D.C. Bill Would Make Protected Bike Lanes Mandatory

Angry cyclists spilled into the streets outside of City Hall Friday in D.C. following the death of a prominent cycling advocate. Photo:  Alex Block
Angry cyclists spilled into the streets outside of City Hall Friday in D.C. following the death of a prominent cycling advocate. Photo: Alex Block

Activism works.

Just a week after D.C. residents took to the streets to protest the death of a local cyclist, a new measure is before City Council that would require the construction of protected bike lanes, ban right turn on red and even allow bicyclists to help enforce rules against parking in the bike lane.

The Vision Zero Omnibus Act [PDF], introduced by Councilman Charles Allen, is groundbreaking, featuring the best and most-cutting edge reforms in urban street safety — some of which have never been tried. It would:

Photo: Charles Allen /a>
Councilman Charles Allen Photo: Charles Allen

Require protected bike lanes

Just as the Massachusetts city of Cambridge did, the D.C. legislation would require the Department of Transportation to construct protected bike lanes anytime those streets need to be repaired — if those streets have already been identified as needing them. This would help avoid problems like where the city dragged its feet for two years on the construction of a bike lane through the Shaw neighborhood.

Will allow bike riders to help enforce bike lane or bus lane parkers

This revolutionary part of the bill would establish a Citizen Safety Enforcement Pilot Program, housed in the Department of Public Works. Specially trained regular residents would be given access to an app that lets them snap photos of vehicles parked in bike lanes, bus lanes or in crosswalks. The drivers who were caught with the violation would then receive a ticket.

Prohibit right turn on red

The bill would also ban right turns on red, which has proven dangerous in a dense urban setting. New York City bans right turn on red, but in the 1970s the federal government forced almost all other jurisdictions to adopt it, despite research showing it increases pedestrian crashes by 60 percent and bike crashes by 100 percent.

Towing and impounding vehicles that pose safety threats

The legislation would make it possible for the city to tow cars parked in bike lanes or on sidewalks. It would also allow the city to impound vehicles of drivers who have more than five outstanding citations for speeding at excess of 30 mph over the posted limit or for passing a vehicle that is stopped for a pedestrian — a super deadly maneuver.

Decrease speed limits on all types of streets

The bill calls for reducing speed limits on all types of streets. Allen says 20 mile per hour would be the recommended limit on residential areas. But the law doesn’t go into detail about what would be recommended on other streets.

Require additional testing for drivers

When renewing their license in the District, drivers would have to pass a “written test of local knowledge.” This, again, is pretty groundbreaking. In most jurisdictions, routine driver training and testing begins and ends at age 16.

Require developers to build sidewalks, safe drop-off zones

Any developer building more than 10 housing units would be required to provided a safe, dedicated drop-off zone — so Uber and Lyft and delivery vehicles aren’t constantly parking in bike lanes. It would also amend the city’s policy requiring developers to build sidewalks if their sites do not have them already and they are within one-tenth of a mile of a sidewalk. The new rules would require them to build sidewalks on both sides of the street instead of just one.

Developers who damage sidewalks or bike infrastructure would be fined for “each day that crosswalks and bike lanes are not returned to pre-construction condition.”

Automatic crosswalks, everywhere

When the DOT repairs a street, all the intersections that qualify as an unmarked crosswalk — basically almost every intersection — will get a marked crosswalk. And if it meets the city’s criteria for one, it will get a high visibility or raised crosswalk, the bill states.

Hold the city DOT accountable for traffic safety

The District Department of Transportation has been negligent in reporting some of the information the city’s Vision Zero policy requires. But this bill would hold the agency accountable.

Biannually, the department will have to submit reports on its progress toward Vision Zero goals. In addition, DDOT will be required to submit a report to City Council every time someone is seriously injured or killed on city streets. And every time the department submits a street plan, the agency will have to explain how it will reduce fatalities, slow car speeds and help the city meet its goal of 50 percent commuting trips by transit by 2032.

This measure comes weeks after the death of prominent D.C. bike activist Dave Salovesh, who was killed at a dangerous intersection by the driver of a stolen van. His death inspired an international campaign to promote protected bike lanes and helped long-simmering frustrations about the slow pace of change in D.C. bubble to the surface. They culminated in a major protest at City Hall last week.

Now those complaints appear to have been heard.

