Archive | April, 2013

Dr. Gridlock and the amazing places bikes are allowed to ride in DC

25 Apr

Hello, again. I was traveling for a few days last week and missed out on most of the “fun” of dodging bicyclists on the sidewalk. But in one journey with members of my German class to the Bavarian Inn in WV we drove back along a route I knew well and I thought to myself of all the times I’d come back into town and used the GW Parkway and then over the Key Bridge into Georgetown on my way home. Thanks to our driver, I learned the virtues of the Whitehurst Freeway and vowed to take that little right turn at the north end of the bridge on to it instead of going through Georgetown on my way home to 16th Street.

I tell you all of the above, not only because I’m sure some of you have made the same trip, but because on Tuesday I picked up the Express and found in the DC Rider section a couple of answers from Dr. Gridlock to questions posed by a pedestrian under the title “Where are Bicycles Allowed?” Dr. Gridlock is very knowledgeable and has been doing this for many years so I’ll take his word for the following bit of information about the Central Business District. The questioner asked first what the laws were regarding riding bicycles in the Central Business District. He’d been hit from behind by a cyclist riding on a sidewalk on the east side of 15th Street. (as with many people he may not know exactly where the so-called Central Business District begins and ends. I recently found out even the police don’t know.) But here is Dr. Gridlock’s answer:

“Cyclists are barred from the sidewalks in the Central Business District. But I’ve never seen a warning sign on a downtown sidewalk. Things aren’t as bad as they were in the heyday of bicycle messengers, but there still are plenty of cyclists who ignore the law or are ignorant of it.”

And I say, all the more reason to ban sidewalk bicycling entirely so no one has to guess, including the police who have to enforce. Next week I’ll tell you a great horror story or two from the past about bicyclists riding the sidewalks of the Central Business District.

But, today, I want to get on to the second question to Dr. Gridlock, because it shows yet another serious problem of which I have not been previously aware–sidewalk bicyclists crossing the bridges. The questioner asked what the bike laws were for places like the Key Bridge adding that it was very hard to walk when bikes are whizzing by on the sidewalk. I agree with the questioner, especially since I had just seen the Key Bridge and had driven over it many times. So I have a very clear picture in my mind and there is barely enough room for two pedestrians walking together let alone a bicycle riding. Plus the sidewalk looks to me to be crumbling a bit. A person would have to be insane to ride a bike on that! Dr. Gridlock’s answer, which might have been edited from an original Post article said:

“Cyclists are allowed to use the Key Bridge sidewalk. My cross-bridge experience is that regular commuter cyclists tend to travel reasonably and are aware of pedestrians. Unfortunately, that’s not universally true. The bridges are places where travelers need to share.”

As a long time bicyclist myself I would repeat my earlier statement: A person would have to be INSANE to ride a bike on that sidewalk. The Key Bridge is not the Brooklyn Bridge, which has plenty of room for walkers and bicyclists.

This doesn’t mean that I would ride in the street over the bridge either. That would be insane as well. What I would do and have done with bridges in the past, is just dismount and walk my bike across. But that is one thing that only rarely occurs to DC cyclists.

Next week I hope to have some good news on the Business petition to ban sidewalk bicycling. So stay tuned and stay alert.


Last week’s (April 8-13) Horror Story

17 Apr

Since I was more than a little under the massive cloud of tree pollution last week, I tried to stay indoors with air conditioning as much as possible.  But since my kitchen window looks down over 16th Street and I had to feed myself, I saw something I hadn’t seen before, at around 5:30 pm, which I consider still rush hour:

There were plenty of pedestrians on sidewalks on both sides of 16th, between Q and R, coming home from work, when all of a sudden, I saw two guys, both in gym not work gear, riding side by side on the sidewalk talking to each other as if the sidewalk were a bike trail.  I saw at least a couple of pedestrians who saw them yield quickly.  But they were also going against the direction of street traffic and I have no idea what happened once they got south of Q, where there is a bus stop every couple of blocks.

Clearly these two didn’t care about you.  But I’d like you to come back and read my blog again.  So I say again STAY ALERT AND STAY SAFE.

