Archive | May, 2014

Tips for Pedestrians

23 May

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, let’s talk about laws and commonsense behavior for pedestrians. Walking is the best exercise countless health articles will tell you. It is way better than bicycling by the way. But, whether you’re walking for exercise, to get to work or to stimulate creative thinking, you need to be careful because pedestrians are also the most vulnerable because of the reckless behavior of persons using other modes of transportation. So let’s review.


I discussed basic tips that will help keep pedestrians safe in an early post (the 7th post–Safety Tips Update). The only laws that apply to pedestrians in DC are the requirement that one must cross the street in the crosswalk and with the light if there is one. With the light means with the pedestrian signal. But since so many bicyclists ride on the sidewalks even where they are prohibited (in the Central Business District), it’s important that pedestrians adopt mindful habits that will keep them safe on the sidewalks as well as crossing the street.

A brief review of that early post follows:

Walking on the Sidewalk

1. Walk as far to the right as possible;
2. When coming to a corner, look both ways on the street you are turning into before turning into that street;
3. if you stop to pick something up, or need to move to the left for any reason, look behind you first.

Crossing the Street

1. Cross only in the crosswalk;
2. wait for the pedestrian signal before crossing (A Note here: There are crossings that are deceptive in that you may see traffic stopped at the red light on one side, but the other side is green, like one in my neighborhood New Hampshire and Q, or traffic crossing is still allowed to turn. That is why the pedestrian light is the only one you should follow–because it takes into account when all other vehicle traffic must be stopped);
3. As you cross still look both ways, even on one way streets, both when you first start out and about halfway across. That way you will avoid any bicyclist weaving between the stopped autos and running the red light.

A Final Note Inspired by my NYC TRIP

I was on a bus uptown and saw a sign on the bus. While I don’t know why it was on the bus since it was directed at cyclists (one guess–it might have been for young cyclists traveling with their parents or to school). But I thought to myself this is equally applicable to pedestrians, at least many I see on my walks to work and elsewhere. With typical NYC directness and panache, it rhymes and is in 5 languages:

Stay alert. Don’t get hurt. Wearing headphones, talking or reading while cycling? Watch out–Don’t tune out!

I say the same to my fellow pedestrians and ADD: Stay off your cellphone! When you’re walking, enjoy the walk. Don’t be distracted by your music, a cellphone conversation or anything but the walk. You’ll be in better shape when you get where you’re going. THEN you can call that person or listen to your music. If you must make or take a call on your way, stop first, get to a safe place, e.g. behind a lamppost or trash can, and deal with the call.

So, adapting NYC’s Motto: STAY ALERT. DON’T GET HURT. And have a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend.


The Untold Story of Pedestrian Accidents

20 May

First, I want to thank Robert for his comment on my last post on Bike-to-work Day. If you didn’t read it, please do so. He comments that, even commuter bicyclists can be rogue bikers and gives an example of his encounter with one and the injury resulting from that encounter in which the bicyclist sped too fast and through a red light. Even without a collision, we vulnerable pedestrians can sustain injuries. And I would like to hear from more of you regarding your experiences and helpful thoughts because it makes for more interesting reading and a record of the problem as well.

Anyway, I had only time to approve Robert’s comment, but not to post a response since I was on the Saturday morning train up to NYC for a week of business with time with friends wherever I could squeeze it in. But Sunday morning I started reading the Sunday NYT and came across an interesting piece in the Metropolitan section, entitled “Struck on the Street: Four Survivors”, which turned out to be reader comments on an article printed the previous Sunday. Of course, I read it with interest, cut it out and thought I would read the earlier article when I got home and, if worthwhile, report on it to you.

Most of the letters were about accidents involving autos hitting pedestrians. And, as you know from this blog, it is illegal for bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk in NYC (and during my week-long stay, mostly spent in Midtown and on the Upper East Side, I only encountered one sidewalk bicyclist although there were plenty of bicyclists, men and women and food delivery persons all riding in the streets and on Central Park’s roads). BUT ONE READER COMMENT TO THE NYT ARTICLE caught my eye because it was so like Robert’s comment and shows why rogue bicyclists can destroy quality of life in the city. I’ll quote from the letter of Dory from Queens:

“Your Article about injuries to pedestrians omitted those resulting from assaults by cyclists. Seven and a half years ago, an impatient cyclists who wanted to avoid waiting for a red light in Midtown charged up on the sidewalk where I was walking, trapped next to a construction scaffold. Hugging the scaffolding and unable to move in any other direction, I tore a meniscus in my left knee as the cyclists sailed by across the corner of the busy sidewalk and then turned the corner, unidentifiable, failing to stop.
[Dory then related the series of operations on her knee and related developments, like plantar fasciitis and weight gain because she could no longer walk without pain. Finally total knee replacement. She concludes:]
I can’t walk fast, go up or down stairs, dance or do any of the things that used to bring me joy. I curse every bicycle I see. My life has been irrevocably changed.”

