Archive | June, 2013

DC Laws: What part of “sideWALK” doesn’t DC Gov understand?

25 Jun

Last week had its highs and lows. But in the end it was a difficult week. I spent a good deal of time, when I wasn’t working at my regular jobs, discussing the issues of bicycle safety and pedestrian safety at a couple of meetings and informally. I also read at least two columns posted in the Greater Greater Washington blog, one by Dave Alpert reacting to a close call he and his pregnant wife had with a sidewalk bicyclist and the Logan Circle ANC resolution and InTowner editorial about which I’ve already reported. And, of course, I spent a good deal of time dodging sidewalk bicyclists too. (more about that in my next diary entry).

At the end of the week, with some time for reflection, I thought to myself that maybe my thoughts about what sidewalks were to be used for was outdated. I find it always helps to go back to basics and question even your own starting principle. So I took my Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary off the shelf as I’d been taught to do in elementary school, where if we successfully completed the lesson, we got a cool button that said “We never guess. We look it up.” Although the button is long gone, I’ve never forgotten the saying. It made sense to me then and even more sense now.

My dictionary’s definition of sidewalk is simple and to the point: a usually paved walk for pedestrians at the side of a street. There were no alternate definitions! And the word has been in use since 1739!

But, wait! I thought. My dictionary was published in 1998. It might be that in the last 15 years, things had changed. Or a special alternate definition was added for DC. So, to the Internet I went, and was rewarded beyond what I’d hoped. The current definition is exactly the same as above. The first known use is the same. Still no alternate definition. BUT my reward? the Internet Merriam Webster entry adds an example of usage. Only one. And here it is:

Examples of SIDEWALK

Bicycles are not allowed on the sidewalk.

Needless to say I ended a difficult week with a smile on my face, although I think a better example would have been “Bicycle riding is not allowed on the sidewalk,” because, of course, bicyclists walking their bikes on the sidewalk is within the meaning of the word as well as safe for all concerned. And I’m thinking my 4th grade teacher would agree.

But I still have the question in my mind: What part of such a simple word does DC Government not understand? I realize that bureaucracy is in full flower here, from the Federal government, down through our local government and even into some of our civic organizations, who are often populated with bureaucrats and bureaucrats in training. But there is no way in any democracy that the word SIDE-WALK should be perverted into meaning “alternate bike lane.” Other cities understand this. Why not us?

Still, it’s up to us ordinary citizens to stand up if we care about staying safe when we are walking on the SIDE-WALK. As I’ve reported before a few have started to act. But we need more. So, why not at least comment on this blog? And look to my Citizen Action: Teamwork is Power post just below. And, regardless, STAY ALERT AND STAY SAFE.


DC Laws: Citizen Action Update: Teamwork is Power

18 Jun

I waited until today to post this note because I had hoped to give you two pieces of good news together. But sadly it was not to be. However, the one piece of good news is that The InTowner neighborhood newspaper has just published its June online issue with another fine editorial by the publisher. To read it click on the following:

I thank him for mentioning me and this blog as well as my desire to find other interested persons who are interested in working together on the issue of banning sidewalk bicycling in DC, as it is banned in other cities. There is only so much that I, as one person, can do. But with even two or three other people, a lot more can be accomplished. As I say above, “teamwork is power.” And, since we all have other lives, I don’t think that any one member of the team would have to do too much. I am interested in ideas you have to move attention to this issue forward.

If all you have time for is to comment on this blog, do it.

Letter writing, e-mailing and other contact with your Council members and your ANC is also good. And, if you contact me, I can even provide a template to work from.

Canvassing local businesses for support, either of the existing businesspersons letter or a new one is another way to help.

But people who have other interests, like researching data on accidents and enforcement of existing laws and rules, can help as well.

And, if you love to strategize on other effective political action, there’s a place for you too.

I’m also looking for people who live in Dupont or U Street, which I’ve noticed is beginning to have more sidewalk bicycling issues.

The important thing is that we work together. And like a team, any action we take will be more effective.

So contact me on this blog or directly to my e-mail at

Let’s not wait until a child or a grandparent is maimed or killed. let’s let our voices be heard now.

