group that disregards the law. I've had the pleasure, over the past few days, of talking to a number of cyclists on the boards and safety awareness (specifically abiding the rules of the road) has been a topic I have heard mentioned repeatedly.

by kati on May 11, 2010 11:12 am • linkreport

Funny, I thought the number one rule for cyclists as recommended by AAA was "stay on the bike path". (i.e. "get out of the road")

by oboe on May 11, 2010 12:05 pm • linkreport

Hi Oboe:

We have a number of tips for cyclists and motorists:

For motorists -
# Allow three feet of passing space between your car and the cyclist. Tailgating or honking can startle or fluster a bicyclist, causing them to swerve further into the driving lane.
# Be patient. Remember, cyclists are moving under their own power and canÂ’t be expected to go the same speed as cars.
# Pay special attention to blind spots. Due to their size and the location of bike lanes, bikes can often get lost in a carÂ’s blind spot, so double check before changing lanes, making right-hand turns or before opening your car door on the traffic side when parked.
# Be attentive on side streets and neighborhoods. Children are especially at risk in residential areas. Follow the speed limit, avoid driver distraction and always be aware of your surroundings. It is particularly important to be cautious when backing out of a driveway and onto the street.
# Use good common sense. For example, in inclement weather, give cyclists extra room.

The Foundation for Safety and Education calls for the following tips (please note, "get out of the road" is not #1).

by kati on May 11, 2010 12:09 pm • linkreport

@kati it is common to see younger riders rolling through lights and stop signs or failing to signal, but it doesn't benefit anyone to generalize DC cyclists as a group that disregards the law.

I really didn't mean to generalize all DC cyclists. In many posts I've specifically stated that the problem isn't with the majority but rather with a significant minority that seems to think it okay to not obey the law ... And I've compared that to Europe where I personally have very strong cycling ties ... where this lawlessness on the roads by cyclists doesn't happen ... at least to the extent it occurs here in the States. I believe the reason for the discrepancy is that for so many years we've gone without true cyclists and true cycling infrastructure ... and many American cyclists are now like 'kids in the candy store' ... and making a bad reputaton for us serious and responsible cyclists. Bianchi and I have discussed this situation prior, and she has then (like now) insisted that drivers were all to blame and cyclists not in the least responsible for any accidents or problems that could occur. So, my statement was made in that context, and mainly to Bianchi, and definitely not to us 'majority' responsible and lawful riders.

by Lance on May 11, 2010 1:39 pm • linkreport

@ Lance she has then (like now) insisted that drivers were all to blame and cyclists not in the least responsible for any accidents or problems that could occur. o please. this is major a distortion. I am a driver. I've pointed that out over and over even in this thread. As a driver and a biker I know the difference in how I'm treated when I use the road. Thats the characterization I've made previously: The very big difference between how I'm treated as a road user when I'm on my bike and how I'm treated when I'm in my car.

by Bianchi on May 11, 2010 3:54 pm • linkreport

While I appreciate Kati's engagement on this thread, I bailed on AAA long ago. AAA has long been unabashedly pro-sprawl.

As a driver of a car, I have purchased their services for many years but switched to the Better World Club - - which offers roadside assistance for cars as well as bikes, and it's sponsored by the national wildlife federation.

by Tom on May 11, 2010 4:10 pm • linkreport

@Bianchi The very big difference between how I'm treated as a road user when I'm on my bike and how I'm treated when I'm in my car.

I'd be interested in hearing you describe the differences ... and the circumstances of when you are riding/driving.

by Lance on May 11, 2010 4:27 pm • linkreport


Bianchi and I have discussed this situation prior, and she has then (like now) insisted that drivers were all to blame and cyclists not in the least responsible for any accidents or problems that could occur.

As Bianchi said, this is a major distortion, and beneath your usual quality.

Right up there with your assertion that cars always stop at stop signs and for right turn on red. Followed immediately after by your assertion that "stopping" means "rolling through, but, y'know, keeping an eye out and everything."

Quite sad really. As a "fellow driver" I expect better of you.

by oboe on May 11, 2010 4:37 pm • linkreport

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