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Ensuring fairness for bicyclists involved in collisions

By Nikko Bilitza

Councilmember Grosso recently introduced the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014.” This bill would make it easier for cyclists to get compensation for damage sustained in accidents with cars, by ending the legal use of contributory negligence in automobile-bicycle collisions. Contributory negligence is a legal defense that argues that the plaintiff in a negligence case cannot receive compensation if they are even one percent responsible for the damage. For example, Driver A is making a left turn and hits Driver B, who was driving over the speed limit through the intersection.  Driver B sustains injuries and sues Driver A for negligence but loses because Driver B was driving over the speed limit, which contributed to the injury.

Only four states use contributory negligence, a legal defense that is unfair for traffic cases considering that plaintiffs often have to pay off expensive medical bills or vehicle repair bills. This bill will help cyclists who often get the raw end of the deal in traffic cases due to jurors or police misunderstanding how laws apply to cyclists. According to a study by the League of American Bicyclist, only 12% of fatal cyclist accidents resulted in any form of punishment for the driver or compensation for the family of the victim. These cases spurred  Councilmember Grosso to propose legislation switching to a comparative negligence standard, which stipulates that the plaintiff is compensated in proportion to their responsibility for the damage. This change is especially timely, as DDOT and Howard University recently reported a 130% increase in collisions involving cars and cyclists in the District from 2010 to 2012.

Source:  Traffic Safety Statistics Report for the District of Columbia (2010-2012) , D.C. Department of Transportation and Howard University.

Source: Traffic Safety Statistics Report for the District of Columbia (2010-2012), D.C. Department of Transportation and Howard University.

We need to make sure that cyclists affected in these accidents will receive fair and proportional compensation. The Councilmember is pushing to move the bill forward when the Council reconvenes after the summer recess on September 15.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.

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Performance Oversight Hearing recap for March 21, 2014

The winter weather has decided to stick around a little while longer and as a result of the snow, the Committee on Transportation and the Environment rescheduled the performance oversight hearing of the Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC), Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC) and the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) several times.  Finally, on Friday, March 21, the hearing got underway, and ran for six hours.

Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC):

  • In FY13, the BAC was unable to access the $10,000 budgeted for them due to a lack of clarity on the process to access the funds.
  • Frequently, the BAC makes recommendations to DDOT as it relates to bike safety and infrastructure.  BAC’s facilities committee is working to develop a mechanism to track their recommendations and whether or not DDOT has made progress to implement them.  The BAC noted that there is still not strong follow-through on the part of DDOT.

Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC):

  • In FY13, the PAC created the Enforcement & Education Committee as well as the Walking Environment Committee.  These committees work to increase awareness around pedestrian safety.
  • The PAC is continuing their efforts to advocate for more traffic control officers and expressed support for photo enforcement.
  • The PAC still has concerns with the slow progress of DDOT on addressing sidewalk gaps.

District Dept. of Transportation (DDOT):

  • For residents living within the District’s 68.3 square miles, parking can often be a challenge.  DDOT is reviewing the District-wide residential parking program (RPP) and making changes to the wards that were re-districted, as well as updating their files.  The review process is 95% complete.
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to tweet confusing parking signage to DDOT and get a response immediately?  Well Councilmember Grosso recommended this and DDOT explained that they currently receive pictures and complaints via Twitter and emails, as well as, receiving calls through 311.  DDOT officials noted that there is a 311 mobile app that allows users to upload pictures, which are then submitted to DDOT’s work order management system and assigned a ticket number.  DDOT continues to make improvements to streets signs, working block-by-block to fix confusing signage.
  • Food truck advocates expressed that while few signs do exist for street vendors, more are needed and all signs should specify the times for which vendors can park.  DDOT explained that the rollout of the Mobile Roadway Vending (MRV) locations has, overall, been good; however, they are trying to work out a few kinks.  Specifically, DDOT explained that there is a challenge with creating permanent signage (currently they provide temporary signs) because once a permanent sign goes up, it is increasingly more difficult to go back and make any adjustments to them.
  • Safety is always a priority and each year DDOT works to identify 50 dangerous intersection locations, a process that tends to take 2 years to address with the first year dedicated to design plans and the 2nd year devoted to construction.  This year, DDOT is working to provide pavement markings, high visibility signs and more.
  • More construction is on the way!  Councilmember Grosso explained that the intersection located at 4th Street, Massachusetts Avenue and H Street NW is extremely dangerous and confusing.  The Councilmember requested that a traffic control officer be placed at this location; however it won’t happen.  DDOT expressed their concerns with this intersection but stated that in a few weeks massive construction will be taking place at this site.  To assist residents with their daily commutes, DDOT stated that they will be able to produce some site maps informing residents of where major construction is taking place and offering alternative routes.

