Posts about Bike Safety
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.
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— Please ask the DC Council to change this law immediately using the form below. Thank you!
Please ask the DC Council to change this law immediately using the form below. Thank you!
If a driver hits you while you're walking or biking in DC, the law makes it almost impossible to collect from the driver's insurance. A bill to fix that is suddenly in jeopardy just hours before a scheduled vote. Please ask the DC Council to move it forward.
So the months long effort to reform D.C.'s contrib negligence law could unravel hours before the vote. #bikedc—
Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) June 27, 2016
As of now, DC's "contributory negligence" law says that if a person on foot or bike who is involved in a crash is even one percent at fault for what happened, they can't collect any damages. The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2015, which is scheduled for a vote today, would let people collect damages as long as they were less than 50% at fault.
Today, Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie plans to introduce an amendment that would change exactly how much a person could collect, using a "comparative negligence" standard that basically means that a person's claim to damages would be proportional to their fault in the crash. It looks as though Councilmember Mary Cheh would oppose the bill if it includes McDuffie's amendment.
Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) June 27, 2016
Efforts to end contributory negligence, which really does have harmful effects, have been going on for years. There are credible arguments for both McDuffie's and Cheh's positions on how to word the new law, but we need to pass one or the other.
With or without the amendment, the proposed bill will improve the rights of pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorized road users on DC's streets. That is very much needed, especially as the number of people who use our streets for something other than driving continues to swell.
Update: Councilmember McDuffie moved for the Council to vote on the bill on July 12, and his motion passed.
This morning, 75 people sent 450 letters to Councilmembers urging them to do away with contributory negligence, one way or another. Thank you for your efforts, and look for more from Greater Greater Washington on how pass the bill as the vote nears.
An article in today's Post Express says bike commuting is more dangerous than you'd think. That may or may not be true, but even if it is, it ignores years of studies that show the benefits outweigh the risks, and on the whole biking is statistically far more likely to adds years to your life than to harm you.
The article starts with an unsettling story about Inez Steigerwald, a teacher who has long commuted by bike (and who wrote about riding on the Metropolitan Branch Trail for Greater Greater Washington this time last year) hitting a patch of ice, falling off her bike, and breaking her arm very badly.
From there, author Sadie Dingfelder cites a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control that concluded that "nationwide, you're more than twice as likely to die while riding a bike than riding in a car, per trip." She adds that cyclists are about five hundred times as likely to die as the average bus passenger, and that a 2015 study concluded that cyclists inhale three times as much air pollution as drivers.
Payton Chung says the problem is that the article buries the lede by focusing on the pitfalls of riding a bike but not the benefits. "Bicycling and walking are healthful, moderate exercise that, on balance, add years to the average person's life," he says.
"Cycling is not inherently more dangerous than other modes of transportation," adds Kelli Raboy. "It's only more dangerous when you factor in the effect of cars. I think the article obfuscates this fact."
Further discussion fleshed out Kelli's point: Since a relatively small proportion of people use bikes for transportation, the number of injuries per trip are high. At the same time, there's evidence to show that as more people ride bikes, the number of crashes goes down. That means that as more people ride bikes, the per trip metric will actually show that doing so is quite safe.
According to David Cranor, who wrote his own full response to Dingfelder's article, stacking data about crashes and injuries for people riding bikes up against data about drivers makes for an apples to oranges comparison.
Comparing the average type of person is flawed, in part, because the population of motorists and cyclists differ so much. Cyclists are overwhelmingly more male and men are fatally injured 122% more often while cycling than motoring. In addition, there are many cyclists under 16 years old, but very few drivers of those ages.
In other words, the data presented here doesn't tell you if YOU personally will be more at risk if you bike than drive. It tells you that the self-selected group of people who choose to bike are more at risk than a self-selected group of motorists.
Regarding the possibility of inhaling more pollution, Steve Seelig pointed toward a recent study that found the benefits of riding a bike (or walking) to drastically outweigh the negative impacts in terms of respiration.
"[Bike commuters inhale more pollution than drivers] on identical routes," stresses Cranor. "If your bike ride takes you on the Capital Crescent or Mount Vernon Trails, that is almost surely untrue."
And Dingfelder actually notes, later in the article, that "while injuries rob casual cyclists, age 18 to 64, of five to nine days of life and air pollution subtracts between one and 40 days, the benefits of cycling adds three to 14 months to your lifespan." She also quotes a health researcher in Boston: "While accidents and air pollution pose serious risks, bike commuting is still the best choice for your overall health."