Safety Tips Update

17 Apr

In my welcoming post on this blog I provided a few safety tips for those of us walking on DC sidewalks .  Since a friend suggested I categorize my blog topics and I thought that was a fine idea, I tried to do it.  And that’s how I discovered that, although I can create categories aplenty, I can’t reassign existing posts to them.  So to launch this important category I’m repeating some of my earlier tips and adding a couple:

Walking on the Sidewalk

1.  If you are walking on the sidewalk, walk as far to the right as possible.

This is the accepted flow of pedestrian traffic here in the USA, and, by doing so, you will leave a bicyclist only the option of passing on your left.

2.  Whenever you come to a corner, look both ways on the street you are turning onto before turning (just pretend you are an auto coming to an interesection).

Bicyclists on sidewalks follow no street traffic rules and so, one may come from one direction while another is coming from the other direction.  You, as the most vulnerable person on the sidewalk, need to be alert to any possibility.

3.  If you decide to get a newspaper from a street box, get out of the way of a puddle if it’s raining or do almost anything else that will cause you to move even a bit to the left, look behind you before moving left.

Bicyclists riding on sidewalks also do not warn you they are coming up behind you.  And it’s the rare bicyclist who will slow his ride enough to stay behind you.

4.  Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by the time of day or the lack of street traffic on a holiday.  Stay alert for all possibilities.

Since I’ve been walking to work I’ve discovered that it’s the middle of the day, evening or on a Saturday or Sunday morning when there are many more bicyclists riding recklessly on the sidewalks than at rush hours.  And they’re not usually Bikeshare bicyclists either.

Crossing the Street

1. PLEASE WAIT FOR THE PED SIGNAL.  This is not only the law, it gives you a few seconds to scan the entire street, all directions, in front of you. And, regardless of how long you think the light is taking to change, most lights are less than a minute.

  If you think no auto traffic is coming, remember there are also bicyclists.  And sadly they rarely stop for the light.  They too look only to see if a car is coming at the intersection they want to cross against the light.  They do not look to see if a pedestrian is crossing as well.

2.  Once you have the walk signal and start across in the crosswalk make certain to quickly look about half way across because bicyclists often weave between cars on their way to the intersection and can come at great speeds.

3.  Crossing or walking on the sidewalk, make it a habit to stay alert to the scene around you at all times. Do whatever works for you to make that a habit.

I say to myself “no bike” as I look each direction at a corner or a crossing and that helps me remember. It’s like signalling every time you turn, whether you’re riding a bike or driving an auto.  If you do it every time you make that move, even when pulling into your own driveway, you’ll never forget when changing lanes on a busy street or highway.

Proposed legislation and citizen action

12 Apr

Your blogger was a bit under the weather for most of the week because of the excessive tree pollen combined with the yo-yo temperatures. But I did fight through it to write a couple of letters to the mayor and council. And, if you have a real concern about issues of bike safety, pedestrian safety or any mix of the two. this is a good time to get involved with your own letters.

Sidewalk Bicycling

First, in a letter dated January 31 of this year, and hand-delivered on February 6, a group of prominent businesspersons in Dupont Circle sent a letter petitioning the Mayor and Council Chair to ban sidewalk bicycling throughout DC. If I can get more adept at linking, I might be able to reproduce this letter in its entirety. But basically the business persons stated their and their customers experience with almost daily close calls with sidewalk bicyclists and then listed seven reasons for a ban, along with explanations supporting same. I will only list the reasons here:
1. From their beginning the purpose of sidewalks has been to allow persons to walk safely beside streets and not be threatened by any vehicular traffic until they must cross a roadway.
2. Last year’s Gold “Walk Friendly” designation DC received from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center did not consider the effect on pedestrians of bicyclists riding on the sidewalks, a fact confirmed by a Center rep, who was surprised the question was even asked since “generally, cities do not allow bicyclists to ride on sidewalks.”
3. Current DC law , which prohibits sidewalk bicycling in only one small area of the city, known as the Central Business District (see prior post: A Few Words about Your Blogger and DC Law), is over 30 years old, and does not consider all the changes in the city since then.
4. Current DC rules are also outdated and depend on judgment calls making enforcement virtually impossible. If you want to check this out for yourself, search DC rules 18 DCMR 1201.8-1201.12 and see how safe you would feel even if a policeman were around at the time of an incident.
5. Serious cyclists know that bicycling on the sidewalks is actually more dangerous for the cyclist too than riding in the roadway and following traffic rules there.
6. this is an important quality of life issue. The number of incidents, many of which are not reported because the bicyclist hits and runs and the injuries are minor, has steadily increased in recent years. This issue has been brought up at numerous ANC meetings by the public.
7. Finally, the businesspersons ask: If pedestrians cannot walk safely on the sidewalk, where can they walk safely?
Citizen Action
My thought is that the more people who write letters referencing this letter and indicating their agreement with it, the more heat will be put on the politicians to do something. And so I wrote a letter indicating my agreement this week.

