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Council Passes the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015

Yesterday, in addition to the kerfuffle over the contributory negligence fix bill, the council quietly passed the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015 in a unanimous vote.  I expect Mayor Bowser to sign it. 

this bill makes changes to District law regarding motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians. It requires the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to publish certain statistical and geographical data on its website, establishes a safety program called the Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Area Program, orders DDOT to adopt an inclusive policy for accommodating all users of the District's roadways, and amends existing public safety laws by creating new motor vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle regulations.

Here is what the bill originally contained, and what it was later modified to contain. There's a lot of good stuff in this bill (even if that doesn't include the Idaho Stop or increased fines for repeat offenders). The mandatory use of interlock for everyone convicted of drunk driving and the revocation of licenses from repeat drunk drivers being among the most noteworthy.

Is the New York Avenue Trail in trouble? (short answer: yeah, it is)

For a few years now, DDOT has been looking at building a rail-trail parallel to New York Avenue from the Union Market area to West Virginia Avenue (and possibly on to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail). In fact, earlier this year they released a rails-to-trails produced feasibility study of such a trail.

But recently it was announced that VRE had its eye on the same space, including the rail tunnel beneath New York Ave. 

image from washcycle.typepad.com

The concept map of it shows VRE using the old rail right of way to navigate to the tunnel, pass under NY Ave through it and then to the new "Broccoli" rail yard on the north side of New York Avenue.

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But that is also space planned for use for the trail.

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And it doesn't get much better on the north side of NY Avenue. Drawings show the tracks and adjacent access road extending all the way over to the existing sidewalk, with just a retaining wall separating them. It even needs the footprint the Howard Johnson's Motel sits on. 

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So if you support the trail, it's more than reasonable to be worried. As presently configured, there's no way to fit both the trail and trains through the tunnel and as shown in the image above there isn't room for both the rail yard and the trail north of New York Avenue. This design is incompatible with the trail.

But...it's possible the tunnel could be widened and space made for the trail, either by sharing the service road or decking over the rail yard. For a little hope, a task identified in the design RFP is:

the Consultant shall examine the engineering feasibility of decking over the propose storage facility for the purposes of joint development. Possibilities to be examined shall be determined in consultation with the District of Columbia government. The work product for this task shall consist of a draft and final Ancillary Development Report that describes potential solutions, provides additional descriptive details for potential uses for air-rights development, potential NEPA implications, and rough-order-of magnitude cost estimates for the feasible solutions.

All things considered, I'm certainly less confident about the trail being built now than I was before. And if you tell me the rail yard is a done deal, then I'm going to be significantly less confident. It's possible the tunnel could be widened and a deck built for the trail or some other accommodation, but I'm pessimistic about it happening. I'd say the chance the trail is built now is at about 20%, and the chance that the rail yard and trail are built is about 2%. But maybe I'm just grumpy today.

How is AAA's John Townsend Lying today?

From the City Paper

In an email, John Townsend, an AAA Mid-Atlantic manager, said many had concerns since "there was never a public hearing on the measure, short-circulating the democratic process."

That's odd, because when you read the Committee Report on this bill it reads

Screenshot 2016-06-29 at 12.23.49 AM

That bill is the predecessor to the one that is being considered now, and in most ways is the same. No one from AA, including John Townsend, bothered to show up to that hearing. I guess it wasn't that important to him. 

 

Contributory Negligence fix bill is reportedly in big trouble

This post has been updated to reflect what McDuffie is proposing.

With a vote scheduled for today, the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016 (aka: the bill that will end the use of contributory negligence to deny coverage to a vulnerable road user (VRU) who was 50% or less responsible for her injuries) which seemed to be sailing along is now in trouble according to Martin Di Caro. 

In a series of tweets yesterday, Di Caro reported that Councilmember McDuffie "would rather not see [the] bike safety bill taken up without his amendment tomorrow. Could he move to table?" and that he would propose an amendment during the Council's legislative session, which Mary Cheh would oppose. 

The amendment, Di Caro reported today, would change the standard from the one Mary Cheh proposed in 2015 to a hybrid between that and what was proposed when Tommy Wells tried to fix this in 2014 (the bill Cheh helped kill). Here's that explained in one chart.

