The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Distracted Driving Law: Relationship-building pays off

Today's post was submitted by Doug Cantwell, a media professional and bicyclist who lives in Seattle.

Washington’s new distracted driver law took effect in June 2010, making it a primary traffic offense to talk, text or e-mail on a phone or other handheld device while driving. Actively supported by the Bicycle Alliance, passage of this legislation marks a decisive victory for coalition-building through social marketing as a strategy for changing public policy. 

“You’ve heard of ‘divide and conquer’ as a way to get results,” said Bicycle Alliance Policy Director Dave Janis, “but it was a ‘unite and conquer’ approach that carried the day in this case. We encouraged agencies and groups that historically didn’t see themselves as sharing common interests to open dialogue with one another and stand together as stakeholders in this legislation.”

This unlikely alliance included public health professionals, insurance industry execs, social marketing gurus, pediatricians, directors of non-profit organizations, prosecuting attorneys, driving school CEOs, law enforcement officers, philanthropy advisors and university professors, among others.

Only two days before Senate Bill 6345 came up for consideration in Olympia last year, the vote was too close to call. But the ‘unlikely alliance’ inundated senators and representatives with last-minute messages of support. At the end of the day, SB6345 had passed by a 2 to 1 margin.

State Patrol: Full Enforcement from Day One

A month before the new law was to take effect on June 10, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste announced there would be no ‘educational grace period,’ which is often granted when new legislation requires drivers to change long-standing behavior.  

“Drivers have already had nearly two years to adjust their driving habits,” said Batiste, referring to the previous law that had banned phoning and texting but designated them as mere secondary offenses. “We will fully enforce this law from day one.”

The WSP chief expressed disappointment that drivers had shown little voluntary compliance with the old law, that many had in fact demonstrated open defiance. “They would look right at our troopers with phones held to their ears,” he said. “They knew that without another violation we couldn’t do anything.”

Under the secondary-offense designation, troopers wrote only 3,000 citations and issued 5,900 warnings. By comparison, they typically write 300,000 speeding tickets in a given year. 

Revenues Support Prevention, Education, Emergency Care

Opponents of the primary-offense law dismiss it as one more attempt to shore up state funding shortfalls during these straitened economic times. To deter police from pulling people over inappropriately, however, the new law stipulates that none of the revenues be allocated to fund law enforcement. 

Instead, citation revenues will be divvied up as follows: 36 percent to the local jurisdiction in which the ticket was issued; another 36 percent to the state’s Public Safety and Education account; and the remaining 28% to emergency medical services and trauma care, auto theft protection and traumatic brain-injury awareness.

Primary Enforcement Works

Other critics argue that the primary-offense law only puts the burden on already overextended officers to enforce the unenforceable. But according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a 2004 primary-offense ban in the District of Columbia reduced handheld phone use by 41 percent; a 2005 Connecticut law produced an immediate decline of 76 percent. The Automobile Club of Southern California saw a similar reduction of 65 percent in that state. Follow-up surveys in all three areas found that long-term declines leveled out at only slightly lower rates, provided that active primary enforcement was maintained. 

The Text Talk Ticket rack card is available as a pdf on the Washington Traffic Safety Commission website.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hub & Spoke: Next Stop is Olympia

Last year, the Bicycle Alliance launched its Hub & Spoke outreach tour and visited four communities around the state:  Wenatchee, Vancouver, Walla Walla and Everett.  We are continuing the tour in 2011 and our next Hub & Spoke stop is this Thursday in Olympia.  You can find event details here.

It can be challenging to stay connected with our members when we cover a state that is over 70,000 square miles and divided by a mountain range.  The Hub & Spoke tour is proving to be an excellent vehicle to keep the connections fresh.

Hub & Spoke is social by design, held at pubs and restaurants to give attendees an opportunity to network with Bicycle Alliance representatives and with each other.  The events are timed to coincide with Transportation Improvement Board meetings so we can familiarize local advocates with this potential source of funding for non-motorized projects.  The Bicycle Alliance staff also reviews our legislative and program priorities with attendees, and we give folks a chance to tell us what’s on their minds.

The formula is successful.  We averaged 35 guests per event last year and had a mix of current members and new faces.  Attendees expressed their gratitude that we are making the effort to visit communities around the state.  Other 2011 tour stops include Mount Vernon, Spokane and Richland.

