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


One Response to “Preparing for Bike-to-Work Day (May 16)”

  1. May 10, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    Hi Jeanne,

    This is Bob Werner. I’ve been a reader of your blog for awhile and posted a few comments on the blog. I’d like to tell you what happened to me about 6 weeks ago, on my usual walk to the Smithsonian from Farragut West (I believe my comments on your blog involved similar events). I walk through Lafayette square passing the White House and cross 15th st., wherever I catch the light, usually at F or G. Of course, the problem is the bike lane on 15th on the west side of the street. About a month ago, I was crossing 15th at F and I started to step into the crosswalk after getting the “walk” signal. But just then, a bike which had been traveling north at a fast rate of speed almost hit me as he was going through the red light (as I admonished him for doing that he totally ignored me), so I jumped backwards. It wasn’t really that close because I was prepared to see a bike but it still startled me, so I instinctively jumped back and, in doing so, I must have “stamped” my left foot down. I don’t think I did it that hard but I must have pulled something in my ankle. Anyway, I’ve been going to a podiatrist ever since for the ankle pain. It has been getting better but very slowly. So I have to disagree with your statement that the true commuter bicyclists during DC’s normal rush hours know the law and follow it Out of all the times I’ve crossed that street, I’ve only seen one bicyclist stop for the red light (out of hundreds). Anyway, keep up the good work.


    Bob Werner

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