Comparecontrib

The red line is what is currently in place. The blue line is what Cheh's law would propose and the green line is what was proposed in 2014. McDuffie is proposing the purple line such that when the vulnerable road user (VRU) is less than 50% at fault they get a payment in proportion to the driver's fault, but when they're more than 50% at fault they get nothing. This is what the committee report calls the Modified Comparative <50%. [Update: The committee report does recommend that DC law institute a modified comparative negligence standard in the District, even though it passed the bill as written by Cheh. That report comes from McDuffie and I have no idea who writes them.]

This is a definite downgrade and Mary Cheh is right to fight the amendment. It means that when drivers are less than fully at fault but primarily at fault, they get to use comparative negligence, but when they're somewhat at fault but not primarily at fault they pay nothing. 51% at fault - only pay 51% of the damages. 49% at fault, pay nothing. It's definitely to the advantage of the drivers (if you doubt that ask yourself if they would be willing to reverse it). 

It's true that the standard the current bill is proposing would be novel and that no one in the country uses it (while 34 states use the Modified Comparative <50% standard), but that doesn't mean it isn't less fair. If the proposal is to go to pure comparative - that would be acceptable, but despite being better than the status quo, modified comparative still puts an undue burden on vulnerable road users.

Of course one could argue that even pure comparative (PC) isn't quite as good. If every VRU who is injured sued under both formats (PC and Cheh's) than - on average - you'd expect the same amount of money to flow from drivers/insurance companies to  (assuming that fault is evenly distributed) because the area under the curves is the same. It would just that more would go to VRUs who are a little bit at fault and none to VRUs who are a lot at fault. But not every VRU would sue under PC. VRUs who are primarily at fault wouldn't sue to get 5-10% compensation, since they'd be at higher risk of getting nothing. So the curve for comparative payouts would taper out at the lower numbers. This would mean that under PC, less money would flow from at-fault drivers to injured VRUs than under Cheh's bill. Driver's who were primarily at fault would only pay for some of the damage, and drivers who are little at fault would pay nothing - much as is the case in modified comparative. 

WABA had a rally this morning outside of the Wilson Building from 8:30 to 9:15 am.If you couldn't make it, write your CM 

Bicycle house calls

Interesting.

Brick-and-mortar retailer Bike Doctor has operated a franchise business for 24 years. Now the Maryland retailer is looking to take the franchise model to the road with mobile bike repair, called Bike Doctor Mobile.

Bike Doctor hasn't sold any franchise vans yet, but Ruck said he's talking to several interested parties and getting them set up.

Bike Doctor has a web portal through which customers can book service appointments, and Ruck said it's a turnkey operation. "Once we meet the franchisee and do the whole process, we turn them over trained and ready to operate on their own with a vehicle built out and inventory in place," he said.

From the Archives: The Palisades Citizens Association 1979 Recreation Master Plan

From the May24th-June6th, 1979 Northwest Current

Screenshot 2016-06-25 at 9.17.45 AM

If you haven't already, it's time to cancel your AAA membership

AAA is fighting the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act that will end contributory negligence for cyclists and pedestrians on the grounds that it will raise insurance rates (which is what one would expect when drivers are required to reimburse cyclists and pedestrians for crashes in which the driver was primarily responsible).

AAA would like to keep insurance rates low by making non-motorized victims of motor vehicle crashes pay for their own surgeries and physical therapy. Why should drivers have to pay for the hips they crush through distracted driving, they figuratively ask?  

They claim that insurance rates could go up by 24.4% - according to a study done by the Insurance Industry. [Here's my bet that it won't go up by anything near that amount]. But if that's true, then drivers are walking away from a lot of shattered tibias and traumatic brain injuries, that they have primarily caused, without the inconvenience of paying for them. It is a sweet set-up, and AAA, which is just looking out for drivers, doesn't want them to have to stop putting Moms in the hospital. 

But they're all about safety.

Here's Jon Townsend's email - jtownsend@aaamidatlantic.com - just in case.

Cyclist killed in hit and run in SE

This morning around 1am, an adult male cyclist riding along Minnesota Ave SE was struck by a car after which the driver left the scene. Later, the cyclist died. The police haven't released much information, though they promised they would later today.

Few details were immediately available. Aquita Brown, a D.C. police spokeswoman, said the victim had not been identified as of 9:30 a.m.

