WABA's Shane Farthing answers the rest of your questions
Last month's live chat with WABA chief Shane Farthing had more questions than we could fit within an hour.
Many of you submitted questions that we simply could not get to, from inquiries about policies at WMATA and MPD to questions on how WABA will be engaged in Prince George's County. Shane was able to answer these additional questions after the chat:
Alices Mom asks: The twitter, struckdc, is shocking. An average of 2 hits on cyclists/pedestians each DAY. Have the police done ANYTHING to prosecute the drivers of cars? Has anything changed since Alice was killed?
A: Yes, it is shocking. And unfortunately, no, I do not know of any significant steps taken by the police to systemically improve bike/pedestrian safety in the past two years. We are stepping up our outreach to MPD, from both the top and the bottom, to try to open up the dialogue with the police. But we've had little success with the Major Crash Unit and are looking for ways to improve police enforcement and cyclist safety.
We would love to see existing traffic laws in the region enforced more rigorously and are advocating and educating officers to achieve that result. We'd also like to see a few laws changed, such as the abolition of the contributory negligence standard in favor of a comparative negligence standard more in line with the rest of the country, as well as the adoption of a rigorous "complete streets" policy. But as struckdc makes quite clear, we have a long way to go to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety.
Mark asks: Sorry to come back to a topic, is the "downtown cycletrack plan" something that is broadly available? As a newer member of this community, I'm still getting up to speed.
The most complete version I have seen publicly available came from an update by DDOT to the Bicycle Advisory Council in March. I wasn't there, but WashCycle covered it.
And of course GGW has covered the plans extensively.
Adam L asks: Does WABA have a position on cycling on the sidewalk? I want to be supportive of biking but I simply can't support cyclists careening down the sidewalk. I have witnessed far too many near misses and one pretty nasty accident of a bicyclist colliding with a pedestrian just in the last few weeks. Bikes may not be as large or fast as automobiles, but sidewalks are, in my mind, meant to be used for walking.
A: WABA's position is that cycling on the street is generally safer and the better option, but that cycling on the sidewalk is legal and perfectly within the rights of a cyclist in the District except in the Central Employment Area (downtown). We encourage cyclists to learn to ride safely on the roadways. And for those who are uncomfortable doing so, we offer Confident City Cycling classes to try to help. But if one feels truly unsafe on the road, cycling on the sidewalk is legal in most of the District. But the cyclist should go at a reasonable rate of speed, yield to all pedestrians, and be especially careful when crossing curb cuts.
KK asks: What is your opinion on overpasses in an urban setting? Is this something that WABA supports for the DC area?
A: I'm not entirely sure what type of overpass you're referencing, and I'm not sure whether WABA has an overall position. My personal opinion is that the traditional elevated highway overpass that divides cities and creates a shadowed no-man's-land on the ground below is bad. But some of the ideas proposed for platforming over parts of highways or train tracks in order to reconnect the street-grid seem wonderful.
Or perhaps you're asking whether I think bike/ped overpasses over high-traffic roadways are appropriate? Again, I don't know if WABA has expressed an opinion previously and I'd like to do more research. But my personal opinion is that while we need to work to change the big-picture conditions that led to the enormous, high-speed, high-traffic roadways that one cannot reasonably cross safely on bike or on foot, we also need to ensure that people who need to cross that road today can do so as safely as possible. So while I'd rather not see roads designed and built on a scale that they require overpasses to cross safely, I do think that where such roads exist there is a responsibility to provide safe avenues for crossing, and an overpass is generally a viable method.
Jeff asks: While not trying to be one of the "forest for the trees" people lost in the details, I really feel like DC/DDOT has fallen short recently. The 15th Street cycletrack with its shoddy installation and outreach; the political hot potato and shrinking lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue; the "just a few more months" bike share expansion that has gone on for 2 years; The Feet in the Street event falling through despite every other major cycling city in the country having one; pilot projects that take months when NYC turns them around in a week.... what does WABA plan to do to push DC/DDOT to the next level?
A: I can't disagree with any of your particular points. There have been missteps on some of the highest profile bicycle-related projects of the recent past. But I will note that the fact that you're able to mention a number of high profile bicycle related projects undertaken in the past year or two is, by itself, telling. I agree that DC is not as rapid as NYC in installing pilot projects. But I have also worked on enough infrastructure and development projects in the District and elsewhere to know that there are unique infrastructure challenges in DC that stem from the political/federal relationship. And I don't know that it's fair to compare timeline-to-timeline with other cities that don't face the same hurdles. But your point is well taken.
Personally, I know I struggle with the quicker vs. better question on occasion. Do we want DDOT to take an extra year redesigning to get all the bugs out, or do we want them to install their best pilot now and accept that it may need to be changed once we see how it works in reality? Of course, communication is the key. I think that as advocates, we can accept either option as long as we know that there is commitment to getting the best result and we see ongoing progress in that direction, whether through progressively improving designs or ongoing data collection and analysis of pilot projects.
There will be times when we need to point out where DDOT has not done its job adequately. For example, we need to make sure that the plans stay on track. DDOT's Action Agenda lays out a rather progressive path forward, and we want to see that action take place. We're still looking for a formal complete streets policy, we're watching closely to see whether DDOT will accelerate its lane striping to meet the stated goals, and we want to provide accountability and ensure that the day-to-day work isn't left aside in favor of the big-ticket, splashier items. We certainly love the splash items like bikesharing and cycletracks. But they need to supplement, not replace, the routine work of improving every street to be safe for cyclists.
