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Posts about Mary Cheh

Bicycling


A DC law that was terribly unfair to cyclists and pedestrians will soon be a thing of the past. Let's thank the DC Council.

Since the spring, the DC Council has been flirting with a bill that would end "contributory negligence," an unjust rule that keeps people who are hit when walking or biking from collecting medical costs from a driver's insurance. The bill officially passed on Tuesday. Please help us thank the legislators who made it happen.


Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

DC's "contributory negligence" rule says that if you're involved in a crash while traveling on foot or bike and even one percent at fault for what happened, you can't collect any damages. The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2015 will do away with that rule, allowing people to collect damages as long as they were less than 50% at fault.

An earlier version of this bill came up two years ago, but fell apart at the last minute. The Council was set to vote on this one early in the summer, and while the vote did get delayed for two weeks, it passed its first reading in July. This week's vote was what's called the second reading, and the bill passed without debate.

This is very, very important

I had my own run-in with "contrib" when a minivan driver hit me, fracturing my pelvis and spraining my back, while I was riding my bike home from work in 2008. The driver's insurance denied my claim, saying that I had contributed to the crash. Instead of receiving a settlement proportional to my injuries and experience, I wound up in court.

I was extremely lucky that a pedestrian witnessed the crash and, over a year later, was willing to come to the Rockville District Court to testify on my behalf. I won a $30,000 judgement against the driver, which his insurance company paid. The amount was above and beyond the total of my lost wages and medical bills, which the judge said was to "make me whole" by compensating me for pain and suffering.

While dollars and cents are what the court has to work with, money alone doesn't make people whole. The months of pain and struggle, the paperwork, the rage I felt when I heard the driver tell the judge that I threw myself in front of his car... well, it's laughable to suggest that the few thousand dollars left over after my lawyer and my health insurance took their cuts could compensate me for all that.

Justice would be a better compensation. When Mayor Bowser signs this bill into law, I will at last be made whole.

There is a huge discrepancy in how drivers experience the costs of collisions as opposed to people on bike or foot. Doing away with contributory negligence in DC will be a huge step forward towards treating road users more fairly in accident compensation.

We should give credit where credit is due

Mayor Bowser still needs to sign this bill (she has praised it before), and then Congress has to approve it. But for today, let's make sure to give DC Councilmembers the thanks they deserve for educating themselves on this issue, finding a solution, and carrying it to completion.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank the DC Council for passing this just, fair law that protects the most vulnerable on our roads.

Use #ContributoryNegligence and #fixcontrib to thank your councilmember, in particular @marycheh, the bill's sponsor, and @CM_McDuffie, the judiciary committee chair. Also use our tweets here below:

  • #DC is much closer to ending #ContributoryNegligence! Thanks #DCcouncil, esp. @CM_McDuffie @marycheh for your votes ggwash.org/33604
  • Votes are in, #ContributoryNegligence is out. Thx #DCcouncil, esp @marycheh @CM_McDuffie for working to #fixcontrib! ggwash.org/33604
  • Thx #DCcouncil for doing your job. @MayorBowser will you sign the #ContributoryNegligence bill & #fixcontrib in #DC? ggwash.org/33604
Check out what people have been tweeting so far:



Bicycling


DC could end its most unjust rule of the road now. Ask the DC Council to delay no longer.

A man named Kevin Washington was riding his bike on 19th Street NW toward M Street NW. As far as anyone knows, he was obeying every traffic law. He was in the street; he was in the right lane; he wasn't speeding.


Photo by Pedal_Power_Pete on Flickr.

A trash truck was in the middle lane, the one to his left. Suddenly, it turned across his path and hit him.

In a subsequent lawsuit, DC's highest court ruled that even with all of these facts, he still couldn't get any compensation from the truck driver's insurance, because he "was aware of the truck," and should have known that "when the truck reached M Street on a green light and proceeded into the intersection, it would either go straight ahead or turn onto M Street."

"The bicyclist, for his own safety, was obliged to pay close attention to the movements of the truck, and to anticipate the possibility that it might turn right, toward the bicycle."