In 2008, a driver in a minivan hit me (Tracy) when I was riding my bike on Connecticut Avenue, fracturing my pelvis in three places. The driver's insurance company denied my claim because of a law that says if you're even 1% at fault, you can't collect anything. The good news? DC is moving to change this.
Stickers from an effort to do away with contributory negligence. Image from WABA.
Currently, DC, Maryland, and Virginia use what's called a pure contributory negligence standard to decide who pays what damages after a vehicle collision involving someone on bike or foot. We wrote about contributory negligence in 2014, but the basic thing you need to know is that under this standard, if the person is even 1% at fault for a collision, they can't collect anything from the other party (or parties).
Insurance companies benefit from contributory negligence because it makes it very low risk to deny a claim, since the legal standard a court would apply is so broad.
Most people, however, agree that this standard is unfair—
This might all change soon
On April 21, Councilmember and Judiciary Committee chair Kenyan McDuffie brought the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016 to a vote. It passed out of Committee 3-0 and is now awaiting two votes before the full council.
This bill would make it so a person on a bike or on foot who was contributorily negligent in a crash with a motor vehicle would still be able to collect damages if they were less than 50% at fault.
The version of the bill that came to markup had two minor but substantive changes from one that was introduced last January. First, it now includes a definition of "non-motorized user" to mean "an individual using a skateboard, non-motorized scooter, Segway, tricycle, and other similar non-powered transportation devices." These vulnerable road users are now explicitly covered by the bill, in addition to bicyclists and pedestrians.
Secondly, the bill expressly retains the "last clear chance" doctrine, something that is already available under the law in the District. The basic idea behind last clear chance is that even if the plaintiff (the person who gets hit) is contributorily negligent, the plaintiff's negligence is not a bar to recovery if the defendant (motorist) had the last clear chance to avoid the accident.
Reserving last clear chance will likely result in greater protection for bicyclists because in circumstances where the bicyclist is contributorily negligent, the bicyclist would still be able to recover for damages if the motorist had the last clear chance to avoid the collision.
The bill must be approved by the Committee of the Whole and receive two affirmative votes by the full council. It would then go to the mayor for her signature. Afterwards, the bill becomes an act and must go through the Congressional approval process before becoming law. Both votes could take place before the summer recess.
Who does contributory negligence hurt?
The contributory negligence standard is particularly hard on bicyclists, in part because the public is not well-educated about bike laws in general. But the reality is that contributory negligence is actually hard on anyone with relatively small damages to claim and/or no applicable insurance coverage (e.g. pedestrians).
Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingent fee basis, and small cases do not adequately compensate them for their time. Thus, though the cost of replacing a bike or a few thousand dollars in medical bills may be substantial for an individual, it's not enough to attract an advocate to take on a driver's insurance company.
Contributory negligence is hardest on low-income people
To some, the pain and damages that fall under this threshold are the difference between getting by and falling behind. There can be no doubt that this has real consequences for seniors, communities of color and low-income individuals who can't just call in sick and watch Netflix until a back sprain heals or buy a new bike.
We know that 38% of DC households don't have access to car. We know that 28% of trips made by DC households are by foot, and another 20% by transit (which includes some walking to access). The web of incentives and laws that we're all traveling in every time we take a step or pedal across the street to the bus stop, or get behind the wheel of a car, directly affects our quality of life and shapes our behavior and choices.
Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced the bill. The bill's sponsors are Councilmembers Grosso (at-large), Evans (Ward 2), Bonds (at-large), and Allen (Ward 6); Councilmember Alexander (Ward 7) is a co-sponsor.
With this legislation, the DC Council has an opportunity to choose fairness and common sense. Let your councilmember know that this matters to you: thank them for supporting the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016 or let them know you want to see their support.
In late April, Dutch cycling experts met with DC area planners, engineers, and feds to look at cycling conditions in the West End neighborhood. They all teamed up to draft a plan that would build connections to trails and add new segments of on-street bikeways, all with the goal of creating a safe, easy-to-use cycling network.
The Netherlands are the world's gold standard for bike infrastructure. Photo by Christopher Porter on Flickr.
The Dutch Cycling Embassy is a public-private partnership that serves economic development and foreign policy goals of the Dutch government, exporting their safe, convenient, and mainstream cycling culture to the world through infrastructure design expertise. The Royal Netherlands Embassy brought this initiative to DC in 2010 for a "ThinkBike" workshop focusing on L and M Street.