Our power to provide that accountability is in our membership and the fact that we have 3,500+ area voters who are full members and another 10,000 who are interested enough in bicycling issues that they stay in regular communication with us.
Brian asks: Perhaps this is too much of a political question, but how is mayor-candidate Vincent Gray on bicycles, especially as compared to Mayor Fenty?
A: Yes, that is an extremely political question. And as a 501(c)(3), WABA doesn't endorse any particular candidate. So I'll just say that the city has made some major progress on bike infrastructure over the past few years, but limited progress on enforcement issues key to safe cycling. We have high expectations of whichever candidate wins to continue the infrastructure improvements but, at least as importantly, to protect cyclists on our roadways by properly enforcing traffic laws and properly applying the law to the facts when there are collisions involving cyclists.
Mike asks: Has there been any effort to convince Metro to eliminate the rule that folding bikes must be in a bag while on the metro during rush hour? There doesn't appear to be any justification for such a rule. Bags are expensive, unwieldy, and an extra thing to carry. Also, MARC and VRE have eliminated their bag rules.
A: I completely agree. WABA has attempted to assist WMATA in rationalizing its bicycle policies in the past. (The fact that bikes are allowed on board at all and without special passes is a WABA achievement.) But you are correct that more needs to be done and I will make it a point to reconnect with Metro on this issue.
t asks: It often seems that WABA forgets the first "A" in it's name and becomes exceedingly focused on the District. I feel like you just punted the PG County question [during the live chat]. WABA dropped the ball on a number of issues in the Virginia legislature this past year and doesn't have much of a visible presence in Arlington County, especially with regard to protecting the Custis Trail against the widening of I-66. So, really, how exactly is WABA planning on engaging the surrounding jurisdictions to promote cycling and protect the interests of cyclists? What about efforts to better educate law enforcement in DC and the surrounding jurisdictions to correctly enforce traffic and cycling laws?
A: I appreciate the question, as it's something that I'm grappling with as the new Executive Director. I assure you that we don't "forget" that we serve the entire area. But we are a small nonprofit with small nonprofit resources. With our staff, we simply cannot be at every meeting, involved in every project, at every legislative session in the District, 2 states, 4 counties, and many localities. We often must rely on volunteer advocates to be our eyes and ears, and we must rely on local groups to provide us with information.
In the District, we are the local group and we deal with the day-to-day issues. In other areas, we are the regional group and we deal with regional priorities. But we need our local advocates to handle the day-to-day calls about individual potholes and such or we would be completely overwhelmed by these sorts of requests and unable to address the larger, more strategic regional issues.
In some places, there are already strong local groups that work with us in this manner. I'll take this opportunity to plug our friends at Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB) as one good example. They handle local Fairfax County cycling issues wonderfully and have recently released a publication (in partnership with WABA and funded by the League of American Bicyclists) explaining how citizens can be better advocates for cycling in their local communities.
I think one of the things we need to focus on at WABA is assisting these local groups and building their capacity to handle local cycling issues so that we can use the force of our larger membership and visibility on strategic regional goals. Ideally, that is how we will engage surrounding jurisdictions. We are putting together a regional "Call to Action Summit" where we will invite (among others) local advocacy and ride groups in the region and local bike shops to come together to discuss (1) the state of cycling in their local areas; (2) concrete next steps for improvement; and (3) a strategy for cooperation between local groups, local shops, and WABA to keep pressure on decision-makers to improve.
I will also take this opportunity to make my pitch for everyone who isn't a member to become a member, and for everyone interested in improved cycling in the region to contribute to WABA. The major constraint on our advocacy, to be quite blunt, is our funding. We have grants in some (not all) jurisdictions for other priorities, including bicycle education and safety. But currently, funds we dedicate to direct advocacy come through membership and donations. I'm excited that the overall tone of the questions here is asking WABA to do more, to improve cycling more, and to reach out in new ways. We absolutely want to do that, but we can only operate at the level our members support financially.
Larry from Lanham asks: Is there anything that WABA can do to get bike lanes on major arteries from Prince Georges County into the District such as Annapolis Road, Central Avenue, Martin Luther King, and Pennsylvania Avenue? The PG County plans call for road diets but the state seems reluctant. Are you working with AAA?
A: This is something I'm learning more about as we speak. (I want to give the quick reminder here that I have only been on the job for a matter of weeks and am still in the process of learning the issues, the advocates, and the decision-makers throughout the region.) But it is something that I've been personally focused on as a need for some time and it is something we will be working to improve.
KK asks: What kind of other outreach initiatives are you implementing?
A: In the few weeks since I have come on board at WABA we have expanded our Latino outreach and are working on a grant application to fund continued expansion. We have begun ground-level outreach to police officers, including offering free WABA membership to all MPD bicycle officers. (We intend to expand that program to all bicycle-based law enforcement officers in the area in a rolling fashion once we finish our outreach to MPD.) So if you are or know a bicycle officer in the area who would be interested in joining, gaining the benefits of membership, and becoming more familiar with and included in the community of cyclists in the region, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also expanding our outreach geographically, planning events in various parts of the District and region outside our traditional areas of influence. (Though I don't want to jump the gun on any announcements until everything is signed and official.) And we are considering a few women-only events to deal with the special challenges female riders face in urban cycling and commuting.
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