In other words, it's person's fault if he gets hit while on a bike, even if he is doing nothing wrong, just because he should have realized that there was some chance another vehicle could have hit him.

This colossally unjust ruling was from the late 1980s, but insurance companies have been using the same principle in denying claims to this day. Shane Farthing posted a 2014 letter from Geico denying compensation to another person riding a bike for "failing to keep a proper lookout" when a driver veered into the bike lane.

This wouldn't matter in most states. But DC has a "contributory negligence" rule, along with only four states (including Maryland and Virginia). There, even the slightest fault from a person biking or walking (or driving) makes him or her absolutely ineligible to collect any money at all from the driver's insurance. And, as the court case above shows, courts have decided that even basically no fault is still at least a tiny bit of fault.

On Tuesday, the DC Council will consider a bill to end this phenomenally unjust law. Instead, if a person on a bike or on foot isn't more than 50% at fault, he or she can still get compensation.

Two weeks ago, the bill was supposed to come up for a vote, but a last-minute concern from Kenyan McDuffie (ward 5) derailed it (de-sidewalked it?) It's important for the DC Council to pass this bill now; an earlier version also fell apart at the last minute two years ago.

The insurance industry is fighting it—little surprise, since right now they have a law that lets them not actually do anything about some serious injuries. And AAA Mid-Atlantic is fighting it, too; it's an insurer as well as a driving lobby organization. And in contrast to many other AAAs around the country, our local chapter lacks the kind of humanity that would yield basic empathy toward those seriously injured and unable to get their medical bills paid.

Please ask the DC Council to change this law immediately using the form below. Thank you!



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 dÄmn 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?



Development


Upper Northwest hits peak NIMBY about a homeless shelter

Fifty short-term apartments for homeless residents are likely coming to Idaho Avenue in upper Northwest DC. At a community meeting last night, some residents showed just how much they think the poorest people in DC need to stay far away from their exclusive enclaves.

Helder Gil posted this flyer on Twitter, which people anonymously circulated at a community meeting Thursday night on a proposed homeless shelter next to the police station on Idaho Avenue, between Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights.

It includes the astoundingly offensive phrase, "Homeless lives matter; the lives of community homeowners matter too."

What's being proposed

Mayor Muriel Bowser set a very laudable goal of spreading out homeless shelters across all eight wards of DC. It's not best for homeless residents to all be concentrated in one small area, and puts the burden entirely on one neighborhood.

Most people expected people in some wealthy neighborhoods to fight the idea of any homeless people coming to their communities. But the flaws in how the Bowser administration executed on this plan, with seemingly too-high payments to property owners, some of whom were campaign donors, overshadowed any such debate.

Recently, the DC Council revised the plan to place all shelters on public property or land the District could acquire. In Ward 3, west of Rock Creek Park, the new site is the parking lot of the police station on Idaho Avenue. And now that the legitimate problems with the plan are past, some are indeed attacking the very idea that upper Northwest has to play any part in solving the need for homeless housing.

Many of the usual arguments against any project have come out in full force: the zoning doesn't match; our schools can't afford it; what about neighborhood security; this will add to traffic and harm my property values.

Misconceptions abound

The anonymous flyer says, "We fundamentally oppose the Mayor's plan of equal distribution of homeless population—to build a shelter in each ward regardless of land availability and economic soundness." (The land seems to be quite available, actually, and economically, DC has to spend nothing to buy a parking lot it already owns.)

The letter, and people at the meeting, alleged that a shelter would harm property values. DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson disputed that:

"There are plenty [of] empty public buildings in the city which can be renovated and used as shelters," the letter also says. First off, not really; second, this really is pretty much empty public land. What they mean is, "there are plenty of public buildings in someone else's neighborhood."

Talking about how the statements are wrong on their face is beside the point. The statements are morally wrong. Many people of DC's fancier neighborhoods, even ones who identify as Democrats ("liberal in the streets, NIMBY in the sheets") believe all of the city's need for housing, whether for homeless residents, the working poor, young college grads, or anyone else, should be solved somewhere else where "there's plenty of empty land."

