Diary Entries: June 16-July 6 (Do the Math!)

9 Jul

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!

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9 Responses to “Diary Entries: June 16-July 6 (Do the Math!)”

  1. Jim Bunting July 10, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    It seems like you care more about having an avenue to complain than actually doing anything. Leave the politics to people who don’t have personal vendettas.

    Also – simply complaining that the neighbor’s kids won’t stop playing in front of your house isn’t enough to get the city to ban children – it really just annoys the rest of us.

    Perhaps try refining your approach a bit – plenty of bikers on sidewalks aren’t terrible human beings with no regard for safety.

    Though I’d certainly support a ban on phoning while cycling. Think of all the telephone cord we’d save!

    • jeannemallett2013 July 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

      Thank you for your comment. But really, sir, I have no personal vendetta. And it’s a bit over the top to use the false analogy of banning children or that I think all bicyclists on sidewalks are terrible persons. Many do it because they see others do it and don’t realize the dangers. I use my personal experiences and incidents to show the growing problem and I encourage others to use commenting on this blog to report incidents they have had or observed in order to help make the case.But if you read my earlier posts you will find I also provide information on safety tips, how other cities comparable to DC handle the issue, and updates on work on this issue here. Excuse me if I’m a bit outspoken and a bit argumentative at times. But I happen to believe that it is the duty of every citizen of this fine country to actively involve themselves in politics, especially when it is obvious that an important issue affecting public safety and quality of life is not getting the attention it deserves.

      And, of course, if you take the time to read other earlier posts, you’ll find that I’m not alone. Several prominent Dupont businesspersons wrote to the Mayor and Council Chair, with courtesy copy to Jack Evans, in January about this problem and petitioning for a ban on sidewalk bicycling.They have yet to get an answer from the professional politicians, who. whether they realize it or not, are public servants. Logan Circle ANC recently passed a resolution asking for a DDOT study on the overall problems regarding bike lanes and bike insfrastructure to improve conditions on the street for biyclists, including looking to see whether the bicycling on the sidewalk should be banned. I hope that step will help focus the issues that need to be addressed.

  2. T1 July 10, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    So are bicyclists not respecting the law in the bike lane as you observed or too often on the sidewalk as you often observe? Sort of funny you complain about both (On 16th St I suspect it’s past where the bike lane ends from 15th St…in which case, it is taking your life into your own hands given the number of people who take 16th St like the autoobahn).

    Try visiting downtown. Outside my office on 15th St, there are probably 95% cyclists on the cycletrack, 3% on the street, and 2% on the sidewalks (Do the Math!)

    • jeannemallett2013 July 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. And thanks for the math. My work often takes me downtown and I see the positive difference that a ban on sidewalk bicycling makes. If your office is on 15th street below Mass Avenue that is the Central Business District where bicyclists are prohibited from bicycling on the sidewalk. Since it is the law, good enforcement is the key. But where bicyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk, there’s no law to enforce to keep them off the sidewalks, only some very judgmental–did they yield or not, were they going faster than the traffic in the street, etc.

      As for the post on which you commented, I did not mean to complain about that bicyclist riding in the bike lane. I’m actually in favor of as many bike lanes and better infrastucture as make good traffic sense. My complaint in this case was that the bicyclist did not obey traffic laws applicable to every vehicle in the street.

  3. Robert Werner July 10, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    I have a problem with more than just the sidewalk bikers. Here’s a letter that I sent to Dr. Gridlock in response to his article on pedestrian safety:
    Dear Dr. Gridlock,
    I really liked today’s article about pedestrians. I do a lot of walking (to try to stay in shape) and encounter a lot more difficulty with bikes than with cars. I like to walk from Farragut to my job at the Smithsonian, for my daily exercise. I can’t tell you how many times I was almost hit by a very fast moving bike around the White House (in front of the White House, it is, as Wahl points out, like a 4 lane highway). And then there’s 15th street with its dedicated bike lane. I was almost hit a couple of times there trying to cross 15th street, while having the “walk” signal. The bikes don’t seem to recognize (or care) that they have a red light and that there are people trying to cross the street with a “walk” signal. Their red light means nothing to them. Once when I was almost hit trying to cross 15th street, I spoke to a couple of Secret Service officers sitting in their marked car. They acknowledged that there’s definitely a problem on that street and said that the bikes go down that street “like torpedoes.” They added that it’s a miracle nobody’s been hit so far. If some bikers aren’t more careful, It’s only a matter of time until someone is hit.

