A Leadership Transition Update

As my departure from WABA approaches, I wanted to take a moment to inform members, supporters, and friends about our organization’s transition plan. Even before I publicly announced that I would be stepping down from WABA several months ago, board and staff began planning for a smooth leadership transition that would ensure there would be no gap in our services to our members or the community, and no drop in our capacity to represent bicycling and bicyclists throughout the region.
Nelle Pierson

Nelle Pierson, Interim Executive Director

To lead the organization’s operations through this transition period, I am pleased to announce that Nelle Pierson will serve as WABA’s Interim Executive Director starting July 1st, and has agreed to serve in that role until a new Executive Director is selected and confirmed by the board. The board and staff have the utmost confidence in Nelle’s ability to guide the organization. I know that many of you are already familiar with Nelle’s work. She has served WABA in several capacities over the years, starting as a volunteer, then joining the staff as WABA’s events coordinator, and now leading our outreach efforts–including oversight of the DC Bike Ambassador and Arlington PAL Ambassador programs, the Women & Bicycles program, East of the Anacostia outreach program, Bike Commuter Seminars program, and Suburban Outreach program. These programs will all continue without disruption, and I am grateful to the staff and volunteers who have agreed to step up their efforts and ensure that they continue to succeed, allowing Nelle to focus her attention more broadly. Again, I thank you all for your support over the years, and I ask you to support Nelle similarly as she leads WABA through this period of transition.  

Thank you for five great years

Five years ago I came to WABA with a list of priorities that I believed the organization should pursue to make biking safer and more popular throughout the region. For the last five years, I have led the organization, systematically realizing those priorities in pursuit of our mission. Today, it is with a great sense of pride in our accomplishments and in recognition of the need for new priorities and new challenges—both for WABA, and for me—that I write to tell you that at the end of June I will be stepping down as WABA’s Executive Director. There is only so long one’s transportation, recreation, and occupation can overlap so significantly before one’s mind starts to look outside for new things to learn, new challenges to address, and new ways to contribute. I am immeasurably grateful to the WABA board, staff, and members for supporting the priorities that brought me to the organization. We have worked every day, many nights, and countless weekends to make biking available to all the region’s residents as a tool to access opportunity, not just a niche cause. And while there is a long way to go, I am proud of our work to grow and diversify the region’s biking community, while also doing the hard work to make every person safer while riding. Take away the fancy words and that’s what it’s all about: making biking safe and popular. And it’s been a privilege to make that my mission for a half-decade in the city and region that I love. I am sad to be leaving WABA. It is a wonderful organization and this is a wonderful job. But it is time for a new direction. As I consider and seek that new challenge and new way to contribute, I want to thank each of you for your support. I have had the privilege of knowing that whatever I have done here at WABA, I have had the support of tens of thousands of people behind me. For that, I am incredibly grateful. And, please, remember that even when you’re out there riding alone, you are part of the WABA community. With every turn of the pedals, you have tens of thousands of people behind you, should you need them. The best part of this job has been coming to know that with absolute certainty. In the coming weeks, the WABA board will be conducting an open search for WABA’s next Executive Director. The position description is here, and I encourage everyone reading this to take a moment to reflect on whether you are the person WABA needs next. Again, thank you. If you have questions or concerns, reply to this email. Or catch me at Bike to Work Day or Tour de Fat. It’s nearly Bike Month, after all, and I plan to truly enjoy this one. Best, Shane

District Seeking Advisors on Recreational Trails Priorities

DC Residents: The Mayor’s Office of Talent Acquisition (MOTA) is seeking three new appointees to the District’s Recreational Trails Advisory Committee. This Committee advises the District on how to use approximately $700K in annual Federal Highway Administration passthrough dollars, designated in the National Recreational Trails Fund Act. The Mayor’s office is looking for a diversity of user types, as the funds are for all types of trail users–hikers, bikers, ATV riders, snowmobilers, skiers, etc. But given a realistic look at who the primary and lawful trail users are in a fully urban District, it is important to ensure that the perspective of people who bike is well-represented on the Committee. If you are interested in applying, you can do so through the MOTA website, here.