Never mind that all of those other neighborhoods "over there" have people in them too, people who might be okay with some shelters or halfway housing or other social services but understandably don't want it all. Why should one part of the city get an opt out just because it's the richest part?

Not all residents of the area are hostile to the less fortunate:

Yes, to whoever said that, thank you.

Poverty


DC's homeless shelter plan just got a makeover

In February, Mayor Bowser put forth a plan to replace DC General with seven smaller family shelters around the District. The DC Council just made some key changes: all of the sites will now be city-owned rather than leased, and a few will be in different locations than first planned.


Photo by Jeffrey on Flickr.

After Mayor Bowser released her plan, many raised concerns about its expensive leasing agreements with private developers and the suitability of some of the proposed sites. Yesterday, the DC Council unanimously approved a revised plan that targets those concerns. The changes are expected to save DC $165 million. Here they are:

The shelter locations in Wards 3, 5, and 6 will change

Three sites, in Wards 3, 5, and 6, will relocate to city-owned land.

Many criticized the original sites: the Ward 5 location, for example, was too close to a bus depot with bad air quality as well as a strip club, and the Ward 6 location was too close to a party venue.

All three locations would have required zoning variances or exceptions to become shelter sites, but that isn't the case with the new sites.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen both expressed support for the new sites. Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who previously opposed the shelter plan, now supports a shelter at either of the two proposed sites for Ward 5. Councilmember Yvette Alexander, however, said she is worried that the changes to the locations will delay the closing of DC General.

The District plans to purchase land for sites in Wards 1 and 4

DC will work with property owners to purchase two of the proposed sites, in Wards 1 and 4. If that doesn't work, DC will acquire the properties through eminent domain.

To fund the purchases, the new plan is to use capital funding originally set aside for the renovation of Ward 4's Coolidge Senior High School. Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd said using the school renovation funds places an unfair burden on Ward 4 residents. But Councilmember David Grosso, who is also the Education Committee chair, assured him that the school renovations would still happen on schedule; since the renovations are still in the planning stage, the school wouldn't have been able to use the funding this year anyway.

Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau added an amendment to the new plan that ensures the property owners of the Ward 1 site pay any back taxes they may owe to DC before the District purchases the property.

Mayor Bowser and Phil Mendelson aren't on the same page

Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May is worried that the new plan could overburden Ward 8 with more shelter units than other wards. She proposed an amendment that clarified the maximum number of units allowed at each site, but it failed after Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he felt the issue could be worked out among the council before the next vote without an amendment.

While many councilmembers praised Mayor Bowser for her initiative and courage on the original shelter plan, Council Chairman Mendelson accused the mayor's office of "obfuscation and misinformation" and a lack of collaboration with the council during this process. Later in the day, Mayor Bowser made it clear that her office and the council are still very far apart on the plan.

What happens next?

"We should all be getting ready to go to happy hour, because we got it done!," said Councilmember Vincent Orange. Not so fast, though. There are still a few more steps before this bill becomes a law.

The DC Council will hold another reading of the bill on May 31. If the council approves the bill then, it goes to the mayor for approval. If she vetoes it, nine councilmembers must support the bill for it to become law. It's possible that a few of the councilmembers with misgivings, many of whom are facing tough reelections, could be swayed by lobbying by Mayor Bowser or her allies to vote against the bill.

Roads


Proposed rules aim to get serious about road safety in DC

The DC government has committed to "Vision Zero," a goal of eliminating all road deaths. A detailed plan from the Bowser Administration will come out Wednesday, but in the meantime, legislators have been putting forth their own proposals for laws around safety.


Photo by Jonathan Warner on Flickr.

Four bills in the DC Council about road safety proposals were the subject of a hearing on December 8. Here's a rundown of what they will do.

Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015

This bill, introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson, would increase fines for people who repeatedly engage in distracted driving. Anyone with three violations within eighteen months would get his or her driver's license suspensded and points on the license.

Today, first-time violators who purchase a hands-free device do not face any fines; the bill would end that waiver.

