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Bicycling


How Barcelona gets bicycling right

This summer I spent a few days in Barcelona on vacation. What I found there is a city built for people who ride bikes and car-free tourism that would be welcome here at home.


Bikeshare station with moped parking at Placa de Catalunya. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Bikes are everywhere in Barcelona. Family members who had visited before told me it's the best way to see the city, so my friends and I rented bikes for two days rather than taking public transit, taxis, or organized bus tours.

Renting the bikes was simple—there are numerous rental shops as well as bike share stations, the latter requiring sign up similar to Capital Bikeshare.

A very popular destination are the city's picturesque beaches. Riding a bike there, and everywhere, you quickly notice is that there are lots of marked bike lanes that share the road with cars and bikeways that are totally separated and shared only with pedestrians.


Left: A separated bikeway and pedestrian strip. Markings, signal and signs visible. Right: A protected bike lane with marking and bicycle traffic light ahead.

This makes riding a bike feel very safe, which is probably why it is rare to see people wearing helmets. On the beach, the pedestrian and bike path is plenty wide to accommodate everyone, even at the busiest times. Finding a bike rack there as well as everywhere else in the city is also a breeze, with some located right on the boardwalk leading onto the sand.


Bike parking in front of Antonio Gaudi's Casa Batllo.

At the Arc de Triomf and neighboring Ciutadella Park, wide sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes make getting around easy, fast and safe. In the Gothic District, typically narrow one way streets in the oldest part of town mean that biking and walking are the only fast way to get around.

The only place you have to get off your bike (which is very much worth doing!) is the the famous La Rambla, the main street in the old town. The reason you have to dismount is not cars or buses, but throngs of people. La Rambla is not a pedestrian only mall, like those in many downtowns around the US and world, because it has one lane on each side for car traffic but it has a wide strip in the middle reserved for foot traffic, of which there is plenty.

In the photo below, the car lanes are visible on each side, along with the Metro entrance located at the end of La Rambla. During our visit, we didn't go into the underground, but Metro stops were plentiful and well-marked.


The north end of La Rambla. Metro station in foreground.

Nearly seven miles of bike riding made it clear that bike is the best way to get around Barcelona. We encountered some road construction with clearly marked the detours for cyclists and cars alike, showing that both are valued and considered during traffic disruptions. We also saw the Barcelona tram, which made me think about the multiple modes you could easily use in the city.


One of Barcelona's trams.

By bike, you can also get to the Montjuic Castle and the old Olympic Stadium, which are on a hill overlooking the city. Bikeways and connecting bike lanes along the beach make for a quick ride with plenty of sightseeing. Instead of climbing the hill to the castle, you can ride the Teleferic de Montjuic—a gondola operated by the same company that runs the Metro and bus service (fare system is separate for the gondola though).

In this instance, a gondola seemed like the perfect mode to take you to the top and back quickly and efficiently. It also gives riders an amazing panoramic view of the city and a cyclist time to rest the legs.

On the way to return our rentals we enjoyed more sights and sounds of the city. At this point, you notice that most car traffic was fairly confined to a few large boulevards, and in those places room is almost always reserved on the side or in the middle for bikeways and walkways. The central gathering places for people almost always seem to be planned around bikes and pedestrians, with cars being an afterthought.


Image from Google Maps.

In Barcelona, it was obvious that planning for bike riders, giving wide sidewalks to pedestrians, and connecting all those facilities with well marked and signaled infrastructure encouraged people to use those modes. Combining that with mass transit like a subway, light rail, or buses (even gondola, where it's useful!) can get people moving effectively and create more livable and beautiful city landscapes.

In a lot of our region's densely-populated areas already have bike lanes, but there isn't always separation from car traffic. And that's what makes the biggest difference. In Barcelona, it feels as though all but the busiest streets are for bikes and people rather than just cars.

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


These two new short bike lanes, called "pocket lanes," help traffic flow and keep cyclists safe

There are some unusual new bike lanes at two intersections in DC. They keep traffic moving more smoothly and protect cyclists from a dangerous situation: where they're going straight but a driver to their left is turning right.


Photo by Mike Goodno, DDOT's bike lane designer.

The District Department of Transportation recently installed "pocket lanes" on southbound 2nd Street NE at Massachusetts Avenue and at Hawaii Avenue and Taylor Street NE. A type of through bike lane that's less than a block long and doesn't continue on the other side of the intersection, they sit between the lane for going straight or turning left and the right turn lane.

Pocket lanes have several uses, and they make intersections more efficient for everyone. For starters, they keep people on bikes who are heading straight through an intersection from having to wait behind a queue of left-turning vehicles, whose drivers are in turn waiting for a break in oncoming traffic. They also keep drivers from having to wait in line behind a cyclist who's traveling straight.

Another benefit is that they give people on bikes their own space that's to the left of right-turning traffic, which prevents a situation known as the "right hook." The "right hook" occurs when a driver who's turning right hits a cyclist riding on the right hand side of traffic and going straight.

With the 2nd Street example, traffic often backs up there because there's only one lane for either continuing straight on 2nd or turning left onto Massachusetts. The pocket lane allows cyclists to ride past the backed up traffic, and to be to the left of cars turning right. Here's what the intersection looked like before the new pocket lane:


Image from Google Maps.

Here's a shot of the pocket lane at Hawaii and Taylor:


Photo by Mike Goodno.

These lanes work when engineers can narrow the adjacent travel lanes to fit a pocket lane beside a right-turn only lane. Protected bike lanes are still the safest option, but in places where space is constrained this can make cycling more efficient and possibly safer.

