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: http://publicservice.columbus.gov.bike/

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?

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