Speakers at the hearing were broadly supportive. Many asked whether or not it went far enough. Both the District's Bicycle Advisory Council and Washington Area Bicyclist Association expressed interest in expanding a ban on driving while using a hands-free phone device (it's illegal for all road users to use a handheld phone). That ban now applies to school bus drivers and novice drivers; witnesses suggested adding drivers in school zones and construction zones, or preferably all drivers at all times.

Others asked that the bill include more provisions for education about distracted driving. (Disclosure: I am acting chair of the Bicycle Advisory Council and testified on its behalf for this bill.)

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015

Earlier this year, Mary Cheh, chair of the council's transportation committee, convened a working group of advocates to discuss potential changes to the law around road safety. The group reached consensus on a number of changes, which are in this bill. Some of the key provisions would:

  • Require the government to regularly publish data on crashes, sidewalk closures, citizen petitions for for traffic calming measures, dangerous intersections, and moving violations.
  • Instruct the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to create Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas (at least one per ward) with no right turns on red, lower speed limis, and more human and camera enforcement.
  • Let cyclists slow down and yield rather than stop fully at stop signs.
  • Write a Complete Streets policy into law. (DDOT has one today, but just as a directive of the DDOT Director which can be revoked at any time.)
  • Create a curriculum on safe cycling and walking for schools; require taxi and other for-hire drivers to go through training on bicycle and pedestrian safety.
  • Apply the laws for motor vehicle insurance to bicycle insurance, and allow bicycle insurance providers to require policyholders to register their bikes.
  • Impose larger fines on repeat violators (up to five times the fine for a fourth offense) for violations including speeding, blocking a crosswalk, and illegal stopping or standing including in a bike lane (sorry UPS!)
  • Allow aggressive driving citations for drivers who commit three or more or a set of violations (like speeding or improper lane changes). This which carries a penalty of $200 and 2 points and mandatory driver education.
  • Forbid using a phone in the car when not moving.
  • Require side under-run guards, reflective blind spot warning stickers, and either blind spot mirrors or cameras on all heavy-duty vehicles registered in DC. This is currently the law for District-owned vehicles.
  • Create a Major Crash Review Task Force to review major crashes and recommend changes to reduce the number of them.
You can read a complete list of changes here.

Much of the discussion for this bill focused on the fact that it does not lower the speed on residential streets, a proposal which the working group discussed but didn't reach consensus on. WABA had several proposals for ways the bill could go farther to create safer streets.

Some witnesses opposed pieces of the law. Several were uneasy about letting cyclists yield at stop signs.

The Metropolitan Police Department's representative argued that the law was primarily about convenience and might, in an urban environment, lead to more crashes. In response, Councilmember Elissa Silverman asked if there was any evidence that it might lead to more crashes, and MPD conceded that there was none. Mary Cheh cited a recent study showing that crashes dropped 13% in Boise following the passage of a similar law in Idaho.

Insurance industry representatives said that this law would need to be coupled with a dedicated education effort. One witness from the insurance industry also objected to regulating bicycle insurance.

Vision Zero Act of 2015

This bill comes from Mayor Bowser and is a companion to the forthcoming Vision Zero plan. Like the Safety Act, it would also mandate a Complete Streets system. Like the Distracted Driving Act, it would increase fines and add points for distracted driving violations.

In addition, it would enhance penalties for operating all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes on District roads and require ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders and high blood alcohol content (BAC) first-time offenders.

While supportive, WRAP, MADD and AAA all suggested that the bill instead require interlock devices for all DUI offenders, as 25 states do now.

Regulatory changes

In addition to the legislative changes mention above, both Cheh's working group report and the Vision Zero action plan recommended regulatory changes, some of which have been addressed by proposed rules that the Bowser administration proposed Friday.