The Hub & Spoke tour was made possible by a grant from the Alliance for Biking and Walking and you can read a recent post about it on their blog.  Check our website or the Bike Bites e-newsletter for future Hub & Spoke dates.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Pledge for Bicyclists and Motorists

As a bicyclist, I:
  • Will ride predictably and follow the rules of the road.
  • Won't block your way without reason. I will ride to the right when it is safe for me to do so. I'll use a bike lane or shoulder if it is contiguous, free of parked cars, copious pot holes, gravel or debris or other obstacles. I may choose to not use these areas if the above conditions apply. I may choose to occupy an entire lane of travel if I feel it is necessary.
  • Determine for myself what is safe and what is not safe. I may be able to see things that you may not. I may have different tolerances for different situations than you do. I know the limitations of my equipment and physiology better than you do.
  • Will use lights and reflectors - lots of them. I want you to see me.
  • Will be respectful of pedestrians.
As a motorist, I:
  • Will drive predictably and follow the rules of the road.
  • Won't harass other road users. If they are going more slowly than I would like to go, I will wait until it is safe to pass and then I will do so. Even if annoyed, I will not tailgate, honk, yell, flash lights etc. I will not pass recklessly. I will wait until I can see far enough and until I have enough space to go all of the way around you. I will not attempt to pass you at all if your speed is reasonable for the conditions - regardless of the speed limit.
  • Won't take your turn at a 4 way intersection, just because I think I can accelerate faster than you. I won't wave you on when it isn't your turn.
  • Will be respectful of pedestrians.
  • Will remember that some road users are more vulnerable than I am and that I should exercise extra caution around them. I will not be upset at them for existing, nor will I call for their banishment from "my" roads for simply because I do not wish to be inconvenienced or to have to be properly careful.
Used with permission from "What does it mean to 'Share the Road.'"

Monday, January 17, 2011

Legislation to allow lower speed limits introduced in Washington State Legislature

"Slow Down and Save Lives" bill would help protect pedestrians and cyclists

Representative Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, last week introduced traffic-safety legislation that would help protect pedestrians and cyclists by allowing cities to set lower speed limits in residential and business districts.

The legislation, known as House Bill 1217, is one of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington’s top 2011 legislative priorities.  The concept for the bill was developed by the Bike Alliance’s legislative and statewide issues committee, which also helped draft the legislation.

The bill has already attracted several co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. In addition to Rep. Ryu, they include Rep. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle; Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima; Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick; Rep. Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton; Rep. Fred Finn, D-Thurston County; Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, D-Seattle; Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle; Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland; Rep. Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma; Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo; Rep. Marko Lilas, D-Edmonds; Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip; Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way; and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien.

Under HB 1217, local jurisdictions would be able to set blanket 20 mile-per-hour speed limits on non-arterial streets in residential and business areas.  Under current law, authority to set 20 mph speed zones is extremely limited, and outside of school zones may normally be done only after an engineering and traffic study has been conducted.

Twenty-mile-per-hour (or 30 k/hr) zones are widespread in European cities, where studies have proven their effectiveness at saving lives. British researchers concluded that 20 mph zones in London had saved 200 lives a year there. In addition, 20 mph zones reduce cyclist injuries by 17 percent, the researchers said.

The reason is simple physics: all other things being equal, both stopping distance and force of impact increase as the square of speed.  A vehicle traveling at 40 mph will strike a pedestrian with four times more force than a vehicle traveling at 20 mph.  Statistics from Britain illustrate what this means for deaths and serious injuries in car-pedestrian collisions:

Twenty-mile-per-hour zones would be a simple and significant step to help increase the safety of the most vulnerable road users. Please contact your legislators and let them know that you support the bill. And for updates on bicycle-related legislation, see the legislation and advocacy section of the Bike Alliance web page.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Teaching traffic school attendees to safely interact with bikes and pedestrians a legislative priority for the Bicycle Alliance

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington wants motorists in traffic school courses to be taught how to safely interact with bicyclists and pedestrians.

HB 1129, introduced this week by Representative Brad Klippert of Kennewick, would incorporate bicycle and pedestrian traffic safety curriculum in traffic schools.  Many cities and counties offer traffic school courses to motorists who have committed traffic-related offenses as a condition of deferral, sentence or penalty.

The Department of Licensing approved curriculum was developed by the Bicycle Alliance and is a requirement in drivers education programs in Washington State.  The Bicycle Alliance would make the curriculum available at no cost to traffic schools.

“Teaching drivers how to safely interact with bicyclists and pedestrians has only been a part of drivers education for a few years,” stated Bicycle Alliance Policy Director Dave Janis.  “Incorporating the curriculum into traffic schools gives us an opportunity to reach drivers who most likely did not receive this training previously.”

The Bicycle Alliance of Washington advocates for bicyclists and a bike-friendly state.  Information on this bill and other legislative priorities supported by them can be found at

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cyclists and motorists are mutually responsible for sharing the road

Earlier this week, a man—a bike commuter—dropped by our office to talk to me about HB 1018, the Mutual Responsibility bill. He had read the media report on the bill and the subsequent internet banter and he felt there was more depth to this legislation. He wanted to learn more. I was grateful that he took the time to better understand this legislation and I want to share that exchange with others of you who also have questions and concerns.

