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Bicyclists rally for increasing safety measures on D.C. roads

August 2, 2018

D.C. cycling activists are renewing calls for road safety in light of a rash of recent accidents.

The D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council organized a rally Tuesday evening to advocate for increasing road safety measures like rubber flaps on D.C. Streetcar tracks and enforcing traffic violations in bike lanes.

The 40 cyclists who gathered in Northeast leaned in to listen to Cyrus Habib, whose brother Malik Habib, 19, recently died after being thrown into the path of an oncoming bus when his bicycle tires became caught in a streetcar track.

“It’s almost like a perfect storm of bad luck,” said Mr. Habib, who was with Malik as he was run over and held him as he died. “We got to do our job in the community.”

Less than two weeks before Malik Habib was run over, another cyclist, Jeffrey Long, also was killed while cycling on District streets. A truck hit and ran over Mr. Long as it attempted to cross a bike path to turn right onto M Street in Northwest.

“We’re here again today because our voices need to be heard for the cyclists who can no longer speak for themselves,” said Rachel Maisler, of the D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council.

There have been 21 traffic fatalities in the District so far this year, up from the number at the same time last year, according to the nonprofit Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA), which who advocates for cycling safety.

WABA has criticized Mayor Muriel Bowser for not following through on her 2015 “Vision Zero” campaign promise to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities by 2024.

Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation, said in a statement to The Washington Times that “Vision Zero” remains the mayor’s “top priority.”

“Major elements of the Vision Zero action plan have been implemented, most notably Mayor Bowser’s creation of a Major Crash Review Task Force. Later this summer, we will be issuing our latest Vision Zero progress report,” Mr. Marootian said. “We will continue to work with internal and external stakeholders to address safety concerns and look forward to ongoing dialogue around this issue.”

City lawmakers have enacted legislation to protect cyclists, like the 2016 Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act.

But David Cantor, chairman of the Bicycle Advisory Council, has said that the Bowser administration has failed to fulfill several of that laws reporting requirements, including a list of the most dangerous locations in the city and studies on whether heavy-duty and emergency vehicles should have pedestrian-alert technologies.

Data on bicycle-involved accidents can be hard to come by. The most recent cyclist crash data report on DDOT’s website is from 2010, and many cyclists express frustration that there are no reports on how many drivers are ticketed for hitting or endangering cyclists.

There are 80 miles of bike lanes in the District, but only eights mile of those lanes are considered protected, WUSA-TV reported in November. More lanes are added sporadically and are being studied for Brookland, Foggy Bottom and Columbia Heights.

Metropolitan Police this week said “it is advisable to report all bicycle accidents so they may be investigated appropriately.” A spokeswoman also noted that the department is collaborating with DDOT and groups like WABA to change public perception of police indifference to bike accidents.

City cyclists remain skeptical, and several have taken to donning portable cameras to document accidents. Some have begun uploading footage of near-misses and traffic violations to social media.

WABA demonstrated last month outside the Wilson Building, saying on its website: “We are rallying because people continue to die because the Mayor won’t act. Because the city prioritizes cars over people.”

D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat, agreed that cars are put ahead of cyclists, saying “there’s absolutely a risk to taking on people with cars.”

He added that there are “shelves and shelves of plans” improving the city’s cycling infrastructure, but that implementation requires political will.

“We have the budget. We need to act,” Mr. Allen said.

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