These rules would:

  • Require side underrun guards for certain vehicles.
  • Require drivers to clear damaged but operational vehicles from the travel lanes.
  • Require drivers to yield to buses merging into traffic.
  • Designate certain streets as neighborhood slow zones with a maximum speed limit of 20 miles per hour (and near high-risk areas like playgrounds, as low as 15 mph).
  • Add points for several offenses such as overtaking another vehicle stopped at a crosswalk or intersection for a pedestrian.
  • Increase fines for infractions such as driving more than 30 mph over the speed limit (including possible jail time), running a stop sign, driving on the sidewalk, unsafely opening a door into traffic, or striking a cyclist.
  • Break the violation for parking in a bike lane into two categories, one for commercial vehicles and one for non-commercial vehicles, and raise the fine from $65 to $300 and $200 respectively.
Since these changes are coming in regulations from the Bowser administration and not a bill in the DC Council, there is some conflict about whether the increased fines will be effective, and whether they're even allowed.

Mary Cheh told the Washington Post she wanted to make sure "the mayor has authority" to raise the fines and asked, "Is there data that supports that this is something that will deter people from speeding? Otherwise people would think this is just a money raiser."

What else could be done?

In addition to formal changes to the law and regulations, the working group recommends other steps District agencies could take to improve safety. Some of these recommendations include:

  • A universal street-safety education program for all elementary school students (which has already gone into effect).
  • More automated cameras for enforcement.
  • Greater "no right turn on red" restrictions in bike and pedestrian priority areas.
  • Distributing more free bicycle lights.
  • Equipping large District-owned vehicles with audible turn warnings.
  • Providing more information about bicyclist insurance.
After becoming a campaign issue in the last mayoral election, District leaders have been busy this year, through multiple efforts, in working towards that goal.

Bicycling


Letting cyclists yield at stop signs won't lead to chaos

An "Idaho Stop" is a law in some states that allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as if they were yield signs. DC Councilmember Mary Cheh recently proposed adopting the law in DC, but some people say it would turn traffic law on its head.


Photo by Shawn Hoke on Flickr.

There are a few reasons to support the Idaho Stop:

  1. It's important for cyclists to conserve momentum, since starting up a bike requires muscle power.
  2. The most dangerous place for bikes is at intersections with cars, so giving people on bikes permission to go through intersections when there are no cars nearby rather than forcing them wait (while one might pull up behind them) makes intersections safer for everyone. It also makes it less likely cars will get stuck behind bikes.
  3. Since bikes move at relatively slow speeds, people using them have plenty of time to gauge oncoming traffic. That means there's less need to stop and look around at every intersection; you can look around while moving slowly.
At yesterday's DC Council Transportation Committee hearing, in response to Cheh's proposal, police officers and representatives from the insurance industry said allowing Idaho Stops would lead to confusion. Specifically, DC Insurance Federation executive director Wayne McOwen said he thinks allowing Idaho Stops would confuse children.
We teach our children when the light is red we stop. We teach them when they see a sign that says stop to stop. We teach them to look both ways before they cross the street. We teach them to cross at the crosswalk. Now we are beginning to say follow those rules except if there's no one around, you can run across the street anyway.
Brian McEntee, a GGWash contributor who also writes the bike column Gear Prudence, explored McOwen's statement and the different situations that drivers face on the road.

Others pointed out that people walking don't have to stop at stop signs and that children aren't allowed to drive until they reach an age where they can think more critically. One Twitter commenter noted that the law already allows cyclists to proceed when the light is red and they are following the pedestrian signal.

Whether cyclists should have special rules is always a heated debate. For one, there are some cyclists who ride very fast and can keep up with drivers, while others tend to go at a slower pace.

At the hearing, cycling advocate David Cranor noted that allowing cyclists to yield at stop signs would send more cyclists on slower, safer, residential streets.

The Idaho Stop debate was only one part of the Transportation Committee hearing. If you want a good recap, Dave Salovesh live tweeted the hearing and posted a Storify of the twitter conversation.

Bicycling


Making this street more bike-friendly should be easy. Why isn't it?

A barrier meant to calm traffic doesn't need to also block bicyclists on an upper Northwest street. But even though Councilmember Mary Cheh and the local ANC support a cut-through, there had to be yet another hours-long community meeting and site visit in the pouring rain so nearby residents could express their concerns that accommodating bicyclists would result in mayhem and carnage.


