April 2015 Collision Tweets from DC Fire and EMS

By Cory Bilton

Cars in Traffic

DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (“DC FEMS”) has been using Twitter to announce the occurrence of collisions and fires in the District of Columbia (and other, more pleasant things, too). Take a look at their Twitter feed (@DCFIREEMS) and you will see numerous reports of collisions involving vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists almost every day. Although the DC FEMS’s tweets are certainly not exhaustive, I was curious to look at a summary of a month’s worth of collision tweets. So I scrolled through every DC FEMS tweet from April 2015 to gain an overview of the collisions happening in Washington, DC.

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Should I get Bicycle Insurance?

By Cory Bilton

Bike Lane 3

I recently learned that insurance companies are starting to offer bicycle insurance as a separate, stand-alone policy. Many types of insurance—such as health, auto, and home owner’s—already provide some coverage while you are riding your bike. So the idea of a stand-alone bicycle insurance policy intrigues me. What types of coverage does it provide? Who is the intended buyer? Is there any type of coverage that a bicycle insurance policy has that isn’t covered by health insurance, auto insurance, or homeowner’s insurance? Here is a close look at one cyclist insurance policy (offered by Markel Insurance).

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How are Washington DC’s Pedestrian Countdown Signals Better than Virginia’s or Maryland’s?

By Cory Bilton

Pedestrian Countdown Signal

Uniformity is good when it comes to traffic signs and signals. Uniformity helps us to recognize meaning without spending too much time thinking about it. For example, a stop sign is easily recognizable and meaningful, even if your brain doesn’t take the time to read the word “STOP.” The red octagon with white lettering is quickly recognizable and instantly meaningful. Generally, uniformity in traffic devices is very useful and helps us all get along safely.

However, signs and signals also have to make good common sense. If they don’t, people are going to ignore them. For example, if a stop sign were placed mid-block, without any obvious purpose or meaning, drivers’ will have a variety of responses to it. Some may still stop. Others will only slow down. And still others will probably blow right through it. The reason is that it is nonsensical to place a stop sign mid-block. Placing stop signs at intersections, however, agrees with our common sense. So in such instances we submit to the sign’s command.

Pedestrian countdown signals are a great example of a uniform signal that doesn’t always connect with common sense. Pedestrians are often confused by them or disregard them. In fact, even lawyers, police officers, and lawmakers are sometimes confused by them (and disregard them). There is principled disagreement about countdown signals, too. In fact, pedestrian countdown signals in Washington, DC are actually different than the ones in Virginia or Maryland. The following summary covers the law, the sources, and the policies of pedestrian countdown signals in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

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DC City Council Considers Switching From Contributory Negligence

By Cory Bilton.

Dinosaur Nats Fan - NatGeo

Last week, the DC City Council held a public hearing a new bill, Bill 20-0884, that would apply comparative negligence to bicycle collisions, instead of contributory negligence. The hearing Monday provided time for concerned citizens to share their views on whether comparative negligence should be adopted and whether bicyclists would benefit from the switch. I’ve shared my opinions before about how contributory negligence disproportionately affects bicyclists. So as soon as I heard about this bill, I immediately gave it two thumbs up, and signed up to testify in favor of it. Since I think this topic needs further public attention and thought, I’ll recap the situation and the arguments on both sides of the issue.

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Lights for Pedestrians and Bicyclists After Dark

By Cory Bilton

Storm Clouds Over WOD

One way to tell that fall is approaching is that it is starting to get dark earlier in the evenings. In fact, my commute home on my bicycle is mostly in the dark already (sunset was at 7:10 pm this evening). Many bicycle commuters in the area are pretty good about affixing lights to their bicycle or body (I’ve previously blogged about the legal requirements for biking after dark). On urban streets or in a business district of the Washington, DC metro area, there is typically sufficient ambient light from street lights and buildings for bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists to have the opportunity to see each other. However, on the numerous paved trails in our region serious hazards exist because bicyclists’ lights often blind other trail users and pedestrians rarely wear lights or reflective clothing.

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Lack of Model Jury Instructions for Bicyclists in Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, DC

By Cory Bilton.

