Testimony to DC Council on Vision Zero – Sept. 27, 2018

Testimony of Rachel Maisler,
Ward 4 Representative, DC Bicycle Advisory Council for the
Transportation & the Environment & Judiciary & Public Safety Joint Public Roundtable on the Implementation of the Vision Zero Initiative and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act of 2016
September 27, 2018

My name is Rachel Maisler, I’m an avid cyclist, and I represent Ward 4 on DC’s Bicycle Advisory Council[1]. Thank you for taking the initiative to host this roundtable on Vision Zero. However, I’m horrified that we have arrived at the point where this hearing is more than necessary.

We’re here today because the number of traffic-related fatalities has been going up since Mayor Bowser announced Vision Zero in 2015 and not down. We’re here today because Malik Habib, Jeffrey Hammond Long, Carlos Sanchez-Martin, Thomas Hendricks Hollowell, and 23 other individuals[2] have been killed by vehicles on DC this year and can no longer speak for themselves.

As you are aware, the bike community initially called for this hearing after two cyclists were killed on DC roads this summer. The first was Malik Habib. On June 23, he was riding his bicycle home from work on the 300 block of H Street NE when his tire got caught in the streetcar rail and he was crushed by a charter bus. According to the police report, the bus continued on its path, and it’s unknown whether the driver or passengers were even aware of the collision. Mr. Habib was 19 years old and didn’t deserve to die.

Just two weeks later on July 7, Jeffrey Hammond Long was riding his bike to yoga in the protected bike lane on M Street NW when the driver of a refrigerated box truck made a right turn across the bike lane striking and pinning Mr. Long. According to the police report, the driver didn’t see Mr. Long as they made the hairpin turn. Mr. Long was 36 years old and didn’t deserve to die.

After each of these two tragedies, we planned memorial rides, not only to remember those we lost, but to bring attention to the safety issues that plague cyclists every day and cost these individuals their lives. At each of these rides, we called for immediate safety fixes to prevent future crashes, but also for a public hearing: for DC Council to hold the agencies responsible for implementing Vision Zero accountable.

On H Street, we called for:

  • Rubber flaps on the streetcar rails.
  • A speed plan and enforcement on the H street corridor.
  • Protected bike lanes on the parallel G and I Streets.

On M Street, we called for:

  • Parking to be removed at the intersection of M Street & New Hampshire Avenue.
  • The intersection to be repainted.
  • No turns on red in the Central Business District and Golden Triangle.

To their credit, the District Department of Transportation responded to some of the action items we called for: they removed parking spaces that were blocking sightlines on M Street and put “traffic calming” flexiposts at the intersection of 3rd and H NE. At the BAC meeting earlier this month, DDOT said they discovered there were no speed limit signs on H Street and were in the process of installing news ones. By the way, the speed limit on H is 25 miles per hour. We haven’t heard from MPD.

This past Thursday, the Bicycle Advisory Council sent a letter to Mayor Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue, DDOT Director Jeff Marootian, DPW Director Christopher Shorter, Police Chief Peter Newsham, Department of Motor Vehicles Director Lucinda Babers, and Interim Chief Technology Officer Barney Krucoff. I had intended to talk about the recommendations in that letter here today, but unfortunately since Friday, two more individuals have lost their lives on DC roads.

I had thought the events this past summer and the letter would serve as the tipping point for the DC government to redouble their efforts in reducing traffic fatalities. I thought this roundtable would lead us to an updated Vision Zero action plan and help us citizens continue to hold our government agencies accountable for protecting all road users.

Silly me.

On Friday, Carlos Sanchez-Martin was struck, pinned, and killed by an SUV driver as he rode a rented scooter around Dupont Circle.

We held a memorial ride for him last night. We called for:

  • Protected infrastructure around Dupont Circle for scooters, bicycles, and other personal mobility devices.
  • Raised crosswalks and crossing times long enough for pedestrians to make it across all travel lanes without getting stranded on an island.
  • Improved way-finding signage and road markings for motorists.

Mr. Sanchez-Martin was 20 years old and didn’t deserve to die.

And I can’t even believe I have to say this, but as I was literally writing this very testimony, Thomas Hendricks Hollowell was riding his bike to work on Monday when he was struck and killed by a driver running a red light at 12th and Constitution NW. The driver fled the scene. Dr. Hollowell was 64 years old and didn’t deserve to die.

Road safety is an issue that affects all users – from daily commuters to the nearly 20 million tourists that flock to DC each year. Whether on foot, on bicycle, on scooter, skateboard, moped or car, every single road user should be able to travel safely in Washington, DC.  Yet given the statistics[3], I’m asking you, as well as the DDOT, Metropolitan Police Department, Department of Public Works, and other agencies: What do we need to do to keep people from getting killed on our roads?

I realize I’m one of the lucky cyclists. I’ve had my fair share of near misses and only sustained minor injuries from being doored once. But my ability to travel safely shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Almost every time I ride my bike, I encounter cars parked in bike lanes forcing me to swerve into traffic, impatient drivers looking for their first opportunity to wiz past me on narrow streets, oblivious drivers making turns across the bike lane. I’m forced to make split-second decisions that can prevent a trip to the ER or worse without the protection of a steel cage. Sure, I wear a helmet and use bike lights, but those aren’t going to save my life if I get run over by a box truck or struck by a speeding vehicle. My protection is attentive drivers who respect the rules of the road. My transportation choice shouldn’t be a death sentence. But, I also realize how lucky I am that using my bicycle as transportation is a choice. There are many people who ride bikes as transportation because they can’t afford other options.

After hearing of Dr. Hollowell’s death on Monday, I sent this haiku to Jeff Marootian:

There are no more words
Two traffic deaths this week alone
We need to save lives

I wish we didn’t have to be here today. I wish that traffic fatalities were declining, rather than increasing in our city. I wish I didn’t have to plan two memorial bicycle rides for the cyclists killed by drivers over the summer, yesterday’s scooter memorial ride, and yet another memorial ride for Dr. Hollowell. When will these senseless deaths end?

[1] http://www.bikedcbike.org

[2] as of 12 p.m. on September 25, 2018

[3] https://mpdc.dc.gov/page/traffic-fatalities