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Safety and Awareness are Key fo Car Free Day 2012

Go car free for the first day of fall, Sept. 22.

Thousands of Washington, D.C. area residents have pledged to travel car free or car-light this Saturday during Car Free Day hosted by Commuter Connections. Many of those car-free people will walk or use a bike.

With the influx of people traveling by foot and bike this Saturday, Nicholas Ramfos, director of Commuter Connections, is concerned about people's level of alertness.

“You really need to follow the rules of the road,” said Ramfos, who hopes people who ditch the car for a day might change their daily commuting habits.

According to the 2011 American Community Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday, 9,669 D.C. workers commuted to work via bike in 2011. That is about 3.2 percent of all D.C. workers surveyed.

“The percentage of people biking is high, and it’s growing,” said Greg Billing, Washington Area Bicyclist Association Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator.

Billing credits Capital Bikeshare, which began 2 years ago this month, for being a "huge" part of the growth in bike usage.

Biking has increased in D.C. but so have crashes. Last week, the Examiner reported 435 bike crashes in 2010 according to DDOT, which is 72 percent more crashes than in 2000.

“The trail is narrow, and a lot of people use it,” said cyclist Mark Kerlin.

Kerlin has biked the 27-mile round-trip from his home in Oakton, Va. to his job at the American Society of Nephrology in downtown D.C. The same trip on a metro rail costs him around $10 at peak time.

Kerlin , who is a 2006 Virginia track champion, prefers to ride in the traffic lane at 20-mph.

He said the most dangerous place for city bikers is riding where they think they should ride - far to the right on roads.

Kerlin said drivers are more predictable than pedestrians. He would rather ride next to a vehicle on the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes that run between passing traffic than next to the curb.

The Examiner called these same lanes “a source of contention – between bicyclists and drivers,” particularly driver’s making U-turns.

By late Thursday morning 6,300 people had signed the Car Free Day pledge. Ramfos hopes for a total of 10,000 by Saturday.

With a possibility of thousands more bicyclers and pedestrians this Saturday, Kerlin stressed the importance of “situational awareness” for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclers.

Ramfos echoed that sentiment. “Folks just need to get used to sharing the road," he said.

Pledges can be made online until 5 p.m., Saturday. Participants have a chance to win prizes such as an iPad, bicycle, and Capital Bikeshare membership.

Click here for Car Free Day events and route tips.

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