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Bicyclists slam Muriel Bowser’s Vision Zero plan

September 28, 2018

City lawmakers and bicycling safety advocates slapped D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration Thursday during a public hearing on its “Vision Zero” plan for ending traffic fatalities.

So far this year, 27 people have died in traffic accidents in the District, compared to 24 at the same period last year. Fourteen of this year’s fatalities were walking or riding a bicycle when they were struck by vehicles.

“People continue to die because Mayor Bowser and the D.C. government continue to not do enough,” said Robert Gardner, advocacy director for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chair of the Transportation Committee, grilled Jeffrey Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), on his agency’s failure to meet several reporting requirements under the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act of 2016.

Mr. Marootian said that the requirements were too “labor intensive” and that he had decided to assemble a new team to work full-time on them.

He gave the same reason for why the department has two-year-old data on its website, adding that DDOT “will be publishing a live update in the next two weeks.”

“You can understand my frustration that we’re about to celebrate the third anniversary of Vision Zero and this working group is just now meeting this month,” said Council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat, referring to the department’s newly formed interagency working group.

“What I can speak to is the fact that we’re doing it moving forward,” Mr. Marootian said.

Ms. Cheh said she was “disappointed” it took a public hearing to get updates from the director, channeling the frustration of the 35 witnesses who had testified earlier Thursday.

Helaina Roisman, an injury prevention and outreach coordinator at the George Washington University Hospital, testified that the hospital has treated 700 people for traffic-related injuries since January 2017.

Another witness, Alex Baca, told how she broke her jaw last summer swerving to avoid a cyclist riding the wrong way on a bike path.

Ms. Baca, engagement director for the Coalition of Smarter Growth, also accused the D.C. government of leaving important infrastructure projects in “political limbo.” She added that city officials’ failure to make streets safe “has left blood on your hands.”

“My son was a victim of this poorly planned infrastructure,” Laura Montiel testified Thursday. “I stand before you with my newly given identity of grieving mother of Malik Habib.”

Her son Malik, 19, was killed in June when he was struck by a vehicle after his bicycle was caught in a track for the D.C. Streetcar on H Street NE.

Malik’s brother, Cyrus Habib, urged city officials Thursday to educate residents about streetcar dangers before continuing with its expansion.

DDOT announced in August that it was considering adding rubber flaps to the tracks to prevent bicycle tires from becoming stuck in them. This month the department instead proposed regulations to ban bikes from the tracks.

More recently, the Bowser administration proposed to raise from $300 to $500 the speeding-camera fine for traveling more than 25 mph over the posted limit. The mayor’s proposal also would double to $100 red light-camera fines for “rolling through” a right turn on a red and for cutting off pedestrians while turning right on red.

Ms. Cheh has criticized the proposal for not addressing underlying infrastructure needs. On Thursday, she asked John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, if the automobile owners club could support traffic solutions such as dedicated lanes citywide for cars, bikes and pedestrians. He said that, with more details, that “could be a great idea.”

Mr. Marootian testified that DDOT will add five more miles of bike lanes in the city, including protected lanes, and is fixing sidewalk gaps, among other projects.

But many at Thursday’s hearing expressed skepticism that bike lanes without enforcement are helpful. Mr. Allen tweeted a photo of his ride to the Wilson Building, where both bike lanes were blocked by illegally parked cars. He noted during the hearing that a parking enforcement officer drove by without ticketing any of the vehicles.

“That says to me there may be champions within D.C. government, but it is not government-wide,” Mr. Allen remarked.

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