Traffic diverter at 44th and Harrison NW

The proposal is to add bike cut-throughs to an existing traffic diverter at the intersection of 44th Street and Harrison Street NW. The traffic diverter blocks cars from passing through the intersection, which is meant to preclude the use of these residential streets as an alternative route for nearby Wisconsin Avenue and Western Avenue.


Bicyclists currently use these ramps to get around the diverter

Backers of the project believe that adding the cut-throughs would give people on bikes a more direct route from the neighborhood into Friendship Heights without disrupting the neighborhood itself.

Opponents, on the other hand, think changing the diverter will invite drivers to attempt to drive over the diverter and through the neighborhood. Some also believe that more bike traffic through the residential streets would be a bad thing.

Additionally, opponents believe that cyclists already have an adequate alternative by leaving the roadway, riding up the curb ramps and onto the sidewalk, to circumnavigate the diverter. Opponents believe that this practice is safer for everyone than any compromise to the integrity of the traffic diverter.

Following the meeting, representatives from DDOT said they would bring these concerns back to their agency to study possible design adjustments, further delaying a project that would make life easier on bicyclists.

This situation is a snapshot of a bigger story

Ultimately, this isn't a very substantial project and will not affect many residents or bicyclists. But it speaks to a few larger concerns about the process of adding additional bicycle accommodation to parts of the District that currently don't have many.

Anyone who has ever attended a public meeting knows that it can be very difficult to change the status quo. The resistance to make changes, regardless of how small those changes seem, exhibits itself in fierce resistance and the desire for an endless series of meetings, further discussion and design tweaks. While this project had been approved by the local ANC and is supported by Councilmember Mary Cheh, a committed group of opponents has managed to stall the process.

If this is the case for such small projects &emdash;the low-hanging fruit that cuts neither parking nor traffic lanes&emdash;what does this suggest about gaining any ground on larger ones? It's important to work with neighbors, but at a certain point it becomes necessary to reach a decision. If DDOT is expected to assuage every concern from every resident before moving forward with a project, it will never accomplish anything.

This meeting also raised concerns about the results of interrupting the public right of way. When the traffic diverter went in, residents of the nearby streets benefitted disproportionately. But the traffic didn't disappear, it just went somewhere else. And when breaking up a street favors some residents over others, it's no surprise that those who benefit want to preserve their advantage.

Even though this particular project would keep the diverter in place and simply add some small cut-throughs for bicyclists, the residents' attachment to their preferred status is so strong that they are worried about any action that might jeopardize it. DDOT needs to be mindful about the consequences of traffic decisions that have the potential to create this dynamic.

The overwhelming majority of opponents of these changes claimed that they support bicycling. However, they worried that changes to the road to accommodate bicyclists would unintentionally lead to more reckless driving, making everyone less safe.

This is similar to the concern about how installing bike lanes might degrade air quality due to more traffic from slowing moving cars. So long as meeting the needs of bicyclists are sublimated to larger concerns about how this might lead to even more negative externalities from driving, progress is unlikely.

Additionally, meetings like this always raise concerns about the division of public and private space. Both 44th Street and Harrison Street are public streets, open to all. While those who live nearby feel that they will be more affected by any changes to the intersection, DDOT needs to weigh their interests (and how reasonable their concerns are) against the larger goals of public mobility and bicycle accommodation.

You can't build a genuine bicycle network with a patchwork of compromises, where infrastructure appears or disappears based on block-by-block votes. If DC is committed to creating neighborhood bikeways and cross-town bike routes, like those laid out in the MoveDC plan, DDOT will need to find a way to address neighborhood concerns without sacrificing its larger goals.

Roads


Mary Cheh's annual joke budget memo mocks the streetcar, endless transportation studies, and more

Each year, as the DC Council considers the District's budget, Councilmember Mary Cheh and her staff issue fake recommendations that satirize recent news. This year's poke even sharper fun than usual at a number of issues around transportation, Eleanor Holmes Norton's parking, the Vince Gray prosecution, and many others.


Bookshelf image from Shutterstock.