Cheh-Wells Proposed Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013

Early in February, after the businesspersons letter was sent, Council Members Cheh and Wells proposed the above amendment to the existing traffic law. While their action is unrelated to the business petition, I think it is a good opportunity to open up the entire discussion about how outdated our traffic laws are relating to bicyclists and to the sidewalk bicycle issue. And so I wrote encouraging them to work on a more comprehensive amendment that addresses the issues that have arisen in recent years with the rise of the bike culture as well as the increasingly vibrant neighborhoods throughout the city where there is substantial pedestrian traffic. (I will write more in another post, but it’s been a long week with a head that has felt for most of the week like a marshmallow)
so I’ll end here with
another Citizen Action thought: Look up the Cheh-Wells bill, see what you think of it and what could be added; and find out what, if anything your ANC is doing. I know that the ANC 2F, which I believe covers Logan Circle, is working on a resolution offering amendments including at least expansion of the zone in which sidewalk bicycling is prohibited. Your ANC may not see a problem if you don’t tell them. So let them know.

So, two letters, and hopefully a recovery weekend. And then, more next week.

Diary entries March 30 to April 2, 2013

2 Apr

April 2:  Well your blogger is temporarily frustrated again because, although at the suggestion of a friend, she added new categories, only one shows up on the page and it appears that until I have a consult with my friend who knows this stuff, it will remain that way.  I’m also encouraging comments especially if you have incidents you’d like to report.  Rest assured that, although you have to register to make comments, your e-mail address is not seen by anyone other than the administrator (me).  But you might like to let others notice what neighborhood you live in and where the incident was.

 Now, on to the diary entries for this week.

March 30:  A beautiful Saturday for my nephew and his family and me to go down to the Mall to see the non-cherry blossoms.  But there were plenty of people there and the Blossom Kite Festival.  So still plenty of picture taking opps. There were also plenty of bikes, mostly Bikeshare bikes. With such crowds on the paths, you would think that they wouldn’t be even trying to ride a bike.  But they did and, happily for the kids I had with me and other families, they rode very slowly as they wound between walkers.  So slowly that I sometimes worried about them tipping over and hurting themselves.  Some when they came upon a crowd, rode off on to the grass, which couldn’t be good for the grass.  And walking a bike doesn’t seem to occur to anyone.

But, as we walked back up to 14th and Constitution on our way to the Museum on American History for a kids’ bathroom and lunch break, reality set in again.  At the southeast corner the handicapped cut serves both pedestrians crossing Constitution and those crossing 14th and there was a huge crowd waiting at the corner for the light across Constitution to change.  Not too huge a crowd for two bicyclists to come from the 14th street side without warning to anyone and plow into the crowd scattering a number of people.  I yelled “Watch out!” and it appears that everyone separated for the rogue bikers in time.  I then yelled after them “Be careful, you jerks”  but they were riding fast enough to be out of earshot, or didn’t care to respond.  I noticed that they were not Bikeshare bikers, as is usually the case with the real rogues I see.