The "Dutch way" emphasizes clear infrastructure design criteria to create a "joyful" cycling experience. The Netherlands is the western world's most successful country at actually getting people onto bikes. Unlike in the US where we often plan bikeways only where we can fit them in without upsetting too many drivers, in the Netherlands, the safety and convenience of cyclists get full treatment.
Dr. Peter Furth of Northeastern University, who teaches an annual summer course on bicycle infrastructure design that takes American civil engineering students to the Netherlands, pioneered translation of this vision to our side of the Atlantic through his "Level of Traffic Stress" typology in the United States.
DC has sometimes struggled to build the kinds of bike lanes that are commonplace in the Netherlands. The Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, from concept to present day, have generated five pages of posts on GGWash alone through multiple redesigns, tweaks, and controversies. The L and M Street NW bikeway that were the focus of the 2010 ThinkBike workshop have also struggled (quoth contributor Dan Malouff: "They're almost Dutch. Almost.").
Workshop attendees first considered the dangers of biking in DC
There's clearly more to learn. Last month, the Cycling Embassy returned to take a look at the West End, along with over 50 local bicycle planners, advocates, experts, and policy professionals. Many staff from USDOT were in attendance, even as their boss was trying out a bike in Amsterdam.
The emphasis was sober rather than joyful, with the DDOT professionals emphasizing the need to make roads safer. Virginia Tech planning students presented an analysis of bike crashes that showed clear problems with the key north-south connections to the West End (21st Street NW and 17th Street NW) and the core east-west spine of the neighborhood, Pennsylvania Avenue.
Participants also noted an opportunity to substantially increase connectivity to the regional trail network, through improved wayfinding and short segments of infrastructure upgrades to and from trail connections to Rock Creek, the Capital Crescent Trail, the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge (aka I-66), and the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
However, increasing connections to low-stress cycling would likely necessitate serious work on Virginia Avenue, lest more crash hotspots bloom.
A map of the 194 West End bicycle crashes between 2010 and mid-2015. Data from DDOT, map by Virginia Tech urban/regional planning studio spring 2016 students.
The result was a world-class bike plan... but will it actually happen?
The final proposed network conference attendees came up at the end of the workshop included an ambitious wish list of new protected bikeways on DC's streets, including the notorious Washington Circle.
It is worth noting that the corridors identified and prioritized by this workshop, including Pennsylvania Avenue, Virginia Avenue, G Street, 17th Street, 21st Street, and 22nd Street NW, correlate almost exactly with the vision of MoveDC, DDOT's long-term transportation plan.
It's nice to see that at the planning level, a plan DC already came up with was already on the same page as the Dutch. It remains to be seen, though, what we can achieve at the design level. Workshop participants cycled the study area, measured rights of way, and sketched potential designs. In the safety of a workshop of cycling experts, parking was removed left and right, and a bike lane never had to give way to a bioretention swale.
In the real world, there are more diverse stakeholders and tradeoffs when space is at a premium, as it is in a neighborhood where real estate is doing "phenomenally well." And at the edges of our study area, we didn't dare tell the Dutch about our "trails" with unmarked connections and crossings, broken pavement, narrow, crowded surfaces, and dead-end trailheads.
Trail connections are (hopefully) the next step
The region's missing piece is connections from streets to our longer bike trails. WABA has recently invested in advocacy capacity to advance this, and the National Park Service just dropped a mic: a Paved Trails Study complete with a regional vision, specific segments delineated, measurable goals, and capital recommendations.
The report acknowledges the NPS has no trail design standards, recommends developing some, and proposes a National Capital Trail (hellooooo "Bicycle Beltway!").
If you care about trails in our area, check it out and submit comments. The comment period is open until May 19.
In DC's West End, portions of the bikeways on L and M Streets, along with the adjacent sidewalks, are closed because of construction projects. The detours are confusing, and the result is that people on both bikes and foot are sharing narrow, unsafe spaces.
Pedestrians are supposed to use the barricaded space that's usually a bike lane along the 2300 block of L street. There isn't any bike space right now. All photos by the author.
On M Street, two separate segments of the sidewalk and protected bikeway are closed. The reason for closing the first segment, located along the 2200 block, is construction for a new fire station and apartments. The second segment, located along the 2500 block, is closed for a project that's converting a former office building into luxury condominiums.