  4. Michael H. July 10, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    I frequently walk around the D.C./Arlington area as well as bike. While I have encountered some rude cyclists, by far the biggest concern I have is with aggressive, distracted and law-breaking car drivers. When I approach an intersection as a pedestrian or as a cyclist, about one-fourth or one-third of drivers will run the red light when given the chance. (That is, they are the first or the second car to reach the red light.) This happens all the time.

    I also see drivers speed right through crosswalks, whether they are going straight or making a turn. Some drivers will yield to pedestrians, as they should. But maybe 30 to 40 percent will not. Some will even speed up, treating the situation as some sort of game, to see if they can get a pedestrian to jump or speed up. This is outrageous behavior and it certainly isn’t unusual.

    On the other hand, I witness problems with many pedestrians believing that they have an absolute right to step right in front of traffic, in the middle of a block, and expect drivers (and cyclists) to slam on the brakes. Many pedestrians will jaywalk like this, stepping into oncoming and nearby traffic, and then amble slowly across the street. This is not unusual behavior either.

    While I don’t doubt that there are some aggressive cyclists out there, I don’t agree that this is the greatest threat to pedestrian safety in the D.C. area. I’ve nearly been struck by cars while walking in crosswalks several times. This has been the case even though I wait for the WALK signal and I look to see if there is any nearby traffic. I will even make eye contact with drivers turning into the crosswalk that I’m using. Doesn’t matter. Many of those drivers will still try to force me and other pedestrians out of the crosswalk.

  5. Ol Guod July 11, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    actually think there are times when the sidewalk is the only option for a cyclist, and they must use it, (although those situations are increasingly few, and streets almost always provide a better option for bikes). That said, biking on sidewalks has become so bad in Dupont that I am beginning to get confrontational with cyclists. It’s a matter of priority. If bikers want to use a sideWALK (briefly to avoid a dangerous street section), then they should defer to pedestrians ANYTIME they use the sideWALK. Period. Walkers should ALWAYS have top priority on the sideWALKS. That might mean actually dismounting the bike, (oh, I know… such a sacrifice), until they can reenter the street and resume biking. This is just common sense… and I know it sounds old fashioned, but common courtesy as well.

  6. dynaryder July 11, 2013 at 11:59 pm #

    The last time someone was killed by a cyclist in the District was back in 2009. Since then,hundreds of people have been killed by cars. And if you check the statistics,you’ll see that every year cyclists have the lowest fatality rate between cyclists,pedestrians,and drivers. In fact,in 2012 we had no cyclist deaths.

    DO THE MATH. Cracking down on dangerous drivers will save far more lives than anything done about cyclists.

    • jeannemallett2013 July 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. But one more thing I learned in elementary school besides the meaning of “sideWALK ” was that mixing apples and oranges might make a good fruit salad but not a good math problem.

      No one doubts that more pedestrians and cyclists die from being hit by dangerous drivers, whose bad behavior is already against the law. Certainly I don’t doubt it and I support better enforcement of all existing traffic laws, autos and other vehicles like bikes. Earlier in this blog I provide safety tips for pedestrians and will continue to do so. But right now a primary purpose of this blog is to raise awareness of a growing problem in the one place a pedestrian should feel safe–the SIDEWALK. And if I can save one life, as well as countless injuries, most of which go unreported, I’ll feel it’s worth it.

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