Bike Lane Emblem

The October 2014 edition of Bicycling Magazine lists Washington, DC, Arlington, and Alexandria among America’s Best Bike Cities. DC ranks the best of the three in position #5; Arlington comes in at #19; and Alexandria falls at #31. This is a sign of how the entire metropolitan area is embracing bicycling as a mode of transportation, a good source of exercise, and a method of alleviating traffic congestion. But if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be struck by a vehicle while riding your bicycle, one thing you won’t find in the metropolitan DC area is any model jury instructions for bicyclists. This puts bicyclists at a significant disadvantage at trial.

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Lawmakers Scramble to Classify E-bikes as Bicycles

By Cory Bilton.

Banneker Park 1 - Aug 2014

It could have been a television commercial. On my way home from work one night this week, I was riding on the Custis Trail heading west up the hill from Rosslyn. For those unfamiliar with this particular hill, it’s a long slog; Google Maps reports that it is about 1 mile of distance and 161 feet of elevation gain from the trail when it leaves the Potomac, to the top of the hill where Lee Highway crosses I-66. Not the steepest hill on my ride home, but a little grueling. I typically ride up the hill with as much vigor as I can muster and so by the time I reach the top I’m completely out of breath and dripping sweat. On Monday night this week, near the top of the hill (and near dead), I was passed by a woman wearing office clothes pedaling a bicycle and showing no hint of any effort or discomfort. And when I say she passed me, I mean, she whizzed past me.

The woman was riding an electric bike, or e-bike. For the most part, an e-bike looks just like a normal bicycle. But an e-bike is equipped with a small, battery powered electric motor that assists the rider, particularly on uphill climbs. The motor is not supposed to replace pedaling, like with a moped, but rather just to supplement pedaling. The day after my encounter, an article in the NY Times remarked on the growing popularity of e-bikes in bike-loving Europe. Although I haven’t seen many e-bikes in the Washington, DC area, I think they could become a hit.

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In Collisions, Bicyclists Lose

By Cory Bilton

Wiehle 3

When people use different modes of transportation on the same path, like when bicyclists and motorists are using the same street, there is going to be some friction between them. The local debate between motorists and bicyclists (and the less vocal pedestrians, too) has heated up in recent weeks. The flames started when a local reporter poured gasoline on an otherwise smoldering fire by comparing bicyclists to terrorists and suggesting that hitting a bicyclist may be worth a $500 fine. There are many political, legal, cultural, and social aspects in this debate (some excellent responses to the reporter’s spiteful suggestions are here and here). But one fact, that is particularly important to me, is that any time a bicyclist is involved in a collision with a motorist, the bicyclist loses.

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Starting July 1st, Virginia Drivers Must Give Bicyclists Three Feet

By Cory Bilton.

Gallows 3

When a vehicle driver wants to pass another vehicle, it goes without saying that the passing vehicle has to move his car into another lane to pass. It’s a simple fact: lanes aren’t wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side in one lane. However, it is less clear when a motorist intends to pass a bicyclist. After all, it is possible for a vehicle and a bicyclist to be side by side with in one lane. But just because it’s physically possible doesn’t mean it is safe to do so. So what is a safe distance for a motorist to give a bicyclist?

Starting July 1st, motorists are required to provide at least three feet of passing space to the left of the bicyclist. The new law, SB 97, modifies Virginia Code § 46.2-839 which previously required only two feet of passing space. In addition to bicycles, the new 3 foot minimum passing distance also applies to electric personal mobility devices, electric power-assisted bicycles, mopeds, animals, and animal-drawn vehicles.

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Street or Sidewalk: Where Can I Ride My Bike in the Washington, DC Area?

By Cory Bilton

Rock Cr Pk Trail 1

Spring is slowly arriving to the Washington, DC area.  If you haven’t already, it’s time to dust off your bicycle, pump up the tires, and start riding again.  An issue that continually comes up is whether bicyclists can ride in the street, or on a sidewalk, or both.  The simple answer is yes to all three (though it might be impossible to do “both” at the same time).  There are a few caveats to this, but there is far more confusion among pedestrians, motorists, police officers, judges, and lawyers over this than there should be.  Since I like to dig down to the source, the following references provide the legal foundation for whether bicyclists can ride on streets or sidewalks around the DC metropolitan area.

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