On L Street, the sidewalk and bike lane are closed along the 2300 block for construction for a new mixed-use development that will include a public library, retail, and luxury condominiums. Note that L Street's bike lane doesn't become a protected bikeway until one block later, east of New Hampshire Avenue.
In all three locations, physical barriers separate bike and foot traffic from car traffic.
The detours aren't very effective
As cyclists and pedestrians approach the M Street construction sites from the east, traffic signs warn that the bike lane will be shifting to the left and that the sidewalk is closing. There are instructions for pedestrians to cross to the south side of the street, where the sidewalk remains open. But with a barricaded path that seems safe right in front of them, a lot of people just proceed through it, similar to what's currently happening at 15th and L Streets NW.
Blind spots amplify this problem, with tall barriers and sharp adjustments to the barricaded path drastically limiting visibility. This is especially dangerous in the scenario where the paths of a pedestrian heading east and a cyclist heading west converge.
Tall barrier walls and sharp curves along the barricaded path on the 2300 block of M Street create dangerous blind spots for cyclists and pedestrians.
Along L Street, there are signs directing pedestrians to use the barricaded space, and there is no space clearly designated for cyclists. Many cyclists end up proceeding through the space since there is nowhere else to go and the visual cues are contradictory (hard-to-see signs and a painted bike lane remain visible).
As you can see in the pictures, the barricaded spaces at the construction sites are extremely narrow. There is not enough space provided to allow for cyclists and pedestrians to safely pass each other. The traffic barriers take up significant pedestrian and bicycle real estate, and the fences are anchored by large cinder blocks that invade the already small space.
There's another option: Close a lane of car traffic
The way construction is set up on the 2500 block of M Street is especially questionable. The stretch includes three lanes of vehicle traffic (in addition to parking on each side, as well as the protected bike lane), but all three vehicle lanes have remained open despite the construction.
Given that this portion of M Street feeds directly into the heart of Georgetown, it sees heavy bike and pedestrian traffic. It would not be unreasonable to close a lane of car traffic along this particularly wide segment of the street to ensure a safe amount of space for everyone.
Cyclists traveling west along the 2500 block of M Street are forced to share lanes with vehicle traffic, as pedestrians walk through the space designated for bikes. Directing pedestrians to cross the street clearly is not a viable solution.
The West End is one of the most walkable and bikeable neighborhoods in DC, but too often, walking and biking are the first to be compromised when it comes to making space for construction. Giving equal priority to all modes of transportation would help keep everyone safe.
AMC Networks has announced that it has hired David Alpert, founder and president of Greater Greater Washington, to be the new Executive Producer of its hit show The Walking Dead. In other news, The Walking Dead Executive Producer David Alpert will take over as President of Greater Greater Washington.
"We're really excited about this new direction for both our organizations," said Alpert. Alpert said, "This is an opportunity for both organizations to explore new directions."
The AMC show will be rebranded as The Walkable Dead and will focus on telling stories of the ways road design can keep people from facing serious injury or death. Jeff Speck will become the series' new head writer.
"I'm certain that audiences all around the nation will be just as riveted by the intricacies of sidewalk widths, traffic calming, and on which side of parked cars to put bike lanes as they are by stories of a world overrun by zombies," said Alpert.
For his part, Alpert plans to steer Greater Greater Washington toward more first-person narrative stories. An upcoming series of posts, tentatively called a "season," will depict a ragtag band of desperate survivors in Alexandria, Virginia who find their world, and neighborhood, completely destroyed by a pair of painted bike lanes on King Street.
An upcoming episode, previewed for the press, shows a suburban office worker having to wait a full 30 seconds to get out of his driveway as a few cyclists pass by. Having to back up very slowly and repeatedly look both ways epitomizes the difficult struggle to survive in a world suddenly filled with these two-wheeled menaces, who seem single-mindedly intent on getting to their destinations with their brains intact.
Alpert, who graduated from Harvard, said his past experience producing the TV show, which purportedly takes place in Alexandria, perfectly prepares him for the role of managing a blog and advocacy organization. He said, "I get it: density good, neighbor opposition bad, transit/biking/walking good, cars bad ... How hard can this be?"
Alpert, meanwhile, said he's confident that his degree from Harvard will prepare him for keeping The Walkable Dead one of the top shows on TV. He has been to Atlanta (where the series is filmed) a couple of times. "Most of Metro Atlanta already looks like a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland," added Alpert.
