Photo by KCIvey on Flickr.

Since Alice Swanson’s death, WABA has been trying to meet with MPD for a discussion of bicycle safety. Their meeting was rescheduled once, and then a second time, WashCycle reports. In response, they’ve sent a letter to the Mayor and Council asking for more action. From the letter:

Alice Swanson, a 22-year old cyclist from Washington DC, was killed while riding her bike over two months ago. … MPD has offered no new information about the tragedy. This lack of responsiveness only reinforces our concerns that the needs of those that walk and bike in Washington, DC are seen by MPD as not a concern worth addressing. …

The effectiveness of [DDOT’s and WABA’s] efforts in reducing crashes will be dramatically reduced if MPD does not see the safety of the most vulnerable roadway users as a priority. If officers are not fully trained on the laws as they relate to cyclists and pedestrians, and if critical motor vehicle laws on the books are not enforced, we run the risk of more tragedies occurring. …

We request that MPD…

  • [Restore] a traffic division of the police department … DC has the highest combined rate of biking, walking and transit use in the country and more dedicated resources need to be devoted to public safety.
  • Improve the training of police officers in the laws related to cyclists and pedestrians …
  • Target high risk locations [for enforcement] in a way that maximizes educational efforts and recognizes that behavioral change, not punishment, is the ultimate goal. These enforcement efforts should be seen as preventative, not punitive.
  • Expand and improve data collection of bicycle and pedestrian crashes and report annually on high risk locations …

It is the policy of the government of the District of Columbia to promote alternative means of transportation, be it cycling, walking or transit. As more and more people choose these modes whether for health, environmental or economic reasons, the Metropolitan Police Department’s role in maintaining safe streets to walk and bike is ever more critical.

WABA is asking people to contact Councilmembers and the Mayor on this issue. WABA is also asking Phil Mendelson, Chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, to hold a hearing on this issue.

Jim Graham, for his part, is taking some action. This morning, Graham introduced a bill with four main provisions:

  1. Equip all DC vehicles with “blind spot mirrors, reflective blind spot warning signs, and side-underrun guards to prevent bicyclists, other vehicles, or pedestrians from sliding under rear wheels”;
  2. Train the drivers of these vehicles in safe operation for pedestrians and bicyclists;
  3. Require a three-foot passing distance when any vehicle passes a bicyclist (a standard common elsewhere, including, as discussed in this video, Wisconsin);
  4. Establish a $100 fine for driving in a bicycle lane or a bicycle-bus lane, such as the one on 7th Street northbound around Gallery Place (which is very commonly and illegally used by private cars). Currently, it is illegal but there is no fine.

This bill will give police two new ways to enforce laws against unsafe driving that directly endangers bicyclists. MPD will have to do its part, as WABA is asking, to then enforce these and other existing laws to make everyone feel safe on the road.

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.