Back home in Dupont Circle toward evening I picked up groceries and headed back home along Corcoran.  I had started doing this because, between 17th and 16th, particularly on the South side, the sidewalk is brick with barely enough space for a single walker because of protruding steps, trees, etc.  But halfway down the block, I had to step behind one of those sets of steps to avoid a guy riding his bike while at the same time not looking ahead but looking at what I assume was his girlfriend who, bless her, was riding on the street on which there was no traffic.  So, at least in my neighborhood, even the sidewalks that are tough to walk on are not safe from these guys.  And, again, neither of these people were Bikeshare riders.

April 1:  Because my workplace was closed, I used my time to do a lot of errands and around noon, I walked to Rite Aid on Connecticut and Florida, then went down Connecticut to pick up pictures from Embassy Camera and then to order some business cards from Print Time on 20th and then home.  I was out about an hour and a half and this is no April Fool’s joke, I managed to meet up with 8 sidewalk bicyclists.  Some were not memorable, only one was a Bikeshare rider.  The one who scared me the most was the one at S and Connecticut who came up suddenly from behind as I was starting to cross with the light.  He gave no notice he was behind me; obviously used the sidewalk cut as a speed ramp because he flew by me and then made a quick cut right in front of me, which caused me to stop in the street to avoid being hit.  It appears he wanted to go across Connecticut.

After that fright I had a bit of time to collect my thoughts when in the camera shop and was ready to continue my trip, after looking both ways when I exited on to the sidewalk on Connecticut.  But I had taken only a few steps south when I saw another rogue bicyclist, cutting his way between the pedestrians and coming my way.  I could see by his determined stare and fancy bike that he meant business, as in “get out of my way, I’m the only important person on this sidewalk.”  Luckily I was out of his way, on the far right near the curb.  But, perhaps because of my recent experience and how recklessly I’d just seen him ride, I called out what has become my go-to phrase now that I know that, at least for now, it’s technically legal to ride on the sidewalk .  I called out: “Not man enough to ride on the street, eh?”  Usually this gets a quick obscene gesture, if that.  But this guy said “Read your DC Code” as he rode out of sight.  Even though I knew what he meant and that he’d probably been yelled at before because his answer was so ready, I couldn’t resist thinking “DC Code, would that prove he’s manly?”

I was much closer to home when I saw a Bikeshare bicyclist on the other side of the street doing two things that are only too typical.  Because he couldn’t be bothered riding even a half block out of his way to find a bike lane on a one-way street going his way, he was riding on the sidewalk of a one-way street going the opposite direction.  And, instead of paying any attention to pedestrians using the sidewalk, he was talking on his cell phone while riding.

Well, that’s the diary for this week.  Stay alert and stay safe!


Sidewalks are unsafe places for bicyclists to ride even if they don’t know it

2 Apr

One thing that I’ve learned from bicyclist friends and from serious bicyclists and studies is something I’ve always suspected:  Sidewalks are more dangerous for bicyclists than riding in the street, provided the bicyclist follows traffic laws.  Last July in the Washington Post, professional cycling coach and transportation writer, Ashley Halsey III, wrote as one of the ten things every cyclist should know was “Stay off the sidewalk.  It’s illegal in some places (such as downtown Washington) and it’s dangerous for you and pedestrians.”  And the Guide for Development of Bicycle Facilities published by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials explains why:

“Sidewalks are typically designed for pedestrian speeds and maneuverability and are not safe for higher speed bicycle use.  Conflicts are common between pedestrians traveling at low speeds (exiting stores, parked cars, etc.) and bicyclists, as are conflicts with fixed objects (e.g. perking meters, utility poles, sign posts, bus benches, trees, fire hydrants, mail boxes, etc.)..pedestrians often have difficulty predicting the directions an oncoming bicyclist will take.”

Of course, usually in a sidewalk collision between pedestrian and bicyclist the pedestrian is more seriously hurt.  One of our museum directors has had the misfortune of being hit twice.  The first time he was knocked to the ground but luckily not seriously hurt and the bicyclist sped away.  The second time, both he and the bicyclist ended up down–and the bicyclist had the nerve to yell at the director because the bicyclist had a few scrapes.  What’s a pedestrian to do?