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with some time for reflection, I thought to myself that maybe my thoughts about what sidewalks were to be used for was outdated.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


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

  1. Emilie Madden July 10, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    Greetings and I applaud your (even to some) vociferous denouncement of bicycle “riding” (operative word) on a side “walk” I am now in my mid-60’s and commute daily to work on my two front feet (and also live in Dupont Circle around 17th & P). I cannot tell you how many times I’ve almost been run over by, whistled at to move to the right, etc., and that’s just the locals. The tourists now in town are also making up the rules as they go along. I disagree with cyclist apologists who say “if there is no safe segment” on the street then cycling on the sidewalk should be allowed.” I don’t care if some of those same apologists say creating “more” restrictive regulations will discourage folks from cycling to work rather than driving.” That is all horse puckey and specious arguments at best. There is riding and there is walking, there is a street for cyclists (where, by the way, us bipeds aren’t ALLOWED to traverse and would get a jaywalking ticket in a New York minute). Get off my sidewalk (and I’ll stay out of your street, unless I am cycling, of course).

    I have written to WABA several times and even our local ANC rep over the years – so we need to band together on this.

    Sorry to write from my office e-mail, but you caught my attention big time from today’s Washington Post snip.

    emilie madden

    • jeannemallett2013 July 11, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

      Thanks, I appreciate the comment and that you have taken other action. If you have any time to do more, please read my post, Teamwork is Power and see if there are any things there you might be interested in doing. My regular e-mail is also there.

  2. ericaj July 11, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    I love your blog. How can I contact you so I can get involved on how to STOP riders from biking on the side walk? I want to do more on this topic in my area.

    • jeannemallett2013 July 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

      Thanks for the great review. if you look at my post(scroll down about 4 posts) on Citizen Action, Teamwork is Power, you’ll see some thoughts I had about what others can do. And I include my email address. It’ll be great to have you aboard.

  3. June Johnson July 12, 2013 at 4:45 am #

    I was so glad to see your article in today’s paper. I live in Crestwood and while there is some interest in creating safer sidewalks, there isn’t much. I have had to help a neighbor out of the bushes after she was startled by a speeding cyclist on l6th street. There just hasn’t been any thought given to how to handle all of the bicycles now speeding around town, on the sidewalks and in the streets. I really appreciate what you are trying to do. Is
    our government listening?

    • jeannemallett2013 July 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      Thanks for your comment and good wishes. Crestwood is a lovely area and I am certainly sorry your friend had that scare. I haven’t fallen yet while yielding to bikers who should be yielding to me. But twice in recent weeks I’ve had to move quickly into the shrubbery at the Dupont Hotel where 19th St., the Circle and NH join to avoid a sidewalk bicyclist speeding heedlessly around the corner.

      The answer to your question is: No, I don’t think our government is listening–yet. But every little bit helps, like the Logan ANC resolution, which you read about, and the Dupont businesspersons letter, which was not mentioned, and which shamefully has still not been answered by the Mayor, Council Chair or Jack Evans. The more of us who raise our voices and especially those who provide concrete examples the more attention we will get. As you can read in my initial posts, I spent a couple of years writing my council person, Mr. Evans. He never replied but his office said I needed an organization behind me before they would listen. So I started speaking at hearings and trying to get my area’s civic organizations involved before I finally sat down at the end of last year and said–what can I do by myself? First, since I knew most of the local business people whom I frequented were upset about this issue, I helped them develop a letter calling for a ban. Then I thought of the blog and through that met a group of Logan Circle people who were already working on the issue in their neighborhood. And now you and the other commenters.

      I’m not going to say things are going to turn around tomorrow. It’s still a long haul. But as a child in Toledo, Ohio, I learned that the people we elected are public servants, not public officials, and that means they must serve all the public not just powerful lobbies. But here a lot of persons who are elected forget that. So it’s a long haul. But the more of us who speak out the better off we are.

      Thanks again and keep visiting this blog and commenting.

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