I decided to give these entries a title because most of them shed serious doubt on things I heard and read during the week of June 16, all of which revolved around numbers and data. So maybe my thoughts ran more that way than usual.
Friday, June 21 Taking advantage of excellent weather, I moved my work outside to my apartment building’s garden, which fronts on 16th Street. For once I wished I didn’t have such good peripheral vision. From 3 pm to 3:30 pm alone, 10 sidewalk bikers going both directions on my side of the street at the same time as mothers were taking their kids in strollers for a ride or bringing them back from day care; others were walking dogs; and one man with a cane was struggling with two shopping bags. Three of the bikers were on their cell phones. None gave any warning as they sped past. I looked out further each time I noticed one and saw at least 7 bicyclists riding in the street with no problem. This included the only Bikeshare bicyclist I saw.
When I work outside around mid-afternoon before rush hour, the above is the norm, not the exception. So when I read the Greater Greater Washington post by Dave Alpert that a friend sent me the same day, it strained credulity to read that he called sidewalk bicyclists “a rude minority” Not in my neighborhood, sir! On any midday or weekend, they’re the majority. DO THE MATH!
Saturday, June 22 A young friend living near National Cathedral mentioned to me that the problem with sidewalk bicycling was getting worse since Capital Bikeshare located a couple of places in the neighborhood. So I started keeping my eyes open because, although I wouldn’t say casual bicyclists should ride on Wisconsin, some of the sidewalks there are not good for riding either. For example the portion of the Wisconsin Avenue sidewalk that runs from Fulton to Garfield on the Temple Micah side. In that single block there is, first, a narrow sidewalk the whole block and there is a parking entrance for the temple and two entrances for pedestrians to enter the temple. And there is greenery that overhangs the sidewalk from a private house.
But, Saturday morning, about 10 a.m., I walked up Garfield to Wisconsin. Just as I turned on to Wisconsin and headed south toward the temple’s pedestrian handicapped ramp entrance, I saw a sidewalk bicyclist (not a Bikeshare bike) riding north toward me. At that point I thought I could make it the 50 feet or so to that entrance since the biker had still to negotiate the parking lot. But the biker was too fast, and too lucky with auto traffic pulling in, and was soon almost upon me. Since the sidewalk was so narrow and the only alternative was for me to step into the muddy ground trim next to the curb, I thought for once I would not yield until I had to. The biker kept coming, looking straight at me, only wobbling a bit but neither dismounting or slowing down. There was no way for it to go to my left because trees and bushes were leaning over the sidewalk at that point. So the biker came straight at me until, with a couple of inches to go, I yielded and stepped into the mud. In that case I did say as the person whizzed by, “You’re supposed to yield to pedestrians” Like that did any good! [ BTW I wouldn’t recommend you try this. I watched all the way and knew I had an escape route. I also still have some of my former tennis player’s quickness.]
Later I decided to actually measure the sidewalk to see if anyone in their right mind would even assume the sidewalk was good for riding. Without considering the overhanging greenery that sidewalk side to side is at max 48 inches across. The handlebars of a Schwinn bike are 25 inches across. With my arms at my sides I’m 20 inches across. If either of us had our arms out at all or were carrying something, we could not both have stayed on the sidewalk without hitting each other with injury. DO THE MATH! A worse thought, what if the biker had been coming up from behind me?
Later the same day I was back in my neighborhood, about 5 pm, coming out of the DCJCC. As I entered the main sidewalk for a quick walk to the corner of 16th and Q, I looked both ways and, seeing no one, stepped forth. But before I got to the corner a sidewalk biker sped by my from behind without giving warning. But since he had to stop at the corner because of the auto traffic and perhaps because of the incident earlier in the day, I called out “Say something when you’re passing, jackass!” In reply, he said–among other things–“I was nowhere near you.” I told him the truth: if I’d moved just a bit to my left or stumbled he would’ve hit me. An older lady, also standing at the corner, joined in with me. She and I ended up crossing together when the light changed, just in time to be almost run over by another biker coming the opposite way, on the other side of the Q St. sidewalk. This one was on his cell phone and whipping around the corner up the 16th St. sidewalk.
The first biker’s comment about his being “nowhere near me” stayed in my head. A couple of days later when I next went that way, I carried my measuring tape. And, if you count only the part of the sidewalk not obstructed by tree plantings or concrete , there would be 22 inches, less than two feet between us max– if we were both going in a straight line at the edge of the unobstructed walk. Nowhere near? Actually, no room for error on either of our parts. DO THE MATH!
Finally, a couple of incidents requiring no math at all, but reminding us to ALWAYS STAY ALERT:
Wednesday, July 3 A little after noon I headed out of Safeway at Corcoran and 17th. In front of me was a blind man being guided by a Safeway employee across the pedestrian crosswalk. Cars in all lanes were stopped waiting for him to cross. I started walking behind him, but immediately stepped back to the curb, when I saw a bicyclist talking on her cell phone speeding down the bike lane. She flew past, not even slowing at the crosswalk where all the cars were stopped. She would have hit anyone in her path because she completely ignored both that crosswalk and the one just south of it.
Friday, July 5 Something happened to my knee this morning that made me walk unsteadily. I even took a cab to Rite Aid at Florida and Connecticut, where I would normally walk. But I thought by being very careful and hugging the buildings, I could make it as far as the post office, which is at the other end of the same block on Florida before taking a cab home. About halfway down the block, a bicyclist raced by me on the sidewalk from behind, without warning. Given my unsteadiness, for the first time I realized what people who always have problems walking, whether because of age or disability, must feel every time they walk on these DC sidewalks. I was really fearful. So once again I say, this time pleading: IT’S A SIDE-WALK!