DC Laws: Comparing with Other Cities(Columbus, OH)

14 Jun

In this post I’m going to start discussing other cities’ bike laws in more detail. I’ve chosen Columbus, OH first because I’ve lived there in the past. And, since I still make frequent trips there, I’ve kept up with their progress on all fronts. Secondly, and most importantly, Columbus is in many ways a lot like DC. And it has always had a big bicycling community.

For those who don’t know anything about Columbus, it is the the capital of Ohio. It has also been for years by far the largest city in Ohio. Its population, however,at 787,000, is not that much larger than DC’s. And like DC it has a smaller “downtown” per se but has many neighborhoods, each with its own business district, spread out over a large area. As a state capital it is also a government town, with all state agencies offices, as well as the governor, courts, etc. in the city, most downtown. Like DC it also has many lawyers and lobbyists and their offices. In addition, since the 1980’s Columbus has become a center for major banking and insurance companies. Besides the main campus of Ohio State and its 50,000 students, the city has other universities, Capital, Franklin, Ohio Dominican and several smaller professional schools. It’s also a major center for research and technology. Columbus even has a “beltway” although it’s not called that.

Unlike DC, Columbus does not have as good a mass transportation system, buses only. As a result there are still many people who drive their autos to work. And as to bad drivers, just as in DC, because a lot of the drivers come from elsewhere, there are plenty of those as well. And, as I found in my last trip there last month, there is plenty of construction.

Nonetheless bicyclists abound, including those who use their bikes to commute. And for the truly hardy, there is an annual 200 mile ride from Columbus through Southern Ohio to Portmouth on the Ohio River. Columbus has one bike trail along the Olentangy River, which goes from downtown north for a few miles. But unlike DC, it is interrupted periodically by city streets. And it best serves only bicyclists living close. So most bicyclists must ride on the streets if they are going to work as opposed to just out for fun. The city has mapped out “bike routes” throughout the city, which are marked on the street and by signs. But this only indicates routes that are easiest for bicyclists to use. They must share the street with cars. Still, they do because, as in most cities, Columbus does not allow bicyclists, other than young children, to ride on the sidewalks.

Check out the Columbus Code in layman’s language here:

Note especially the opening highlighted statement: REMEMBER: Under Ohio law and City of Columbus Code, bicycles belong on the road, so motorists and bicyclists must share the road safely.Bicyclists, like motorists must obey all relevant traffic laws.

The rules listing continues, for bicyclists and for motorists:

For Bicyclists Rule no. 1 is “Obey all traffic laws, including stopping for red lights and stop signs”. No. 2 is “Ride with traffic, do not pass automobiles in your lane on the right.” No.3 is “Keep your eyes and mind on the road, do not be a distracted bicyclist”. And No. 5 is “Do not ride on sidewalks (Under City of Columbus Code, only young children are permitted to ride on sidewalks.)”

The other rules are equally simply stated and sensible. And in my most recent trip in mid-May I found male and female bicyclists riding in the streets with traffic and moving around construction easily and properly. I was pleased to see that. But it made me question even more the so-called “fears” some DC bicyclists claim when riding on our streets because I’ll tell you that the streets in Columbus, as well as the amount of auto traffic and construction, is much more challenging. And there are no bike lanes. Yet Columbus bicyclists, women and men, make it look easy. Since I rode my bike there often, in the downtown area as well as north of OSU on the main streets, since the bike trail was out of the way, I can tell you, when you follow traffic rules and stay alert: “It ain’t that hard.”

One wonders also whether DC is intent on becoming known for its bike wimps as well as its weather wimps. Not a title I want for DC, do you?

Diary Entry: Ode to Adam

7 Jun

Instead of writing about yet another close call with a sidewalk rogue bicyclist, of which I had more in the last few days, I’ll be writing about a neighbor of mine who once was, but is no more, a sidewalk bicyclist.

When you live in an apartment building, as I do, you don’t often get to know many neighbors, even those on your own floor. Every one is coming and going at different times and, unless your schedule is the same or you meet in the laundry room, there’s often little time to even say a few words. I always try to get to know the people around me, but in a busy city with busy people, that’s not always possible. But it’s a shame nonetheless.

