Wheels Of Change
D.C. has a long way to go to become bicycle friendly.
More people are biking around Washington these days, for a number of reasons. Consider the economy and the surge in popularity of bike-sharing programs. More and more, people in the nation’s capital are taking advantage of this renewable, healthy alternative mode of transportation.
There’s also been a lot of talk lately about the bicycling culture in DC, how it’s not as strong as some other cities. What many fail to realize is that it’s going to take more than just bike lanes and eco-friendly residents. There has to be a kind of three-way street approach. Culture change, safety and respect for others are the foundations that are still missing in Washington’s bike equation.
Being an avid bicyclist and an advocate for bike friendly communities, it pains me day in and day out dealing with the inevitable drama between drivers, bikers and pedestrians in this city. Can’t we all just get along?
When will drivers start respecting and sharing the road? When will bikers do the same? Lives are at risk, not just your daily commute. The young woman coming home from her job at the nonprofit – struck and killed by a truck just blocks from her apartment. It’s a storyline that has played out several times during my time in this town.
We can’t leave out the stories of harassment, how bicyclists are fighting for their rights by getting new laws passed aimed at safer interaction with cars and trucks. It’s a necessary part of changing the culture of urban transportation. In some cases, rules have to be changed. In other cases, rules simply have to be followed, and more importantly, enforced.
Let’s also consider the pedestrian. Lest bikers forget, people walk on sidewalks. With too many cyclists afraid to enter the street, they instead choose to terrorize people on foot. It’s gotten to the point where you literally have to watch your back.
Technically, riding your bike on the sidewalk is legal anywhere outside the central business district downtown, but that shouldn’t give bikers a free pass to speed through foot traffic. It’s called a sidewalk for a reason. With rules of the road already in place, there ought to be city-enforced rules in place for sidewalks, targeting cyclists who speed and weave in and out of foot traffic.
We’ll get into common courtesy in a bit, but for bikers, please remember that’s it’s not a difficult task to announce yourself. It’s not that hard to ring a bell. If it’s too much of an inconvenience for you to slow down, then you should learn to ride in the street.
It’s unfortunate so many bikers avoid the street and fail to take advantage of bike lanes -- where they’re available. More bike lanes need to be made available, no question, but if a route is carefully planned utilizing bike lanes already there, you go a long way in reducing the drama and increasing traffic flow. It also helps the cause.
Where there’s not a bike lane to be found, there’s nothing wrong with entering motor vehicle traffic. Just follow the same rules as motor vehicles, and add hand signals. This is the law.
There was a time when I told people to leave the bike at home if they were too scared to ride in the street. Now, I suggest looking into taking a city confident riding course. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) offers classes on a regular basis. It’s an invaluable resource. WABA is an invaluable resource on all cycling issues in this city.
Some government officials are also doing their part by lobbying for things like cycletracks. These are bike paths that are separated, buffered or taken out of the vehicle traffic mix all together. Kudos to Ward 2’s Jack Evans, who has said he supports cycletracks along L and M Streets to Georgetown. Others, like DC Council member Tommy Wells, routinely hold events and provide bike-friendly input on the city’s transportation projects.
Safety is a key foundation, of course. Unfortunately, many drivers and bikers fail to take safety into consideration, and we’re not just talking about bike helmets. You can wear a bike helmet if you want. It’s your head, not mine.
What so many bikers and drivers fail to grasp is the need to minimize the risk to others they’re sharing the road with. It’s just common courtesy to follow the rules and slow your speed in heavy traffic. Not only do you gain the respect of your fellow travellers, there’s also the added benefit of getting everyone safely from point A to point B. Brilliant.
Common courtesy from both car drivers and bikers can go a long way in making D.C. more like a Portland, Oregon in terms of bike friendliness. We’ve got the hipsters. We’ve got the young professionals concerned about their health and their environment. We’ve got an ever-growing cross section of the population riding their bikes every day, and we’ve got excellent organizations like WABA working to improve the biking culture on a daily basis.
Now all we have to do is start following the rules, take others into consideration and keep safety as a priority. The rest will follow, including new laws, more bike lanes, cycletracks and a stronger bike culture in D.C.
Until then, I’ll keep taking out revenge on my fellow cyclists who nearly take me out on the sidewalk. It’s just common courtesy on my part.