 

 

 

 

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Safety First Initiative

By Aaron Pritchard, Chief of Staff

Yesterday, WAMU reported that D.C. has a higher rate of pedestrian fatalities than the national average. With the news coverage during the first half of 2013 this should come as no surprise.   On consecutive days along Councilmember Grosso’s commute several pedestrians were hit near Union Station and another just up the street on 4th and Massachusetts NW.   After the second accident he came into the office distraught about the dangerous situation for pedestrians in our city. Our office hatched the “Safety First” initiative on that day in mid-June.

The “Safety First” initiative focuses first on improving the safety of our most vulnerable and common users of transportation – our pedestrians. Yes, many people drive, others take the metro or ride buses, and a growing number of residents bike to work – but pedestrians are everywhere, all day. Grosso’s question was: how could we begin to improve pedestrian safety in the District of Columbia immediately? We started with legislative and oversight efforts focused on pedestrian safety.

First, we inserted Budget Support Act (BSA) language that mandates that DDOT (D.C. Department of Transportation) create a safety nexus for speed cameras throughout the city. Grosso’s theory, created after months of campaign questions about speed camera’s, was that if DDOT were to incorporate speed cameras into its safety calculus, then we could use that analysis to reduce the number of serious pedestrian/car collisions in D.C.  The desired result would be that D.C. residents would trust that when speed cameras are installed, the government was motivated by improving safety, and not just increasing local revenue. D.C. residents support speed cameras, and red light camera’s, in their neighborhoods and on streets near their homes, because they understand that reducing the speed of cars creates safer communities. Our office anticipates that a safety nexus for speed cameras, rather than focusing our limited camera resources on generating revenue, will improve pedestrian safety.

The second idea came when Councilmember Grosso heard about the successful reduction in pedestrian injuries when Traffic Control Officers (TCOs) were deployed in a pilot project on Wisconsin and M Street NW. The officers issued enough tickets to cover the cost of their time working while also improving traffic flow and, most importantly, improving pedestrian safety at the intersection. We had heard of rumors of political and other reasons (not including safety) driving decisions on where TCO’s were located so we included language in the BSA that would require DDOT to identify the top ten most dangerous intersections in D.C. and to prioritize the placement of TCO’s at these intersections.

With TCO’s covering the most dangerous intersections, a secondary impact can be realized in identifying and publicizing the most dangerous intersections in our city. It is Councilmember Grosso’s hope that local activists, once notified of a dangerous intersection in their neighborhood, will pressure the D.C. Council and the Mayor’s office for more safety resources at that location. These efforts may include: educating pedestrians of the dangerous locations; implementing traffic calming devices and enforcing traffic safety laws.

Finally, during the DDOT performance oversight hearing Councilmember Grosso noticed that DDOT was not using pedestrian safety data in their agency performance measures. As a result, they were also not reporting pedestrian safety data in their yearly performance report to the D.C. Council. Councilmember Grosso raised this at the performance and budget hearings noting that pedestrian safety should be a top priority at DDOT and he requested that they include pedestrian safety data in their annual performance measures for the agency. 

Our office recognizes that there are many transportation priorities in D.C. – the streetcar, bike lanes, and other various modes – but we are keenly aware that focusing on pedestrians must also drive DDOT’s policy decisions and performance measures. Everyone, regardless of age, disability, or choice of locomotion is a pedestrian at some point. We must do better to ensure that our pedestrians are our highest priority. DDOT agreed to include pedestrian safety this year in their performance measures as a result of Grosso’s questions.  Our office looks forward to analyzing this data next year in the performance hearings.

Councilmember Grosso’s “Safety First” initiative is just a small first step, but we will continually use it to focus DDOT’s efforts on improving pedestrian safety in D.C. and on making our communities safer places to walk. If you have any suggestions or ideas for improving pedestrian safety, please contact me at apritchard@dccouncil.us .

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.

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