Like pedestrians, bikers in D.C. face a whole array of safety issues while roaming the streets of the District. For myself, one particular time comes to mind. I was biking by 17th and K NW when a driver cut me off in making a right turn and virtually ensured I got a free copy of the Washington Post in the process. How? I flew right off the bike at a considerable speed right into a newspaper machine which immediately swung right on open. Biker safety issues are hardly limited to the District. I've almost got a free copy of the Seattle Times in a similar fashion. Both federal and local lawmakers have started to take increasing notice and action.
In December 2014, D.C.'s Representative Eleanor Norton Holmes and several other U.S. Representatives expressed concern over the fact that that the number of pedestrians and bicyclists in the U.S. being seriously injured or killed continued to increase while vehicular-traffic deaths and injuries continued to decline. Representative Norton Holmes and her colleagues instructed the Government Accountability Office to produce a study on these issues and trends. The report showed that from 2004 to 2013, total traffic fatalities decreased by about 24% while bicyclist deaths increased from 1.9% of total traffic fatalities to 2.3% of the total. One fix the report suggests is that the U.S. Department of Transportation "can help better define how to address safety by providing more data on a national level."
On a local level, District Ninja has found itself quite fortunate to have access to local data when it comes to issues such as biker and pedestrian safety. We have found the District Government's OpenData D.C. catalog to be very helpful and they have provided swift assistance whenever needed. Since our pedestrian Vision Zero post, there have been some significant events in the District's Vision Zero agenda. The most notable one has been the December 16, 2015, release of the D.C. Government Vision Zero Action Plan.
The Action Plan serves as the "playbook for the first years of the initiative and incorporates legislative and regulatory proposals already released by the Administration. For example, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015, currently under D.C. Council review, will mandate the D.C. Department of Transportation to start publishing monthly data on its website such as the date and time of biker/pedestrian collisions, location of collisions, number of fatalities, and other related data. The Action Plan also calls for the increasing traffic fines, raising some fines by 350% to 1000%. The jury is still out on the support for increased fines and their effectiveness. As Greater Greater Washington recently noted, research tends to suggest that increased fines do not result in noticeable levels of a change in behavior. It remains to be seen whether such fines will take effect. In a recent interview, Mayor Muriel Bowser noted "you want fines to discourage behavior, but you don't want fines to be so big that nobody pays them and you create other problems."
Uber (pun somewhat intended) excited by the release of the Action Plan, the District Ninja team set out to illuminate the Vision Zero biker data. We were curious about several things. For example, how did biker issues compare to those of pedestrians? Both geographically and in type of issues faced. Also, where exactly were the most biker issues happening by location and type of issue? To answer these questions, we ran queries against the same OpenData D.C. neighborhoods and streets data sets we used for our pedestrian post. On to the visuals!
This first visual represents the top 10 neighborhoods with reported biker issues and contains a breakdown of the month by month reporting of the issues. What we first noticed was that Monumental Core not only ranks first, but contains more than double the amount of issues as Downtown which ranks at number two. Also, as you may recall in our pedestrian post, Monumental Core had the second largest amount of pedestrian issues. This lets us see that this area is of particular significance with respect to pedestrian and biker safety issues given it’s high rankings in both areas.
We can also see from this visual that like in the pedestrian post, July again had the highest amount of incidents. We would again point out that while we can’t say for sure, this is probably due to the fact that District Vision Zero officials trekked the city in July and surveyed citizens in contrast to the other months which relied on self-reporting. But once again, the team debated this statistic. Some again thought that summer months bring more bikers out and hence a higher number of incidents reported. We also had some who thought that a general change in temperature is not enough (especially when you consider the Summter, summer + winter we’ve had in D.C.). Moving away from Neighborhoods, we then looked at which streets in the District reported the largest number of Vision Zero biker issues:
Any of our longer term readers will immediately note that 3 of the top 10 streets with reported biker issues are also listed in the pedestrian top 5 streets for pedestrian safety issues (14th Street, 17th Street, and K Street). Is this because these streets have safety issues in general? A large population of use? The data set makes it impossible to distinguish but it’s still fascinating to see the correlation. One may also note that the NW Quadrant of D.C. has the vast majority of Cyclist issues with 4th St and Pennsylvania Ave topping the list with 89 reported issues on each street.
There are some interesting takeaways from the differences in issue by streets as well. For example, depending on the street, the problems differ may significantly. 14th Street’s top issue for bikers appears to be double parking while that issue does not even come up for Massachusetts Avenue and only once on Florida Avenue. Of course, these discrepancies could be attributable to numerous things. For example, one street may not be conducive to double parking due to the flow of traffic/lane distribution, lack the space for double parking where as another street may have ample space for double parking and plenty of stores right off the street. That being said, it becomes interesting to see that a one size fits all approach may be tough when it comes to addressing the different safety issues for bikers across D.C. and some things may have to be more tailored for certain streets.
You can also see a difference in quadrant distribution for a street based on biker or pedestrian issues. For example, in our pedestrian post, with the exception of one category, 14th street had a fairly even distribution between the Northeast, Northwest, and Southeast. However, for biker issues, Northwest dominates with 56 total issues while Southwest and Northeast only log in 2 and 1 issue(s), respectively. In order to get a more macro idea of where bikers were reporting safety issues, we decided to do a color-coded (by type of biker issue) D.C. ward map.
From a ward prospective, we quickly noted some interesting takeaways. Overall Cyclist safety issues are most concentrated in Ward 2. In fact, the overwhelming amount of reported biker issues appear to be concentrated in Ward 1, Ward 2, and Ward 6. Of course, this does not mean that this is solely because these are where the most issues are. It could be that given the high population density in these areas, countless office buildings and stores, probability says there just may be more issues. This is one of of many potential reasons. Either way, it’s interesting to see the geographic concentration.
We hope you enjoyed this piece and stay tuned for our next post in our Vision Zero series!