“Las Bicicletas” Coming to Pennsylvania Avenue

las bicicletasYou’re about to see more big, vibrant bikes in DC—and we don’t mean Capital Bikeshare expansion. For the month of March, the Reagan Building Plaza right next to the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes will house eighty colorful, bike-shaped metal sculptures. They are designed to make us slow down and consider the environmental and community health impacts of bicycling, and they come to us from internationally renowned Mexican artist Gilberto Aceves Navarro. Aceves Navarro is one of the most celebrated representatives of abstract expressionism in Mexico. He has received, among others, the National University Award (Premio Universidad Nacional, granted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico) in 1989, the National Prize for Arts and Sciences (Premio Nacional de Ciencias y Artes) in 2003 and the Medal for Merit in Fine Arts and Sciences (Medalla de Bellas Artes) in 2011. He has been invited on numerous occasions to show his work in Germany, Japan, Colombia and the United States. In 2008, the first retrospective of his career featured over 400 of his works at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Since the 1970s, Aceves Navarro has influenced generations of artists through his academic work in the ENAP and in his private studio. Now over 80, he still paints every day, confirming that “drawing is fundamental to my life.”  Aceves Navarro’s work has also been described as a precursor to figurative expressionism. As a celebration of Aceves Navarro’s 83rd birthday, 83 sculptures will be exhibited in DC for the public to enjoy during the month of March 2015. The complete urban exhibit is comprised by 250 bicycle sculptures in black, white, red and orange; colors that were used by the Mayan culture to symbolize the four cardinal points. Aceves Navarro created Las Bicicletas as a means of promoting, through art, the universal acknowledgement of bicycles as “vehicles of happiness and health,” and in interviews has reflected on the important economic and transportation role bicycles filled during his youth in Mexico. The message of this work aligns perfectly with WABA’s mission, as we promote a city and region designed so that bikes can again play a major part in our transportation network. We also share Navarro’s belief in the power of bikes to reduce carbon emissions, bring about happiness and enhance community health. In the past, we have lacked the resources and ability to spread this message outside a small group of engaged bicyclists. Specifically, reaching out to the large regional community of Spanish speakers has been a challenge for us. It is a challenge we have been working to overcome, however, because we recognize the importance of ensuring that our work serves the diverse region we live in. Regional statistics show us that the places with high concentrations of Spanish speakers also have some of the highest crash rates and least safe traffic conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians. Because this failure of design raises serious environmental justice concerns, we intend to enhance our advocacy efforts to improve bicycling conditions and safety in these parts of our region. We will also expand and improve our outreach and education programming to better serve Spanish speakers. Over the past year, we have added Spanish-speaking staff to our outreach and education staff. We have conducted classes in Spanish in partnership with La Clínica del Pueblo and Bike Arlington. And we have developed Bike Ambassador materials intended to serve and engage Spanish speakers. Now, we are looking for partners and funders interested in helping us to expand our regional bicycling community to be more inclusive of Spanish speakers, to address the environmental justice issues revealed in crash data, and to expand our programming to serve the region more comprehensively. Thus, as we seek to bring attention to our fledgling Spanish-language program and our need for partners in the Spanish-speaking community, we are delighted to welcome to DC this amazing exhibit. Navarro’s sculptures not only beautifully draw attention to the bicycle and its benefits to communities, but also unify us with others in our region who view bicycles as important to the city’s health and happiness. We look forward to building partnerships that will enhance our Spanish-language capacities and better serve our entire region, and we invite all WABA members and supporters to join us at a cocktail reception and special viewing of the sculptures at the Mexican Cultural Institute on March 5th. What: Cocktail Reception and Special Viewing of “Las Bicicletas” sculptures, with artist Gilberto Aceves Navarro When: March 5th, 6pm to 8pm Where: Mexican Cultural Institute, 2829 16th Street, NW, 20009    

