Yesterday was the first day of May and, as opposed to the previous few days, the sun was out and it was a perfect day to switch my schedule to do errands in the morning before going to work. Around 10 a.m. I made it to the Rite Aid at Florida and Connecticut, which was to be my last errand stop before heading to work. By then I’d been walking various places for over an hour and thought it a good idea to sit on the low concrete wall outside just as some others were doing. And then I saw a woman bicyclist pedaling up Connecticut, helmet on, riding to the right, but not so far as not to be seen by the cars slowing driving up the same street. At that point there is a slight hill to go up. But she rode up it, beautifully and safely. I followed her progress because I hadn’t seen any bicyclists riding that stretch of Connecticut recently. I noted that her bike was neither a Bikeshare bike nor a fancy racing bike. But in the hands of someone who knew how to ride, it was doing the job.
Not a minute after she rode out of view, I saw a male bicyclist, riding on the sidewalk, cutting through a couple in the pedestrian crosswalk and up Connecticut on the sidewalk. He had a fancy bike and even what looked like some bike racing clothes. A few seconds later, another male rogue biker, followed, on the sidewalk, of course. Why do they do it? Only a few are willing to just say “Because I can” Some say, it’s because it’s dangerous to ride in the street even where there are bike lanes. The bicyclists don’t say they’re scared, but others say it as an excuse for them. But the reckless way they ride, and the bikes they ride, and the times they ride–at midday and on the weekends when there is less street traffic and way more pedestrian traffic tells me different. They ride on the sidewalk, in my opinion, because it’s all about them and everyone better get out of their way.
Yesterday I was just happy that I was going back down Florida to my work instead of Connecticut. As I started down Florida toward 19th I noticed another woman bicyclist pedaling on Florida, helmet on, riding properly to coexist with the autos and truck, which flow a little faster on that area of Florida than on that area of Connecticut. And I smiled. And when I got to 19th Street I was able to have a Brother Ah moment and enjoy the silence except for the beautiful bird chorus.
These two women reminded me of when I bicycled regularly on the West Side of Manhattan and on Staten Island. Never had an accident. Then I thought of the time I picked up an old bike in a Limerick, Ireland, bike shop and pedaled on the city streets all the way to the countryside, where there is no speed limit and no room for error–no bike lane and no berm. If an accident looked likely a bicyclist’s only chance was to abandon the bike and leap over the low Roman wall. But I knew that and was prepared if the need arose. But then I saw an older heavy-set woman in a calico dress pedaling out of the city ahead of me and figured–if she can do it, I can. Yesterday, I thought, I can but could a DC man riding a bike do it?
I want to conclude this piece by saying that the two women riders I saw yesterday were not unusual. While there are fewer women riders, I see them every day, including a number during rush hour on 16th, and they’re almost always riding in the street and doing so safely. I might see a woman riding on the sidewalk once every couple of months and usually it’s because she’s following her boyfriend who’s ahead and riding on the sidewalk. I applaud you, fellow women, for knowing both the rules of the road and the danger of riding on the sidewalk for you as well as the pedestrians. Keep it up! Maybe, just maybe, we can change the culture by example.