I testified yesterday at a hearing of the DC Council's Committee on Transportation & the Environment. The hearing was on Pedestrian And Bicycle Infrastructure and Safety and on the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013.
All the speakers I heard from either completely supported the bill, had no opinion on it or supported everything but the removal of the bell mandate, though in most cases they didn't really seem to have heard about that part until the hearing, so I wouldn't say they were passionate about it. I didn't stay for the whole hearing, but of the last three speakers I didn't hear from, I was sure that two would support it.
Mary Cheh, the Chair of the committee, was the only CM in attendance (though Grosso sent a staffer), and I was pretty enthused about her comments on biking and walking. It's pretty clear that she bikes frequently, a fact I already knew, but one that came though clearly in her questions and comments. She talked about biking from the District Building to Sibley, which is no short haul. And I think the personal experience informed some of her opinions.
The biggest piece of news to me, though apparently it had been discussed at a previous hearing, is that Cheh wants DDOT to put in cycle-tracks on Connecticut Avenue. I think she said "down the middle" like on Pennsylvania Avenue, but I may have heard wrong. As the Chair of the committee with oversight of DDOT, that's more than just a casual request. WABA clearly supports cycle-tracks there and on other major arterials as well.
She also took the opportunity several times to call on DDOT to repave the 15th Street cycletrack which she said was starting to require a mountain bike.
She asked questions about the Idaho Stop, and seemed open to the idea, though I know WABA wants to see contributory negligence fixed first.
There was a lot of discussion about sidewalk cycling. Several speakers after me were concerned about the issue, with one wanting it banned in Georgetown. Though of that group of speakers, one neighborhood advocate said that cyclist on the sidewalk was not even mentioned in a poll of his groups members about sidewalk safety. Cheh seemed to agree with WABA, that sidewalk cycling is often not ideal, but banning it would be an over-reaction and that it would discourage new cyclists, concerned cyclists from riding. I said that DDOT should review crash data on sidewalks before any decision is made. I've looked at the issue before, but MPD doesn't always report if a crash happened on the sidewalk, so the data is weak, but I think there are actually few crashes, and they are rarely serious. I will say this:
- I know of 5 ped-bike fatal crashes in the DC area and none of them were the result of sidewalk cycling
- DDOT counts show that few cyclists ride on sidewalks, unless it is some place like the National Mall
- Cyclists and pedestrians can share space safely as demonstrated on numerous trails
Cheh asked if MPD was enforcing laws, specifically laws about parking in the bike lanes. I told her that even after the Council added a fine to the law, enforcement didn't seem to pick up and that there was even a website dedicated to "Who is parking in the L Street Cycle track today". There was also talk of the new rules for closing bike lanes and creating "safe accommodations", with a few speakers concerned that it would be no more effectively carried out than it is for sidewalks now.
Cheh also wanted to know about education and what the District could do to better educate drivers.
I have to say it was all a breath of fresh air. There was a little bit of "cyclists always run red lights," calls for banning bikes on sidewalks and one complaint about the "preferential treatment" cyclist receive, but in general there was a lot of agreement. And Cheh came off as at least as sympathetic to the position of cyclists and pedestrians as anyone else in DC government. I know I was concerned that by losing Tommy Wells as head of that committee we were losing someone who understood the importance of active transportation, but Cheh is right there with him. When the chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Council said that DDOT Director Terry Bellamy might attend a meeting she said she wanted to know if he would so she could attend too.
In the end, I'm confident the law is going to pass, and I look forward to cycle-tracks on DC's diagonal streets.