The incident happened around 1 a.m. in the 2700 block of Minnesota Avenue SE.

The cyclist was in critical condition for much of the day, which makes the running part of the hit and run all the more infuriating. A few more seconds or minutes - might have made all the difference (I don't know that for a fact, I'm just speculating). 

Here's an updated link to my ever more depressing map.

Statistically speaking, few hit and run drivers are caught unless there is an eyewitness, but DC does have a lot of cameras around (though not an MPD CCTV one) so perhaps something can be found.

Not the most recent bicycle fatality in DC, but the one before that was also a hit-and-run, and that driver was caught, convicted and sentenced to 17 months in jail.

 

What ever happened to treating bike share as transit for tax purposes?

In case you were wondering about this, the short answer is you still can't do it (and yet without this "bailout" Citibike still somehow remains in operation). 

Here's the long answer.

The bike commuter benefit was the brainchild of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and was included in tax extenders legislation that passed Congress in 2008 as part of the bailout bill - the same one that created TARP - and signed into law by George W. Bush. Oddly enough, Blumenauer voted against the bill, because it was not paid for, and Republicans voted for it even thought it wasn't. Such is politics. This was before bike sharing was really a big deal - CaBi had launched only a few days beforehand - and so the bill didn't mention it. Since then, bike sharing became a thing that people actually use to commute to work and they want to use their Bike Commuter Benefit (if they get one) or their transit benefit to pay for their membership and fees. 

In 2013, the IRS was asked if it could "adopt bike share as a qualifier for the Transportation (Commuting) Benefits program under the Fringe Benefit Exclusion Rules for transit," the same rules under which employers can give tax free transportation benefits to employees. But in July of that year, they said no, because bike share is not mass transit.  They also said that bike share was not a qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement, which one could pay with the bicycle commuter benefit, because those were specifically limited to "expenses for the purchase of a bicycle or bicycle improvements, repair or storage."

So, a legislative fix was needed. 

In 2014, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) had an amendment added to the EXPIRE Act, an act which would extend many tax breaks that had expired (just as was the case in the 2008 legislation), that would modify the list of qualified transportation expenses to include expenses associated with the use of a bike sharing program. That amendment passed, and there was much rejoicing.  The bill was passed unanimously out of committee, but was filibustered in the Senate in a fight over amendments

In 2015, Schumer tried again. This time the vehicle was the Tax Relief Extension Act, which again dealt with tax extenders. It too got out of committee, but has never come up for a vote. Many of the tax extenders it dealt with were rolled into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, the so-called omnibus bill, but not the one dealing with bike sharing. 

So, bike sharing still can't be treated as transit or as a qualifying bike commuting expense for tax purposes, no matter how many people use it for commuting. And it appears that will continue to be true for the foreseeable future. 

Georgetown BID planning connection between the Capital Crescent and Rock Creek Park Trails

The Georgetown BID has been working for some time on a MWCOG Transportation Land-use Connections grant that will allow them to study and plan improvements to the K Street/Water Street corridor, with the focus being a bike path connection between the Capital Crescent Trail trailhead and the Rock Creek Park Trail. The study would also look at ways to improve the pedestrian spaces in the corridor. 

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As part of this process, the BID will be holding a public meeting  at Georgetown Waterfront Park on June 25th between 10 AM and Noon to go over the plan and follow it with a walking tour.

There are two phases to the K Street and Water Street Bikeway/Pedestrian Enhancements. The first is an interim phase that will go into place until the streetcar is extended. It would involve an 11' wide, two-way protected bikeway on the southside of the street, painted bicycle and pedestrian crosswalks, curb extensions and a traffic circle at the intersection of Water Street and 34th Street. Beyond 34th Street, vehicular traffic on Water street would be limit.

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The second phase, the optimum phase, would come into play when the streetcar arrives. DDOT needs the whole right-of-way for their streetcar design, so the bicycle connection would be moved to an expanded 16' wide, multi-use path on the north side of Georgetown Waterfront Park. The traffic circle, and limit access west of 34th would remain.

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It would also build a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Rock Creek on the east end.

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I suspect there are more than a few cyclists who are interested in this connection and in seeing Water Street improved. Attending this meeting is an opportunity to help with that. 

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