On the streetcar, for instance, they "suggest,"

Transfer $500,000 million from the District Department of Transportation to the Commission on Arts and Humanities. This transfer will be used for an innovative, progressive, and transformative production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
That wasn't even the harshest cut at DDOT, though. As we prepared to talk to DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo, a lot of you suggested questions about DDOT's apparent habit of conducting a study, then conducting another one a couple of years later, and so on.

This has been a particular source of ire for Capitol Hill residents who have been waiting years for traffic calming on Maryland Avenue, or supporters of a bus lane who wonder why there has to be another study this year to implement a bus lane that was the subject of at least two earlier studies. Commenter Jimmy, for instance, wrote:

Some of us actually refer to his agency as DDOTS (District Department of Transportation Studies). While some study is necessary to avoid ready-fire-aim debacles like the streetcar, use of "further study" (on bike lanes, bus lanes, bus signal priority, and pretty much everything else that doesn't move more cars faster or provide more parking for private automobiles) has clearly become a delaying tactic. What can be done about this? How can we move forward on things that have already been studied to death?
Cheh and her staff feel your pain. Their budget "recommendation":
Transfer $1.5 million from the Department of General Services—what's another million and a half, anyway—to the District Department of Transportation to conduct a study. It has recently come to the Committee's attention that DDOT has had issues in implementing previously conducted studies. Despite extensive work being done to study traffic calming measures on Maryland Avenue, the agency is about to initiate another study. Additionally, despite conducting a study in 2013 on a 16th Street Bus Lane, DDOT will shortly begin a new study on the topic.

To assist in reducing redundant redundancies, the Committee recommends that the funds be used for DDOT to study these studies. This endeavor will help keep the agency busy because the Committee has no doubt that two years from now they will scrap the study on studies and conduct a new study that studies the study on studies in a rather studious manner.

Burn.

Eleanor Holmes Norton does not get off lightly. A video surfaced in March showing the Congresswoman trying to park between two other cars and somehow managing to end up diagonally in her space. Cheh and her staff "propose" a new Eleanor Holmes Norton Office of Parking and Driving to provide free taxi service for elected officials.

And speaking of federal activities, remember how US Attorney Ron Machen was looking into alleged campaign finance misdeeds from the 2010 Vincent Gray mayoral campaign? Machen charged a number of Gray staffers, but never seemed to find any evidence linking the mayor himself. Yet Machen, in an unusual step for a prosecutor, publicly said "there's there there," saying in essence that he was sure Gray was involved.

Gray lost the primary election, in large part because many people believed Machen, but nothing has happened since. Cheh and her staff caustically "suggest" funding a dictionary and a map for the US Attorney's Office so it can "determine where exactly is the there."

Other biting critiques in the memo include:

  • A recommendation about the DC Board of Elections printed entirely upside-down, a reference to the upside-down DC flag on the 2014 voter guide which BOE first pretended was intentional, then admitted had been a mistake.
  • That upside-down proposal suggests a primary date based on the lunar calendar to "enhance voter turnout and continue to make elections a part of the news cycle." DC had shifted its primary from September to April due to federal laws about getting absentee ballots to servicemembers overseas. But the turnout in 2014 hit record lows, so the council moved it back.
  • A budget allocation to make space for "all of Mayor Bowser's former staff and campaign aides" on the council. Bowser staffers Brandon Todd and LaRuby May won the two recent special elections, in Wards 4 and 8 respectively. Todd said he would be independent of Bowser and even, while campaigning, opposed her controversial DC Jail healthcare contract which Bowser had been pushing; days after winning, he decided he would support his former boss after all.
  • A new job training program for councilmembers forced out of office due to corruption.
  • Body cameras for councilmembers whose footage will be televised on a reality show, "Keeping Up with the Kouncilmembers."
  • A staffer to submit "all office supply orders" to Congress, given that Congress is so eager to get involved in DC's local affairs.
Cheh and her staff conclude with a suggestion that if you don't find her memo funny, you "participate in some recently-legalized activities" (i.e. smoke marijuana) and then you will "find it to be, like, totally the funniest thing ever."
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