E Street. Photo by tvol on Flickr.

At yesterday’s legislative session, the DC Council debated the bill to raise fines for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians. Councilmembers Tommy Wells (ward 6) and Mary Cheh (ward 3) introduced an amendment to also prescribe a $75 fine for drivers who block bicycle lanes.

Currently, it’s illegal to block a bike lane, but there is no fine except for the general $50 double-parking fine. But blocking a bike lane is more dangerous, and should have a higher fine; plus, a driver just standing in a bike lane can’t be ticketed for double parking (maybe $25 for driving in a bike lane?) even though standers blocking bike lanes create the same dangerous conditions.

Councilmembers Harry Thomas, Jr. (ward 5) and Chairman Vincent Gray weren’t ready to go along. Thomas feels we need thorough national research to determine the proper fine (actually, NYC charges $115, San Francisco $100, Chicago $150). Gray objected because drivers could receive two tickets, for double parking and blocking a bike lane, even though drivers can get two tickets for other infractions where they break two laws.

Wells withdrew this amendment and plans to reintroduce it at second reading in September. I’d like to hear more from Thomas and Gray about their objections. I can understand not wanting to add a whole new fine without the same level of hearings and thoughtful consideration that the pedestrian fine received. I’ve criticized legislative bodies for hasty action in the past. But ultimately, Thomas and Gray should demonstrate that they understand the importance of bike safety by supporting a fine for blocking bike lanes.

Update: The video is now online and I was able to watch the Council’s actual deliberations. There are two issues:

First, some bike lanes are not next to parking lanes, and blocking it isn’t double parking. Blocking that lane is illegal, but there is no fine at all that police could levy.

Second, Wells argues that the fine for blocking a bike lane should be higher than just simple double parking, because double parking that blocks a bike lane is much more dangerous than just double parking in a place that blocks a lane of traffic.

As my original source stated, Thomas seems to be nitpicking by complaining about the process by which Wells came up with the $75 level. Gray may be making a legitimate point, though perhaps also a nitpicking one as well: Wells set the fine higher than double parking because it’s worse than double parking, but if police will ticket a double parker for double parking and for blocking the lane, then it’s higher twice. Still, as Wells pointed out, with so many similar cases, getting two tickets for $125 doesn’t seem ridiculous.

As I said above, I don’t think it’s wrong for the Council to make sure they’ve thought through every issue. Thomas’s cantankerousness grates, but the conclusion to reintroduce the fine at second reading seems appropriate to ensure everyone has thought through the specifics.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.