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with some time for reflection, I thought to myself that maybe my thoughts about what sidewalks were to be used for was outdated.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.