Media accounts of the two bike fatalities last month raised a few eyebrows among the commentariat here and at GGW. The news accounts left the reader with the impression that each cyclist inexplicably placed himself in the path of an oncoming dump truck or SUV. The average person reading those accounts would probably take them at face value; but for many of us, that is hard to do because we have seen so many cases where initial reports were wrong.
GGW briefly presented both incidents as cases where a driver killed a cyclist, and the predictable discussion centered on whether that was totally unfair to the drivers, or whether it is reasonable for GGW to provide a counterbalance to the prevailing way these stories are told. Here on the Washcycle, the comments were focused more on trying to read between the lines and explore the various possibilities of what could have actually happened. In the case of the dump truck on a state highway colliding with a cyclist crossing the highway, the account seemed believable.
The 9-year old child killed on a residential road between Bowie and Glenn Dale, however, was more troubling. Several of us have young children, and none of us like to hear that the police and the media accept the premise that a driver has no responsibility to avoid running into an unpredictable child on a residential street. When I got my driver's license, the simulator always had a ball bouncing into the street with a child following it; the lesson was that a driver in a residential street should assume that a child may run into one's path at any moment.
Of course, we don't have the strict liability system wherein drivers always are to blame if they run into a cyclist, but that does not mean that the duty of care does not change when one sees a child on a bike. That's the main reason for the 25 mph speed limit. Obey the speed limit and if you strike a pedestrian, she has a 10% chance of being killed. Drive 35 mph and there is a 2/3 chance she dies. And of course, avoiding the collision is easier if you go slow.
Then twk from Bowie directed us to the link showing the front-end damage to the SUV, which made all of us wonder (in exasperation): how can police say that speed was not a factor? The damage does not seem possible if the driver was only proceeding at 25 mph. But if the driver was proceeding at 35 mph, then the odds are about 6:1 that the death was caused by the speed. That seems to make a prima facie case that speed was definitely a factor. How could the media fail to ask the obvious followup question?
Part of the problem may be that the police and reporters have adopted a short-hand jargon which makes sense for auto-auto crashes. They are trying to say that the speed was not the single most important cause of the collision. But if a child dies, we are also interested in why the collision caused someone's death. In fatal auto-auto crashes, the vehicles are usually going so fast that it goes without saying that speed is sufficient to kill, the only question was whether it was so great that one loses control, or did they crash for another reason? In bike or pedestrian crashes, by contrast, collisions are often at slow enough speeds for people to live; speed may be the single most important factor that determines whether a victim lives or dies.
So how can the story overlook the most obvious question: Was the driver complying with the 25 mph speed limit?
Is the problem with the police or the media? I find myself hoping that it's the police rather than the media, because the police are public officials accountable to the public. There are clear lines of authority whom we can lobby. The media is not really accountable to anyone, and the turnover of local reporters is so great that trying to change how the media covers a type of event is like spitting at the zeitgeist.
After reading the comments on the Washcycle, I sent a terse but rather harshly worded complaint to a few officials. For some reason, I thought that the Maryland State Police (MSP) had changed its approach to the media in the case of bicycle fatalities, after having made disastrously wrong preliminary judgments in the Leymesiter and Pettigrew cases. So I was annoyed that the Prince George's Police had not adopted the more cautious approach of the MSP.
Recall that in the Leymeister case, the State Police stated that the cyclist had failed to ride as far right as practicable on a road where the narrow shoulder was blocked by branches. MBPAC protested because this was a road where the cyclist had the right to take the lane. It later turned out that the problem was that the driver had an entirely frost covered windshield with just a little peep hole to see where she was going.
In the Natasha Pettigrew case, the police initially stated that the cyclist lacked reflective material. Her mother knew otherwise and reporters who went to the scene of the crash found the materials that the police said did not exist. Early statements also said that the driver left the scene because she thought she hit a dog or a deer. Only because of public outrage was that claim more thoroughly investigated, and the driver was convicted of hit-and-run.
After those cases, an MSP official told MBPAC that the state police would be more careful about what they tell the media before the investigation is done. It's a balancing act for police spokesmen, because there is usually great public and media interest after a fatality, especially when the victim is a child or a notable person. But MSP staff felt that they could tell the story by presenting the issues they are investigating, rather than conclusions, and by mentioning (for example) the possibility that the driver was not looking where she was going, as well as the lane position of the cyclist.