Adam was my neighbor for over two years and we did speak occasionally at the elevator— about the weather or, when he had a broken leg, I commiserated. I also brought up his Sunday New York Times, as I did for others on my floor, since I’m usually the first person out the door on Sundays and I know from past experience how the Sunday Times in particular gets “appropriated” by persons other than the subscriber if left out downstairs too long.

But I never really got to know Adam as a person until two weeks ago when I came back from an evening meeting and found him and a bunch of boxes piled in our hall. He was moving out. I said I was sorry to see him go and asked where he was moving. San Francisco, he said. And since I knew he rode a bicycle (although I did not know if he rode on the sidewalk) and I’d just done research for this blog on sidewalk bike laws there, I said “You know they don’t allow sidewalk bicycling there.” And he responded: “Yeh, I know. That’s fine with me.” I complimented him on that attitude and it was then he learned about my activities on this issue and then I learned how he had broken his leg. Turns out he had been bicycling on the sidewalk when he met an obstacle he hadn’t planned on—a car door. This was not the “dooring” type of incident in the street you hear about occasionally when someone opens a car door into the street side without properly looking for oncoming traffic, including bikes. No, this was on the sidewalk. Car parked properly at curb and person exiting on the sidewalk side. Any person walking on the sidewalk would not have been affected because they would have just walked around. But, for a bicyclist coming at 30 mph, that was not an option. Especially coming around a corner.

I didn’t ask for more details, but I know that in our half block alone we also have two vehicle turnarounds serving the buildings just north and just south of us. So this could have been a factor as well. But, unlike in the street, persons exiting cars onto the sidewalk have no expectation of traffic coming at them at high speeds or reason to look for it, when they exit.To Adam’s credit he knew this. While it was too late to avoid a long painful recovery, he knew he was at fault. And so, he said to me after completing his story: I’ve never biked on the sidewalk since. He’ll be happy in San Francisco.

Two days later I went down to the laundry room and found something Adam had left behind in his move. (We often leave things on the table there that we don’t want to trash and hope someone else will find a use for). Adam had left for takers a portfolio case full of CD’s. And now I wish I’d know him better when he was still here. Any man who listens to Beethoven, Debussy, Gershwin Piano Rolls, Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, as well as Adele, the Dave Matthews Band, and Aretha Franklin, is a man worth knowing. Despite the difference in our ages, Adam being the younger, I’m sure we would have had a lot to talk about musically. But I’ll be playing his music and I wish him well and at least I know he’ll be riding safely as he pedals through life.

And, now I’ll be out of town for a few days and so wish you all a good safe weekend. STAY ALERT. STAY SAFE.

DC Laws: Congrats to Logan Circle ANC2F and citizen action

7 Jun

Good News today! On June 5 ANC2F unanimously passed its resolution in support of the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013 and Further Pedestrian and Bike Safety Improvements. As soon as I have the complete text in easily linkable form, I will add it to this post. But, in the meantime I’ll share with you a critical provision insofar as we pedestrians are concerned. The resolution asks for the following:

1. That the city council direct DDOT to study and provide a written report to the Council within six months recommending revisions to 18 DCMR Section (S) 120l.9 such as:
a. Expanding the area in which riding bicycles on sidewalks is prohibited to streets where (I) population density or infrastructure limitations make it unsafe for pedestrians, (ii) bike lanes are already available for bicyclists, (iii) other factors that, in DDOT’s view support extending the prohibition and that (iv) recommends limited exemptions for the public’s safety, such as bicyclists 12 yrs old and under
b. Reducing the speed limit for bikes traveling on sidewalks
c. Whether existing penalties encourage compliance with the law

What You as a Citizen Can Do

If you’re in Logan Circle, write or email your council person to support this resolution and, if you have specific incidents that happened to you as a result of sidewalk bicycling mention them

If you’re not in Logan Circle, get in contact with your own ANC, tell them about the resolution, tell them to support it. Also ask them what they plan to do to help. I’ve already emailed my Dupont ANC2B reps. It’s easy with the Internet. The ANC’s and their members are all listed.

Keep the pressure up and we might just get somewhere.