I also want to encourage interested individuals to read the Mutual Responsibility bill (with info boxes explaining proposed changes) on our website. Contact me, Dave Janis, if you have further questions about this bill.

What’s the purpose of this bill? What are you trying to accomplish?

HB 1018 recognizes that both motorists and bicyclists have a responsibility to safely share the road with each other, and addresses those responsibilities. We originally began this as a safe passing bill two years ago, but it did not pass. The Bicycle Alliance and its legislative committee listened to concerns expressed by legislators and law enforcement, then gathered additional input from bike clubs and other stakeholders to make this a more comprehensive bill for sharing the road safely. It is modeled after Mutual Responsibility laws that have passed in Colorado and Vermont.

The League of American Bicyclists, a national leader for bicycle safety and education, has reviewed this bill and Andy Clarke, the League’s President had this to say: 
In many ways, if HB1018 passes, it will set a new gold standard for the way a state vehicle code treats cyclists - possibly the first such major overhaul since the 70s. Significantly, while putting the cyclists perspective front and center, it is overtly multi-modal and reflective of the complete streets era.
What does the bill do in terms of assuring motorists pass bicyclists safely?

The bill defines two safe passing distances. At speeds under 35 mph motor vehicles must maintain a minimum distance of at least three when passing bicycles and pedestrians. At speeds of 35 mph or more, a minimum distance of 5 feet must be maintained to the extent it is reasonably feasible and safe. However, a minimum of three feet is still required.

I understand and appreciate the safe passing language, but how will it get enforced?

Law enforcement officials acknowledge that this will be difficult to enforce except in the most egregious of cases, but it can serve as a tool for public awareness. We have also clarified that it is ok for a motorist to cross the center line when overtaking and passing a bicyclist—when it is safe to do so—in order to allow for a safe passing distance.

Your bill says a cyclist must ride using the right through lane and ride as far to the right as possible. Why?

Bicycles are typically slow moving vehicles and rules of the road state that slower traffic ride to the right. The bill also recognizes that there can be exceptions to this rule and the bicyclist can judge what is reasonably safe. Exceptions include the road surface being free of hazards such as pavement defects and materials, and a safe distance from opening vehicle doors, personal safety of the cyclist, when a cyclist is traveling at legal speeds, making turns, or overtaking and passing another vehicle in the same direction.

But I may have legitimate reasons for not doing so. Riding far to the right may be unsafe.

The Mutual Responsibility bill is about motorists and cyclists safely sharing the road together and it clearly states that cyclists may choose to take the center of their lane for safety reasons. We frequently hear from cyclists that law enforcement and the public don’t always understand why cyclists need to take their lane, so we crafted this bill to include some specific instances when this is necessary.

Your bill forces me as a cyclist to use a bike lane or shoulder. I prefer riding in the road!

If you are traveling slower than the legal and normal speed of traffic and a bike lane or shoulder is present, you have a duty to ride there. And this is part of sharing the road. Again, there are exceptions to this rule—personal safety, surface hazards, making turns, etc. Other reasons a cyclist does not have to ride to the far right include while preparing to or making a turn, transiting a roundabout, or passing another vehicle or bicycle.

What is my obligation riding on sidewalks, crosswalks and trails and yielding to pedestrians?
Sidewalks, crosswalks and trails are part of our transportation system; they intersect with vehicle travel lanes, and are used by bicyclists. Cyclists riding on sidewalks, crosswalks and trails are expected to yield to pedestrians. Additionally, bicyclists on sidewalks, crosswalks and trails have the same protections as pedestrians and motorists must treat them as such.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Demonstration bike loading policy in downtown Seattle to become permanent

Last February, King County Metro dropped its restriction on loading bikes on buses at transit stops in downtown Seattle's Ride Free Area as a demonstration policy.  Since an evaluation of this demonstration policy reveals that there have been no problems with safety, operation, or on-time performance, this policy becomes permanent next month.

A big thanks to Metro for making this a permanent policy.  The Bicycle Alliance of Washington and Cascade Bicycle Club have advocated for this policy change for many years, and it's rewarding to have this loading restriction eliminated.  The Bicycle Alliance helped with community outreach on this policy change.  We have also provided information on how to load/unload bikes on buses and have had a demo rack available to practice on in our BikePort facility.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Drive Nice, Tacoma

A catchy public awareness campaign is reminding Tacoma motorists to share the road with bicyclists, pedestrians, and each other.  The Drive Nice, Tacoma campaign is a joint effort by the City of Tacoma and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and is funded through a grant from Washington State Department of Health.

The campaign features yellow and black signs that caution motorists with messages like "Pedestrians are not hood ornaments."  In addition to the signs, which are popping up around town, postcards and bumper stickers with safety tips will soon be available.  A News Tribune article includes images of three campaign signs.