DDOT is actively looking for more locations where they can add pocket lanes. If you have suggestions, contact Mike Goodno (mike.goodno@dc.gov).

Roads


This Capitol Hill throughway will get safer for bikes and pedestrians, but some say not safe enough

A dangerous stretch of Maryland Avenue NE, a street that runs diagonally through Capitol Hill, will soon narrow from four lanes to two, with a 10-foot median and painted bike lanes. The people making the changes say there isn't enough space for protected bikeways, which would separate cyclists from cars, but bike advocates disagree.


Maryland Avenue NE, where it crosses both 7th and D Streets. A cab driver ran over a pedestrian here in June 2014.

The section of Maryland Avenue between 3rd and 15th Streets has been particularly thorny for people not traveling by car. In June 2014, a driver ran over and badly injured a pedestrian in a crosswalk on the street. Despite the District's Department of Transportation adding flex posts in summer of 2014 to narrow the road and installing speed cameras in October 2015, speeding continues to be a problem.

"Even with all the new barriers, I would never risk crossing at that intersection," a resident told WAMU in 2015. "I always go down to the light because people don't stop. I have seen people not stop for walkers in the crosswalk."

Neighborhood leaders have kept pressure on DDOT to make more concrete changes, and the agency recently accelerated plans to cut the number of driving lanes on Maryland Avenue (a move known as a "road diet").

The proposed changes, which are part of a bigger effort called the Pedestrian Safety Project, will narrow the road from four 11-foot wide lanes to two by converting two lanes in each direction into painted bike lanes and building a 10-foot-wide median that becomes a dedicated left turn lane at intersections. These changes would be a big step forward, especially because as of now, cyclists have nowhere to ride except in the same lanes as cars.


Image from DDOT.

But the fact that the bike lanes are painted lanes that sit between parked cars and traffic rather than protected bikeways to the right of parked cars is frustrating to a lot of people who get around by bike, myself included.

While DDOT claims the painted bike lanes are all that can fit into the project due to space restrictions, Greg Billing, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, the region's biggest bike advocacy group, says "there's certainly space" for a protected bikeway.


Image from Google Maps.

Why painted lanes?

According to George Branyan, the pedestrian program coordinator at DDOT and project manager for the Maryland Avenue redesign, the current plan is to go with painted bike lanes that are five or six feet wide. A protected bikeway, he says, would have to be eight feet wide, and between the traffic lanes, the median, and the parking spaces, there just isn't space.

One response to this might be to simply make the median smaller, but Branyan says that isn't an option because at intersections, the median will become a left turn lane, meaning it can't be narrower than a travel lane.

Yes, DDOT could simply remove that dedicated left turn lane. But a big factor here is also the fact that some residents are concerned that if cars get less priority on Maryland Avenue, traffic will back up and more cars them will spill over onto surrounding streets.

Removing the left turn lane could also affect the efficiency of the X8 bus route, which travels the entirety of Maryland Ave NE between 3rd and 15th Streets.

Finally, Branyan says the combined width of the car traffic lane and painted bike lane also serves another purpose: allowing emergency vehicles to pass through traffic. With the painted bike lanes, each lane of travel is effectively 16 feet wide—meaning an emergency vehicle will be able to pass a passenger car in that space.

Not so fast—protected bikeways aren't impossible

Billing says he and his organization are fully behind a road diet for Maryland Avenue, but adds that there is in fact room for protected bikeways.

While removing parking might be politically unpopular, he says, the parked car lane (which is eight feet wide in the proposed design) could be narrower: cars are typically 6½ feet wide, so seven-foot-wide parking lanes should suffice. That'd mean an extra foot on each side of the street.

Billing also says the travel lanes themselves, which are currently slated to be 11 feet wide, could be a foot narrower. That'd provide an extra foot on each side, which is enough when you add it to the six feet currently set aside for the painted bike lanes.

Narrower travel lanes, Billing adds, would have the added bonus of being safer for pedestrians because drivers tend to drive more slowly on narrower lanes, and there'd be less distance to have to cover when walking across the road.

Let's welcome a road diet but push for the best one possible

Under the current design plan, the road's speed limit will remain 25 mph plus the lanes will get narrower. Between that and the painted bike lanes, the current plan would make Maryland Avenue safer for cyclists. But there's also space to make it a whole lot safer.

There is clearly reason to ask why DDOT can't do better by including protected bikeways in the design. Protected bikeways would further contribute to the traffic-calming effect of the design by resulting in narrower travel lanes. And they would protect cyclists from having to veer into traffic to avoid issues like double parked cars and standing vehicles.

While it has taken Capitol Hill residents and safe streets activists time to get to a concrete proposal for a safer Maryland Avenue, this new design should be the beginning of a conversation that focuses on what residents, pedestrians, and cyclists really want from their streets: do we want streets redesigned to be safer while inconveniencing cars as little as possible (as this design seems to do)? Or do we want streets redesigned to put the use and safety of pedestrians and cyclists first, even if it means impacting traffic?

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's harmful traffic law needs to go, one way or another

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.

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.

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.

Bicycling


How healthy is bike commuting? More than you might think.

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.


Photo by Heber Farnsworth on Flickr.

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."

Bicycling


A law that blames you, instead of the driver who hit you, could soon meet its end

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—in fact, Alabama and North Carolina are the only states aside from those in our region not to have moved to an alternative legal standard that compares the fault of the parties and allocates responsibility to pay damages according to who was more to blame, known as comparative fault.

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.

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