This Sunday I finally had time to unpack and find the article I’d cut out and locate the original article on the Internet. The point of the original article stressed the same theme as Dory’s letter did, that even pedestrians who survive accidents and recover are forever changed. The author wrote the article because this is the story that is rarely told. Yet she was able to personalize her own experience and that of 4 other NYT colleagues all of whom had been hit by vehicles while walking in the crosswalks with the light. I quote now from the original article:

“It is natural and right that the worst (and fatal) cases attract the headlines and public horror. But being hit by a vehicle changes the way a pedestrian experiences the city, even years after recovery. Every time I see a white delivery truck coming down the street, an almost daily sight, my thoughts revert to my accident. Some changes, like never stepping off the curb until the light has actually changed, or looking both ways before crossing (sometimes twice) are probably salutary. But you are never again sure that a vehicle that should stop will stop, and carefree pedestrian wonderings in the metropolitan area end abruptly and forever.”

And this is the answer I have to those who say that there hasn’t been a pedestrian fatality here in DC from a bicyclist in over three years. It’s not just the fatalities, but the injuries that count and the fact that the quality of life in the city we love is harmed when we constantly must jump out of the way, sometimes injuring ourselves, just to walk on the sidewalk or cross with the light in the crosswalk. For a city that got a Pedestrian Friendly award a couple of years ago, this is unacceptable.

Finally, one note on the author of the NYT article, which I had not noticed when I first read the followup. The author was none other than Jill Abramson, who later in the week was unceremoniously dumped as Exec Editor of the NYT. A classy lady who thankfully wrote an elegant plea for her fellow pedestrians everywhere before leaving. May she live long and prosper.

I’ll try to post again before Memorial Day. But meanwhile STAY ALERT AND STAY SAFE.

Preparing for Bike-to-Work Day (May 16)

9 May

In my last post I promised to review basic law, rules and common sense behavior for both pedestrians and bicyclists. And since Bike-to-Work Day is next Friday, I thought I’d start with bicyclists. Warning: This might be a long post, but stick with it.


1. If you want to be a part of Bike-to-Work (BTW) officially check the WABA site,, for info, TODAY(May 9) is the last day to register.

2. Whether or not you register to get the t-shirt, special goodies, and location of “pit stops” on May 16, you might just want to commute to work. If you do, you will be joining a growing group. ABC News reported last night that biking to work has increased by 60% in the past 10 years.

3. But, regardless of why you want to bike to work, for the fun of next Friday or for a regular routine, BE PREPARED TO DO IT RIGHT. I can tell you from experience that the true commuter bicyclists during DC’s normal rush hours know the law and follow it. And they ride on the streets not the sidewalks (more about this later). I know I feel safer walking to work earlier, before 9:00 than coming out for lunch because commuter bicyclists know what they’re doing and are aware of the traffic and pedestrians around them, not just themselves.

But even if you haven’t commuted to work before, you too can ride as well as they do, whether on your own bike or a Bikeshare bike, if you use the knowledge set out below whenever you ride, even on weekends and nights.


Don’t assume that, because you learned to ride a bike as a kid, you know it all. Learning to mount a bike and ride it is not enough to ride safely and lawfully.

Much of what I say below is taken from the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) booklet “Safe Bicycling in the Washington Area”(WABA SB). While only part of this info is on the WABA Website, and I’ll note when it is, you can and should get a free copy of WABA SB from WABA because it covers every area of bicycling well and is an easy read.

So here we go:

1.Ride Predictably: On a bike you are riding a vehicle. So YOU ARE TRAFFIC on the streets and roads just as autos are. While you might think of maneuvering around the autos and running red lights, DON’T. “This is how most bicyclists get into crashes…Being predictable (i.e., following the same rules the autos do)is the key to safe bicycling in traffic.” (WABA SB, p. 11, with italicized portion added for clarification).

2. Follow Traffic Rules for Cyclists

Here WABA has on its website
a link to DC regs and laws as well as a section called “Selected Bicycle Guidelines”, which features a grid noting the laws in DC, MD and VA most essential for bicyclists to know. I am just going to highlight a couple below.

a. “Bicyclists traveling on roadways have all the general rights and duties of drivers of vehicles.” You are a vehicle–go with, not against, the flow of traffic (even on one-way streets); stop at red lights, and stop signs; stop behind the pedestrian crosswalk, etc.

b. Cycling on Sidewalks: You may think a good way to avoid being considered a vehicle is to ride on the sidewalk. But know this:

1. In DC you are prohibited from riding on the sidewalks downtown. Biking on the sidewalk is “Prohibited in the central business district (bounded by Massachusetts Ave., NW, 2nd St. NE-SE, D St. SE/SW, 14th St., NW, Constitution Ave. and 23rd St., NW)” As Dr. Gridlock mentioned (see last week’s post) signs should be posted. BUT TO BE A RESPONSIBLE AND SAFE BICYCLIST, WITH OR WITHOUT SIGNS, YOU MUST KNOW AND OBEY THE LAW.
2. Beyond the Central Business District, at present, bicyclists can ride on the sidewalks BUT–
EVERYWHERE: CYCLISTS MUST YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS. You aren’t yielding if you ride without concern and just barely miss pedestrains. You’re just lucky. A pedestrian, thinking himself safe on the sidewalk and not seeing you coming from behind, might stop suddenly to pick something up, or move to the left to get a newspaper.
DC RULES (which you can also access on the WABA link provided above, ALSO PROVIDE that, in addition to yielding the right of way to pedestrians, a cyclist:
a. Shall not travel at a speed greater than the posted limit of the adjacent roadway; provided that such speed is safe for the conditions then existing on the sidewalk (DC Reg. 18 1201.10) [Ask yourself if you’re riding at 20 mph can you stop in time if a mother with a child in a stroller suddenly turns a sidewalk corner or comes out of an apartment building?]

b. When propelling a bicycle upon and along a sidewalk or while crossing a roadway in a crosswalk, [a cyclist] shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances, except that the bicyclist must yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk or in the crosswalk (DC Reg 18 1201.12) [Ask yourself if you are zipping down one handicapped cut into the crosswalk and a group of pre-schoolers is bunched at the other side, what are you going to do?]

I have just mentioned a couple of the rules that are more commonly broken when biking on sidewalk. There are more rules. Know them.

And if you don’t want to ride on a sidewalk anywhere–good for you. The best bicyclists don’t, not just because they’re riding responsibly, but because they know it’s safer for them. Here’s a passage from WABA SB, p 12:

“Sidewalks & Pedestrians: Sidewalks are not suitable places to ride bicycles; sidewalks are designed for the slower speeds of pedestrians, not the faster speeds of bicyclists. In fact, sidewalk riding is illegal in many areas–so check local laws. If you ride on a sidewalk, yield to pedestrians; where there are lots of people, walk your bike. Pedestrians don’t like to be surprised by bicyclists passing them from behind, so you should warn them of your approach. For example, call out “Passing on your left.” When approaching corners, alleys, and driveways, slow down and make noise.”(Italicized emphasis added)

TOO MUCH INFORMATION? Think of when you learned to drive a car. Riding a bicycle responsibly requires knowledge. But it is fun; it’s good exercise and a cheap environmentally friendly way to get to work. And once you know what you’re doing and why, it’s like any other good habit–easy and second nature.

So enjoy Bike to Work Day and every other day. BUT remember, as I tell pedestrians STAY ALERT AND STAY SAFE

Dr. Gridlock: Right as Usual

2 May

Dr. Gridlock’s April 29 Column
I don’t know if you read Dr. Gridlock’s column in this past Sunday’s Washington Post Metro Section. But, like all his columns, it was intelligent and offered food for thought. In this column he printed letters from several citizens and in his intro concluded that, while the writers, including your blogger, “urge drivers, walkers and cyclists to behave better”, collectively the letters show “that no type of traveler is without sin.”

I agree, which is why I try to educate pedestrians as well as bicyclists in this blog. We’re all safer if we stay alert and follow the laws, including regulations, which, of course, have the force of law, no matter which mode of transportation we are using at the time. And a little additional common sense thrown into the mix never hurts. But since I have yet to hear of an accident on the sidewalk where a pedestrian ran down a bicyclist, I will continue to emphasize most often the increasing perils of sidewalk bicycling, most often hurting the pedestrians but not safe for the bicyclist either.

I will, however, in the near future, review here the basic law, rules and common sense behavior for both pedestrians and bicyclists.

Central Business District(CBD) Enforcement and Education

Frustrated by the lack of info I was getting through FOIA requests (see prior posts), my letter to Dr. Gridlock emphasized the growing danger for pedestrians of reckless bicyclists riding on the sidewalks even in the CBD, the one area of town where bicycling on sidewalks is forbidden. Dr. Gridlock’s answer:

“I hear frequently from pedestrians who have brushes with cyclists on downtown sidewalks. Cyclists should be aware that they are barred from the sidewalks within the boundaries of the Central Business District.
But the District needs a more aggressive education campaign to let cyclists know that. And it needs a few signs.

What steps is the District taking? More in my next post. Meanwhile, no rain this weekend. So STAY ALERT AND STAY SAFE as you enjoy the spring weather.