A driver, talking on a cell phone, started to make an illegal U-turn across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes and almost hit Bill Walsh. He recorded the experience in a video:
Cyclists have been pleading for action against dangerous and illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue for some time. Justin Antos captured a recent U-turn on his camera as well, and many cyclists have reported the similar experiences using the #stoputurnsonpenn hashtag.
Councilmember Tommy Wells wants to stop the practice. His staff have obtained crash reports from DDOT for Pennsylvania Avenue and have been analyzing them for some time. Based on those reports, it appears that U-turns are by far the most common cause of bicycle-related crashes in the Pennsylvania Avenue lanes.
Here is the police narrative from one report, for a crash on October 27, 2010, where a taxi driver injured a cyclist:
DRIVER #1 STATES WHILE HEADING EAST BOUND IN THE 600 BLOCK OF PENNSYLVANIA AVE NW HE ATTEMPTED TO MAKE A U-TURN AND STRUCK VEHICLE #2 [A BICYCLE]. DRIVER #1 STATED THAT HE DID NOT SEE THE PERSON ON THE BIKE WHEN HE TURNED.
THE DRIVER OF THE BICYCLE STATED THAT ALL HE REMEMBERS WAS BEING STRUCK BY A VEHICLE AND DID NOT KNOW WHERE THE VEHICLE CAME FROM.
THE DRIVER OF THE BICYCLE WAS IN THE BIKE LANE WHEN HE WAS STRUCK, THE BIKE LANE IS A UNPROTECTED MEDIAN FOR BICYCLE TRAVEL.
WITNESS #1 A DC POLICE OFFICER WHO WAS IN A MARKED PATROL WAGON WAS BEHIND VEHICLE #1 AND STATED THAT HE SAW VEHICLE #1 MAKE A U-TURN AND STRIKE THE PERSON ON THE BICYCLE.
THE PASSENGER IN VEHICLE #1 STATED THAT SHEN [SIC] THE CAB PICKED HER UP HE WAS TALKING ON HIS CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING AND THAT WHEN HE STRUCK THE PERSON ON THE BIKE HE MAY STILL HAVE BEEN ON HIS CELL PHONE.
Solutions: Enforcement? Bollards?
What can be done? Police could more strictly enforce the no-U-turn rules, and DDOT could add more clear signs or markings. Walsh himself made this suggestion:
Most of the crash reports Wells’ office provided show that police did indeed ticket drivers for U-turns after crashes, at least when it was clear from the driver’s statements or witnesses that a U-turn was involved. The fact that many drivers admitted to the U-turn may tell us that drivers don’t realize it’s illegal or unsafe, and the right signs might help.
On the other hand, police don’t seem to ticket drivers for U-turns when there’s no crash, and many federal and local police cruisers often actually park right in the lanes.
Darren Buck suggested more plastic stanchions or “flexposts.” There are already short sets of these at each corner to make it clear to drivers that they shouldn’t use the bike lane as a turn lane, but their absence in the center seems to give drivers license to make U-turns:
Earlier plans for the bike lanes included bollards along the whole length of the blocks, but the Commission on Fine Arts, a federal panel which reviews projects on federal land an in key areas near federal property, wasn’t thrilled:
The Commission approved the proposed design without colored pavement on the bicycle lanes or median, noting the importance of the avenue’s design character as a prominent visual symbol of the nation. The Commission also recommended against the installation of reflective plastic stanchions, commenting that these would be intrusive and incompatible elements in this iconic streetscape.
DDOT ultimately decided to go ahead with some stanchions at the corners anyway, apparently believing this was a reasonable compromise between CFA’s desire to keep objects out of Pennsylvania Avenue and safety. It may be time to revisit that decision and install stanchions mid-block.
Wells says he’s asked Chief Cathy Lanier for more enforcement, as has Jack Evans, who said MPD “has promised additional enforcement for cabs and all cars.”
Any physical changes, Wells points out, will probably not happen until after the Inauguration in January, when all of the traffic signals and other objects on Pennsylvania Avenue get taken out for the parade. DDOT will have to re-install the existing bollards at at that time, which would make it a perfect opportunity to put more bollards in while they already have crews out there.