DC Judge Upholds Three Foot Law; Case Highlights Need for Contrib Reform

Last week in the District’s small claims court, Judge Michael O’Keefe made a significant ruling for District bicyclists. In the incident at-issue, a driver passed a cyclist too closely, leading to a crash that caused minor injuries and property damage for the cyclist.
  • MPD failed to cite the driver for passing too closely. In fact, MPD initially cited the cyclist.
  • The US Attorney’s office declined to bring any criminal charges against the driver whatsoever.
  • The relevant insurer wrongly declined to pay the cyclist’s damages, citing his contributory negligence for being in the road and failing to move out of the way of the unsafe driver.
After months of work prodding these three entities to do their jobs and coming up empty, the cyclist was left with no recourse but to bring a civil case himself.  Despite knowing that his damages exceeded its $5000 limit, he chose to proceed in the District’s small claims civil court. Pursuing a small claim was actually his only choice, as he was unable to secure an attorney willing to represent him due to the relatively low amount at stake and the prior, incorrect, decisions of MPD and the insurer. Because the incident was caught on a handlebar-mounted camera, the facts of the incident were minimally disputed, and the court was able to focus squarely on the law. WABA provided expert testimony on the application of DC traffic laws to bicyclists, with topics ranging from the purpose and usage of “sharrows” to the details of the three foot passing law. Ultimately, based on the video and his reading of the law, Judge O’Keefe ruled in favor of the cyclist. The judge found that the driver had violated the three-foot passing law and that this aggressive pass caused the resulting harms. When will police start enforcing the three foot passing Law?  This case showed that the three foot passing law can play a role in helping cyclists secure civil recovery for damages. That is good. But it is not the law’s intended purpose. The law is meant to enable police to ticket motorists who unsafely pass bicyclists. It is meant to impose consequences on unsafe behavior and, ultimately, to make bicyclists safer. In this case, the cyclist showed the same video of the same behavior to District police officers as he showed to the Superior Court Judge. If it was good enough for the judge, why wasn’t it good enough for the officer? What will it take for local police to actually enforce safe passing laws that now exist in the District, Maryland, and Virginia? And in the District, what will it take for the US Attorney’s office to pursue charges against drivers who illegally harm cyclists? When will insurers properly apply the law to cyclists?  Initially, the insurance company denied the cyclist’s claim outright, stating that he was contributorily negligent for failing to move out of the way of the motorist. First, that’s a grossly incorrect understanding of the law. (We can say that with certainty now that Judge O’Keefe has weighed in.) But because of contributory negligence, that misunderstanding is as far as the insurer has to go. If it can find any fault on the cyclist’s part, it doesn’t even have to look at the motorist’s behavior. It just denies the claim, using a misreading of the law as the trigger to apply contributory negligence as a knockout rule. Last week, Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced a bill in D.C. Council to address this issue. The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015, if passed, would change D.C. law so that the contributory negligence of a bicyclist or pedestrian could not be used to deny coverage so long as he or she was 50% or less responsible for his or her own injuries. This would mean that contributory negligence would no longer be a “knockout rule.” Insurers might still get the law wrong–though we hope the industry will recognize the need for improvement and offer training on bicycling law–but under the proposed rule, the insurer would still be required to examine the fault of other parties and determine the responsibility of each party. Conclusion There is a lot to unpack in this case but it’s clear that many of the systems in place to protect bicyclists are broken. With little recourse, crash victims find themselves fighting, rather than working with, the institutions that are supposed to bring justice. This case highlights the fact that the small claims court process works, but imperfectly. Winning this case required time, a tenacious cyclist, video evidence, and WABA’s presence in court. The cyclist has been without compensation for the more than six months since the crash  And even after a favorable judgement, the cyclist won’t receive full monetary recovery. The system needs to change, and it can start with the changing fundamental legal expectation that bicyclists must be without error to be compensated for injuries and damage caused by the negligence of a driver.

Contributory Negligence Bill Tabled for 2014

P1040434-edited Today, D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety tabled a proposed bill to improve access to compensation for crash victim–effectively killing it for this legislative session. Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced the motion to table. Councilmember Evans (Ward 2) and Chairman Mendelson voted to table the bill. Councilmember Wells (Ward 6) voted against the motion. The “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014” (Bill 20-844) was introduced by Councilmember Grosso, Wells and Cheh in July to provide relief to vulnerable roadway users whose claims are inappropriately denied by insurers, and who cannot secure representation in the courts due to the economic effect of the liability standard. We are deeply disappointed that the economic concerns of the insurance industry and the D.C. Trial Lawyers Association derailed progress on a bill that would have meaningfully helped hundreds of crash victims receive the recovery they are fairly due for injuries resulting from another party’s negligence. We will continue to work to resolve this systemic problem.

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Keeping Score on DC Legislative Positions, Starting with the Contrib Bill

As many of you know, WABA is working hard to change the contributory negligence doctrine in DC. We have been publicly pushing for this change for years because of the negative effects the doctrine has on the District’s cyclists. Hundreds of you emailed your Councilmembers to show support for a bill that would change the doctrine to the fairer comparative negligence. However, the insurance industry and others oppose the bill, and have sent a swarm of lobbyists to work the Wilson Building and sway the votes of our elected officials. So, it’s time to publicly hold those Councilmembers accountable for their votes and show everyone which officials use their power to support people who bike, and which officials bow to insurance industry lobbyists. The Scoring System We view it as our responsibility to educate our members and the public on  key votes by elected officials that affect cyclists in the District.* On key bills affecting bicyclists, we will score each legislator’s Yes/No vote on a 0-100 scale. A vote in support of the bicycling position will receive a score of 100. A vote against the interest of bicycling will receive a score of 0. Individual votes will be averaged, and the legislator assigned the appropriate letter grade based on that score, using a quintile system. (So, 0-20 is F, 21-40 is D, 41-60 is C, 61-80 is B, and 81-100 is A.) Results of scored votes will be shared with all DC members and supporters via email once the vote is complete, and maintained on the WABA website, both on the homepage and in the “Resources” section. Scoring Votes on B20-0884, The Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014  When over 600 DC residents email their legislators on an issue this important to crash victims and all bicyclists, we need those legislators to listen to those constituents–not to the paid lobbyists protecting their industry’s financial interests at the expense of justice. With only a handful of legislative days left in this Council session, let’s find out who’s listening to whom and make our officials accountable for their decisions that directly affect our safety. A vote in favor of the bill will receive a score of 100. A vote against the bill, or a procedural vote that would have the effect of delaying the bill past the present Council session (causing it to fail without voting against it) will receive a score of zero. We will release the initial report card to members, supporters, and the public–based on votes on B20-0884–the day after a vote is taken. As the Council votes on other relevant legislation, we well include those votes on the scorecard as well. If you haven’t yet, write your councilmembers today:

Take action

* We’re testing this advocacy tool in the District. If it proves effective, we’ll try adding our other jurisdictions.  

Proposed Sidewalk Biking Ban: Bad Bill, Good Opportunity.

Yesterday, Councilmember Jim Graham introduced a bill that would ban bicyclists from riding on the sidewalk in the District wherever there is a bike lane in the same direction. In the accompanying press release, Graham cites as a reason for the bill the death of 78-year old Quan Chu, who was struck by a bicyclist while walking with his wife. This event was tragic, but it did not take place on a sidewalk. We recognize that as more people bike and walk in the District, it is important to have clear norms for interactions between bicyclists and pedestrians to keep people safe. We also recognize that the present regulation of bicyclists on the sidewalk makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. For those who don’t know, the present system is to:
  1. prohibit bikes in an arbitrarily shaped “Central Business District,”
  2. place no signage telling anyone where that is,
  3. place bike parking and actual bikeshare stations on the sidewalks in that zone, then
  4. occasionally have MPD ticket bicyclists for using the bike infrastructure the District placed on the sidewalk in the area where the District prohibits sidewalk riding.
It is tempting to simply oppose Graham’s bill because it’s out of touch with the realities of urban riding—we need safe alternatives for novice cyclists when bike lanes are blocked or other safety needs would lead a cyclist to leave the roadway.  But simply opposing any legislation to deal with the sidewalk issue would be a missed opportunity to improve and rationalize the District’s regulation of the relationship between bicyclists and pedestrians. To do that, we need to insist on evidence-based policy that accounts for real behaviors and real safety needs. We can’t just assume that because a bike lane exists, bicycling there is safe at all times. Similarly, we can’t just assume that because a sidewalk exists, bicycling is unsafe there at all times. Rather, we need to dig into the details and plan for pedestrians and bicyclists with a data-driven approach that accounts for congestion levels and actual safety. We need to avoid the hyperbolic rhetoric about crashes that, while sad, are not relevant to the bill. And we need to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to take away portions of the public space from vulnerable users due to unsubstantiated fears and biases. Instead, let’s invest our energy in taking policy steps that would actually make pedestrians safer on the sidewalks and bicyclists safer on physically protected infrastructure. We would like to work with our legislators and pedestrian advocates to improve the District’s regulation of public space for public safety. But this bill presents a lazy one-size-fits-all approach that assumes a bike lane is “good enough” to foreclose other options for people who bike, and we know that simply isn’t how things work in the real world. At a minimum, the bill should be amended to only ban sidewalk riding where there is a physically protected, unobstructed bike lane (also called a cycletrack). But we would prefer an approach that involved DDOT’s bicycle and pedestrian staff in examining sidewalk widths, bike/ped travel rates, and congestion to more sensibly address the issue. Adding this bike-lane-based ban to the current silly system only makes the system sillier–ensuring that it won’t be enforced or paid attention by anyone. I challenge Councilmember Graham and his colleagues on the Council, if this issue is an issue they wish to focus on, to invest the effort to produce a bill that will rationalize our policy and improve public safety. This bill doesn’t do that, and WABA therefore opposes it. But we remain eager to participate in crafting a bill that would address Councilmember Graham’s underlying concern in a more comprehensive and data-driven way, in hopes of improving safety for all. Meanwhile, we’ll keep our focus on the solutions for the hundreds of pedestrians and bicyclists hit and injured by automobiles each year in the District (427 at the time of this writing). We invite our elected officials to take a leadership role in solving that problem as well.

A Fuller Description of the Contributory Negligence Problem for Bicyclists

Clicking the link below will take those who are interested to a post that more fully articulates the problems contributory negligence poses for bicyclists. It’s a long read, but I’ve received many questions and decided to write this fuller post on Medium (1) in hopes that it reaches new readers, and (2) to allow readers to engage via Medium’s commenting feature. The Duties of Prescience & Perfection