Note: the following is testimony I presented in front of the DC Council regarding Bill 19-475, the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011. At the time, I was Chair of Potomac Pedalers.
Good day. My name is Rudi Riet.
I am a proud resident of Ward 2.
I am an everyday cyclist.
And I am Chair of Potomac Pedalers, a 2,200 member strong cycling club with members from the District, Maryland and Virginia. Every one of these members is an avid cyclist, and many of them live or work in the District.
Many of them ride in the District, either commuting, running errands, sightseeing or working out.
Most of them ride by the letter of the law. They stop at stop signs, yield right-of-way when prudent, and take over the lane when it is the safest option. They try to be respectful to fellow users of the roads.
And none of them like being harassed by fellow road users, especially motorists. And I – and the members of Potomac Pedalers – ask the Council to please pass Bill 19-475, the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011.
There are some who believe that the current laws regarding cycling and cyclists in the District of Columbia provide sufficient protection. And in theory, they do, provided they are consistently and effectively enforced among the entire user community of motorists, cyclists, motorcyclists, scooter drivers, Segway drivers and pedestrians.
But time and again, cyclists get the short end of the deal. We are often dismissed as “insignificant” or “not worth the trouble” by Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers called to the scenes of infractions. Cyclists often have to implore law enforcement to pay any mind to accidents that were not caused by any fault of a cyclist. Instead, cyclists are doubted, ignored, and sometimes ridiculed – treated as an “underclass” of road user.
As noted cycling advocate and lawyer, Bob Mionske, says, “if you are the victim of harassment, you don’t have to plead with the police or the district attorney to do something about it… You can bring your harasser to justice yourself.”
Cyclists put a lot on the line when they ride their bicycles. They are not protected by a metal crash cage – for many, a lightweight helmet and padded gloves are the only special protection donned to ride. The total weight of an average cyclist and his equipment (between 150 and 215 lbs.) is less than one tenth the weight of the lightest street-legal automobile, and one twentieth the weight of the average 4-door passenger car. The simple laws of physics put cyclists at great risk.
But we are entitled to use the roads, just like cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and the like. In the central business district of DC, bicycles must use the road, no matter what. And outside the central business district, it is often safest for all concerned that cyclists ride on the road, rather than share limited sidewalk space with pedestrians of all shapes, sizes and capabilities.
Cycling in DC is more popular than it has been in the past 100 years. Lifelong cyclists have been joined by new participants in our sport, some just treading the water, some full-on enthusiasts. We have taken to the streets of DC, and overall, most of these cyclists obey the law.
But this growth hasn’t come without friction from other road users. Cyclists find themselves cut off, boxed out, yelled at, insulted and threatened by motorists every single day due to the simple fact that they are riding in DC’s streets – doing something that is within the letter of the law.
The hope of the membership of Potomac Pedalers is that there will be consistent and fair enforcement of traffic laws with regard to all users of the road, cyclists included. The current system in place has proven itself to be, in practice, biased toward motor vehicles above all other road users. Cyclists find myriad obstacles in their way when trying to find legal recourse.
This discourages members of my club from taking advantage of the wealth of cycling opportunities available in the District. And the members of Potomac Pedalers tend to speak highly of our area wherever they travel, often with the caveat that DC “isn’t the best place for a cyclist to explore.”
This is a sad state of affairs, when DC has openly touted its ever-growing cycling infrastructure. Indeed, new bike lanes, bike racks, traffic signals and the popularity of Capital Bikeshare indicate that the District is working to attract cyclists and offer cycling as an encouraged form of transportation.
Yet when we find ourselves threatened or harassed by motorists, we are often without any legal recourse. We are covered by a one-size-fits-all law that primarily addresses the rights of the automobile and its driver. And when motorists harass cyclists, the cyclist often ends up having very little legal protection, even if said harassment involves threats of physical harm. As I noted earlier, the laws of physics work against cyclists in a one-on-one confrontation with a car.
In our support of the Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act of 2011, Potomac Pedalers asks for civil protections for cyclists that have real teeth: the right to civil penalties, punitive damages and attorney’s fees that will help give cyclists a more level playing ground.
I, and Potomac Pedalers, encourage the Council to support this bill. Thank you for your time.