“Safe travel, especially without a car, shouldn’t be a perk of living in a given neighborhood,” Allen said in a statement. “It should be the standard in every part of the city that’s safe to walk or bike to school, to the bus stop, or to work.”

The bill is being co-sponsored by nine other council members, according to the DC Line.

15 thoughts on D.C. Bill Would Make Protected Bike Lanes Mandatory

  1. This is great – a good example of what can happen when a city gets serious about developing its bicycle infrastructure. I’m happy this stuff is happening on a smaller scale in my small city.

  2. This would be incredible if this passed and hopefully other cities would at least take parts of this and implement them. But requiring drivers to retest would be amazing.

  3. I really like the Citizen Safety Enforcement Pilot Program. Something like that would be amazing in Chicago. We already have Bike Lane Uprising which allows folks on bike to capture photos of cars in the bike lane. We just need the ability for these photos to turn into actual fines for drivers.

  4. The Citizen Safety Pilot program is an amazing idea, and I would hope that New York would get this too. We need it sorely.

  5. You gotta wonder how complicated the app will be that only trained people can submit pictures of violations since all the violations will probably be time-stamped, geo-tagged and would need to include the license plate of the offending vehicle. It would be reviewed by an officer prior to sending a ticket.

  6. The Citizen Safety Force is a terrible idea. At least they haven’t put bounties on each snapshot.

  7. They are making it so hard to drive in DC why don’t they just ban cars outright? I am glad I don’t love or work in DC.

  8. Reply to Brian.
    I don’t think you understand how this is going to work exactly.
    Once its normal in DC other states are going to catch on especially ones with more roadways than others.
    As people are going to see that the roads get run down a lot less and therefore maintenance costs will be lower, they will also see the people are a lot happier and are not clogging up the roads it also encourages people to use public transport for longer distances and if there’s bad weather meaning more revenue for the state an example could be that in European countries its exactly how that happened and now Germanys public transport is free.
    Its all a matter of time before this is a reality across the states.

  9. Daniel Hart:
    Absolutely agree – remove most SOVs from urban settings and quality of life in your city will improve dramatically.
    However, public transit in Germany, while light years ahead of even Acela in the States, unfortunately is anything but free. German rail operations even are taxed at 19% VAT while that for air travel is 0%. So there’s still ways to go.

  10. A big NO on citizens giving tickets. Average people are not cops and should not be treated as such. Photo ticketing of any kind should be illegal. Totally unenforceable. Also, all fun and games until one of them gets smacked around, then they will start whining.

  11. This is an absolutely horrible idea. Empowering citizens who bear no accountability for their actions raises significant constitutional questions. Even as someone who has always walked and taken public transportation to work, the simple fact is some people have to drive to work and for other purposes. Bicyclists frequently do not obey traffic laws, whether it’s a 3 second wait at a stop sign (or stopping at all) or riding through a red light, or in a case I’ve seen many times stopping for pedestrians in a crosswalk. This is just all bad and furthers DC being a bad place to work.

  12. NYC already has an app that allows for reporting of cars stopped in bike lanes – ReportedNYC. The reports are sent to NYPD, NYC311, and Taxi and Limousine Commission if the cars fall under that jurisdiction. While NYPD is generally too slow to do anything – or more than likely just doesn’t care enough – TLC fines their drivers. They have the option of having a hearing but with photographic evidence of being stopped in a bike lane what would they argue? That they were just driving in the bike lane? From the reviews on the app it seems its not worth their time to go to the hearing so they just pay the fine and very few drivers are caught a 2nd time.

    @Christian, it seems you don’t keep up with traffic studies often. More and more studies are showing the people on bikes break traffic laws at a lower rate than drivers.

  13. This is an absolutely horrible idea. As someone who has always driven and reluctantly admits to having used public transportation to make myself seem like I’m pro-micromobility, the simple fact is that I really don’t like people on bicycles. I will completely overlook the fact that drivers frequently do not obey traffic laws just as much as bicycle riders, including a 3 second wait at a stop sign (or stopping at all) or driving through a red light, or bullying pedestrians in a crosswalk, all of which drivers do daily and create a much greater risk to life and limb because of their weight and power. I am one of the people who furthers DC being a bad place to work and will continue to selfishly park in the bike lane and commit whatever placard abuse I can.

    With love,

    Christian’s Alter Ego

  14. I love how these protected bike lanes make cars park in manor that their doors open into traffic lanes…I now avoid one of these routes on my way home after my 5th panic stop when someone swung their car door open.

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