An additional revelation was promulgated by Alpert: In anticipation of the substitution, the phraseology that will be utilized in the production of Greater Greater Washington will entirely be composed of passive voice and nominalizations.
Our region is more bike-friendly than ever, but lots of people still doubt whether riding a bike is a safe or viable form of regular transportation. The truth is that riding a bike is a great way to get around. I've written some tips for getting started.
Stay aware and be considerate
When you're on a bike, a heightened state of awareness and increased consideration for those sharing space with you can help make life better for everyone involved.
How can you stay aware and considerate when on your bike? Here are a few suggestions.
- Be predictable at all times. Don't stop suddenly if you don't have to, and try not to turn unexpectedly. Signal when making a turn, especially if someone behind you might be coming straight.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Know when other people are riding behind you, and make space for them to pass if needed. Be aware of cars and keep in mind that you might not always be as visible as you think you are, even if you have done everything right.
- Claim your space on the road with confidence. There are many areas where you will need to share space with cars, and bikes are legally allowed on the road. It can be tempting to provide as much space as possible for cars to pass in the same lane, but it is safer for bikes and cars alike when people on bikes claim the full lane.
- Remember that it isn't a race. It can be tempting to go faster than is reasonably safe, especially given the ease at which a bike can navigate around obstacles such as stopped vehicles and pedestrians, or through narrow spaces between moving cars.
- Don't attempt to overtake another person on a bike if there is limited space to do so.
- Don't ride the wrong way down streets or dedicated bike lanes (otherwise known as salmoning).
- Don't pull in front of a person on a bike, or a line of them, stopped at a red light (otherwise known as shoaling).
- Don't pull into crosswalks when waiting for a light to change.
Before making a trip on your bike, take a few minutes to study the best route to your destination.
Make a mental note of where you will be turning, and prepare ahead of time for any areas that are more challenging to navigate along the way, such as busy/complex intersections, gaps without bike lanes, or traffic circles.
If you are planning to start commuting to work on a bike, do a few test runs over the weekend so that you know the route better, and are able to make better adjustments if needed.
This will prevent the need to stop/slow down when en route, or to pull your phone out and look at it while on your bike. It will also help ensure that you aren't holding up other people riding bikes who might be sharing the space with you. Finally, this will allow an increased focus on your surroundings, as opposed to the distraction of not knowing where you are going.
A nice byproduct of planning ahead is that you can have a much more enjoyable experience, as you can take in the atmosphere you are lucky enough to be immersed in when you're riding a bike.
Take advantage of helpful resources and events
Outreach events, educational opportunities, and social activities centered around riding a bike were key components of bringing me into the bike community, and keeping me here. They help increase safety awareness and instill a sense of community. These are a few powerful ingredients when it comes to encouraging more people to ride bikes.
Here are a few:
Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA). WABA offers a wealth of events and information, like educational classes/events, information on DC-area bike laws, and seminars and resources for new cyclists.
There are many free social rides that occur regularly. Group rides are a great way to both meet other people who ride and become acclimated with cycling in DC in a low-key and pressure free setting. Area bike stores such as BicycleSpace offer frequent social rides.
- Similar to social rides, area stores such as BicycleSpace offer free classes on basic bike maintenance.
When new to biking, the thought of various equipment needs can be daunting. Fortunately, there is not a need for overly specialized equipment if you are going to be bike commuting in an urban setting.
Consider the following basic equipment needs for essential safety and comfort.
A U-lock. U-locks come in varying sizes, some small enough to fit in your pocket. They are significantly more secure than cords, which can be easily compromised with a pair of wire cutters.
A set of headlights and tail lights for your bike. Keep them on at all times in overcast weather or during non-daylight hours. Simply put, you're way less likely to have a run-in with a vehicle if you have lights on.
A helmet. Helmets are not required by law in the District, but are a strong common-sense safety measure despite what the law says.
Backpack/messenger bag. There are many reasonably priced backpacks and bags designed specifically for bike commuting. Ensure you have compartmentalized space for your various essentials, such as a change of clothes, a laptop/tablet, and a lunch bag.
- A rear fender (either fixed or removable). Fenders are a lifesaver when riding on wet pavement. They're cheap, and will prevent the need to change and/or wash your clothes after riding.
Biking in the District is both accessible and enjoyable, and with a critical mass of bikes on the road, it is only going to get better.
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