Unfortunately, MSP's thinking was never memorialized. I now know that this was just a sense of what they needed to do; but some people have moved on, so the Maryland State Police seem to be back to where they used to be, according to my source there. My source referred me to Lieutenant Alexander who does media relations at the Prince Georges Police Department.
Mr. Alexander did not have the specifics of the 9-year old killed in the Bowie/Glenn Dale area when I called, but he did tell me the general approach of the Prince Georges County Police. He said that they will not make a preliminary statement unless they are 90% sure. There has to be credible or neutral witness, such as the family members with whom the child was riding, he said. The Prince George's police will not make a preliminary statement "if the only witness is a driver who tells us that he killed someone but it was their fault."
I did not follow up about this particular incident, though perhaps I'll call back in a few weeks. My main purpose for calling him was to get a regular police contact for bike-ped issues. Police statements to the media can be a problem, but dangerous driving is a bigger problem. The police have too much work to prevent every type of crime. If they are doing too little to enforce the laws designed to protect us, maybe it's because we haven't been asking them to do so. Now we will.
(Jim Titus is a bicycle advocate from Prince George's County. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization with which he is affiliated, and the pronoun "we" does not mean any organized entity.)
At the BAC meeting last night, DDOT mentioned that they have 22 more CaBi stations in the warehouse ready to install by the end of the year.
A not-particularly flattering profile of bike-riding Councilmember Tommy Wells. "Wells’ campaign motto is “Building a Livable Walkable D.C.,” and he’s focused much of his energy as a councilmember on improving public transit and cycling infrastructure.... But ask for more examples, and he’ll launch into a catalog of his work during his half-year helming the transportation committee: doubling the Capital Bikeshare program...it’s clear that his heart isn’t in oversight of cops and firefighters as much as it was in buses, bikes, and trains. This is, after all, Mr. Livable-Walkable, who bikes to work and aims to give the whole city the car-free accessibility his Capitol Hill neighborhood enjoys."
Capital Bikeshare had it's 4 millionth trip yesterday evening. It took 1 year to get the first million, and 19 months to get the next 3. According to Chris Holben at DDOT "we have stations planned for this week and next. And more on the way." Also, CaBi recently moved the station at Glebe and North Fairfax because it was being under-utilized.
City Paper has a follow up to their "There is no war on cars" cover story. It inlcudes a link to the always incredible Gary Imhoff, who believes that there is, in fact, a war on cars.
MPD was reportedly ticketing cyclists who ran the stop sign on Water Street at Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown this morning.
"The Greenbelt Museum invites you to celebrate the New Deal-era legacy of this historic community by throwing on your vintage best, hopping on your bicycle, and joining us for a leisurely cycle through town on Sunday, May 26. This event is free and open to all! Riders should gather on the front lawn of the Greenbelt Community Center at 15 Crescent Road at 11am. The ride will kick off shortly after that time, and loop back to the lawn for post-cycling eating and socializing. The Greenbelt Museum’s historic house is right across the street and will be offering free tours for participants beginning at 1pm. Bring your own food (sorry, no alcohol allowed), buy some Tea Pops, sample some complimentary lemonade or grab something delicious from the Greenbelt Farmer’s Market. Non cyclists are welcome to join us for the picnicking!...This new event is organized by the Friends of the Greenbelt Museum and sponsored by Maryland Milestones/ATHA, Inc., Tea Pops, and the Greenbelt Farmer’s Market."
A suspicious package on a bike closed a DC street for 45 minutes. I fear that this was just "a" package on a bike and that leaving a bike parked with anything on it will be reason for freaking out.
Harry Jaffe worries that "we are one bad biking accident away from nipping DC’s booming biking culture in the bud. All it takes is one tourist or a commuter badly hurt or killed while biking." He's paranoid and a curmudgeon. If that were true, it would have been nipped in the bud long ago.
"a guy on a Bikeshare cycle caused a jam at L Street. He was taking up a lane, pedaling slowly, minus a helmet, oblivious to the automobiles." Harry, you don't know he was "oblivious" only that he seemed oblivious.
