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D.C. Council backs proposal to let e-scooter riders recoup medical bills after crashes

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The D.C. Council on Tuesday passed several transportation measures, including one that would make it easier for some road users, including e-scooter riders, to recoup a share of medical bills and other costs if injured in a collision.

The council also approved a mandate for electric-vehicle infrastructure in future private developments and a bill giving the city more flexibility to increase parking rates in high-demand areas — two measures that supporters say will help the District meet its climate goals.

The votes come as the council rushes to approve legislation before the 2020 legislative session draws to a close.

In a change for e-scooter riders, the council voted to broaden the category of “vulnerable road users” exempted from the “contributory negligence” standard that governs tort claims in the District. The measure is set to change a long-standing city law dictating that for some road users to collect damages after a collision with a vehicle, the accident must be 100 percent the driver’s fault.

For example, when an e-scooter rider is struck and injured, the rider, even if 1 percent negligent, is barred from recovering any damages.

The measure establishes that comparative standard will be applied in cases where the plaintiff is a pedestrian or a “vulnerable user” of a public highway or sidewalk. The legislation defines a vulnerable user as someone “using an all-terrain vehicle, bicycle, dirt bike, electric mobility device, motorcycle, motorized bicycle, motor-driven cycle, nonmotorized scooter, personal mobility device, skateboard, or other similar device.”

The bill, passed unanimously, expands on a 2016 law that gave protection to pedestrians and riders of nonmotorized bikes, ensuring them a greater chance of collecting medical costs. The bill also expands the comparative standard to incidents that occur on sidewalks, rather than only on roadways.

D.C. Council weighs making it easier for e-scooter riders to collect damages after crashes

Under the measure, vulnerable road users “have to be found by the jury to be beyond 50 percent at fault for their injuries in order to be barred from recovery,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), the lead sponsor of the bill. “And that makes it so much more equitable and fair.”

Another bill would require that at least 20 percent of parking spots in new or renovated commercial and apartment buildings have infrastructure to allow for future electric-vehicle charging.

The bill requires builders to create only the infrastructure to support future installation of electric vehicle charging stations, such as conduit wiring and electrical current capacity. It does not require the charging station to be installed and does not mandate existing parking spots be converted to electric-vehicle charging spots.

D.C. Council backs proposal to let e-scooter riders recoup medical bills after crashes

Cheh, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, said the measure is critical in supporting the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the city, which she said will “play a key part in the District curbing its greenhouse gas emissions and meeting our climate goals.”

The city has set a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2032.

“Consumers report, however, that their biggest barrier to purchasing an electric vehicle is concern about where they can charge the vehicle,” Cheh said last month. “The legislation will help the District address those concerns and prepare for more widespread adoption of electric vehicles.”

According to a council report, installing the infrastructure during construction will save developers money. The average cost to install the infrastructure during construction is about $900 a spot, while retrofitting costs between $2,300 and $3,700, according to the report.

The rule would apply to building projects creating three or more new parking spots. The requirement, which would go into effect in January 2022, matches standards in other major cities, including Atlanta and Chicago.

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Another bill allows the District Department of Transportation to establish higher parking rates on a temporary basis in some locations when high demand for parking is expected near events.

The measure could potentially allow “DDOT to be more responsive to curbside demand,” Dan Emerine, DDOT’s manager of policy and legislative affairs, said during a September hearing.

In a letter Tuesday to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said increasing “performance parking” is a key mechanism in the city’s curbside management plan.

“By providing additional flexibility in our ability to match parking supply and demand, we will be able to encourage curbside turnover that makes finding a space easier for additional users, and can increase customer access to nearby businesses,” Bowser (D) wrote, pledging support for the bill. “Further, it en­courages alternative uses of transportation that have fewer carbon emissions.”

DDOT has operated some form of “performance parking” since 2008 near Nationals Park, where meter rates on game days reach as much as $8 an hour. In the Penn Quarter neighborhood, rates around Capital One Arena vary depending on time and demand, reaching up to $7 an hour.

The bills will go to Bowser with a 30-day period for congressional review.