"Wearing earbuds on a bicycle in downtown Washington is one step away from cycling with blinders. It’s asking for trouble and certainly increasing the chances of getting into an accident." It's probably more than one step from cycling with blinders, but it almost surely does make you less safe. It's illegal in the region, and ill-advised.
KathyrnPapp is back again with another letter to the editor pitting Capital Bikeshare funding against library funding.
She continues to conflate Bixi with Capital Bikeshare, to fail to understand how Bixi works (Saying it is "selling off" systems in NYC and Chicago, and someone getting bent out of shape because it's paying off a loan. Aren're we all?), to call CaBi a private company and to claim that "every other city uses dedicated sponsors to cover operating costs" which isn't true.
Nor is this statement: "Bikeshare is not a city-owned service like DASH buses and the King Street Trolley. It is owned and operated by a private company." It is owned by the cities.
She draws on statements from Arlington and College Park about funding and revenue to make a case that's unrelated to those statements.
This is the same list of untruths she's spouting off elsewhere. We should better fund libraries, but I'm not sure how it's related to bikeshare. The money being used for FY 2013 funding is Transportation Improvement Program money - as in not available for libraries.
The Washington, DC bike counter project is in trouble. "With just four days left on the kickstarter, Khawarzad and his co-inventor, Ted Ullrich, have raised less than 20 percent of their goal. For those unfamiliar with the Kickstarter model, here’s what that means: If they don’t reach their $50,000 goal, they don’t get to keep any of the $9,809 pledged so far."
According to police, a cyclist in SE DC was pulled over at 3am for holding an open container. He pulled a gun and began firing and the officer "returned fire with his 9mm Glock, police said. Sweptson was struck several times in the upper body and pronounced dead on the scene; the officer was not hit. Police said a .380 semiautomatic handgun was recovered at the scene."
Heated bike handles. "The design uses a small generator to capture energy from the bicycle's forward motion and generate electricity, which is then transmitted to a heating element embedded in a grip that goes on the handle bars. They are designed to work for a variety of bikes."
This article, about the controversy surrounding a cycletrack and how it will remove parking, could be about DC, but it isn't. "Others said businesses may even have to close if parking on the busy thoroughfare is taken away."
Politico poll = flooded. "MT’s readers sure seem to love their bikes — 42 percent said it replaces car trips and 38 ride when it’s nice and convenient. But 7 percent haven’t hopped on two wheels since middle school."
Wait a minute. NPS wouldn't let CaBi set up on the Mall for over a year, but they're helping pay for Minneapolis' bike sharing? If NPS has money for bike sharing, it would seem DC would be the natural place to spend it. "Nice Ride is using more than $630,000 provided by the National Park Service to add stations at such popular recreation destinations as Lake Harriet, Lake Nokomis, Minnehaha Falls, Boom Island, Fort Snelling and Webber Park."
DDOT "will soon kick off a study to consider how to make Florida Avenue safer, which [Sam Zimbabwe, Associate Director for Policy, Planning and Sustianability at DDOT] hopes will finish by early 2014; temporary fixes to implement the recommendations could come as early as next summer."
"A New York City bicyclist who was injured by a police officer who nearly ran him over with his car now has been handed a bill — to repair the dents in the cop car."
"For the first time, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad will provide a train to take 700 cyclists to the starting line the night before the Boston Marathon for the Midnight Marathon." And we can't even get the Nationals to pay for a train for their customers. And this "Hubway waived fees for cyclists who used the bike-share program to complete the 26.2 miles, which they may do again this year."
"The police department sent 76 special assignments to enforce pedestrian and driver compliance last year, according to Innocenti. During those operations, 1,100 pedestrians were issued citations for various offenses, such as not crossing in a crosswalk or starting to cross after the solid red hand has begun blinking, and those citations often come with fines. There were 38 vehicle citations during as well, Innocenti said." So there are 28 pedestrian violations for every driver violation? That sounds off to me.
"In Mississippi's healthiest county, many residents have easy access to bicycle paths and walking trails. In the least healthy county, there are few places to exercise"...."if someone wants to walk or ride their bike and they can't do it safely near their homes, "I haven't done my job," Mayor Chip Johnson said.
Rep. Blumenauer "not interested" in being Secretary of Transportation. That's too bad.
Bike battles (between cities competing to be the best, not between cyclists and drivers) is named one of the top trends of 2013 by Planetizen.