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The Wheels on the Sidewalks go round and round

24 Jul

Now that I’m getting out a bit again, I’m noticing there are still the old wheeled hazards on the sidewalk, bicycles and the occasional Segway.  But new ones have arrived to give pedestrians more to worry about when they walk on what was designed for them and named for their mode of transport–two feet walking.

Last week at 10:30 in the morning I was walking with a friend from the JCC on 16th and Q to my apartment building on 16th, which is only about a half-block away across the street.  In that short span we first saw a guy pedaling something I’d never seen before.  I would call it a unicycle, but it was unlike any I’d ever seen.  It looked like a huge dish–fit for a mythical giant’s table.  The guy was pedaling fast and had both hands free.  I didn’t see any controls.  Of course, he was using the sidewalk for this strange ride and, at the rate he was going, would have had zero chance to avoid a collision with a pedestrian just rounding the corner he was heading toward.  Luckily that didn’t happen and he was out of our sight in a flash continuing on the next block of sidewalk.

By the time we got to my building we had also dodged a sidewalk biker in the crosswalk.  While we stood, still on the main sidewalk leading to the sidewalk of my building, another sidewalk biker whipped past us with no warning and only an inch to spare from hitting my friend.  If my friend had stepped back at that moment he would have been hit.  A couple minutes later another sidewalk biker came from the opposite direction, but still on the same stretch of sidewalk.  I saw him out of the corner of my eye and moved my friend in toward me to avoid his being hit.  Although we would have liked to talk longer like sociable humans, we decided it was time to leave the danger zone of the main sidewalk.  Remember this is after rush hour and while there were cars on the street, there were not that many and they were all going slower than these bikers.

I’ve also noticed from my window and occasionally when I’m on the street a new hazard–delivery robots.  The one I see looks like a big beer cooler on wheels and has a small red flag(about the size of a folded pocket handkerchief) attached on a thin rod up about 4 feet.  So far the one I’ve seen only comes out with an attendant walking behind it.  But I’ve hear from news sources that these delivery robots are intended to delivery items to the door of people who order the items.  If that happens regularly I can foresee a real danger to pedestrians.  The robot, although traveling  only 4 miles an hour is so low that, even with the tiny flag, a person walking around the corner would be unlikely to see it and could easily trip over it.  Interestingly the first complaint I’ve seen about these was from a bicyclist writing to Gear Prudence in the Washington City Paper.  While I didn’t like Gear’s answer because, although he rightly told the bicyclist to proceed with caution and give it a wide berth, he also stated that the robots take up “limited space allotted to cyclists and pedestrians” without noting that the cyclist has an option of riding in the street while the pedestrian has no recourse.  Generally I like his columns but he doesn’t caution cyclists, his audience, enough about the dangers not just to pedestrians but to cyclists themselves of riding on the sidewalks.

CORRECTION:  Finally, toward the end of my last blog, I made a couple of  errors in my haste to get the post done.  One was at least humorous.  I referred to the need for “stranger” laws rather than “stronger” laws and enforcement to reign in reckless bicyclists.  I’m sure my dedicated and intelligent readers caught that mistake.  But just for the record:  We need stronger laws not stranger ones.  We already have stranger laws than other cities in that we allow bicyclists to ride on the sidewalks in the first place.

So, enjoy the better summer weather coming this week.  But watch out for delivery robots, big rolling dishes, Segways and reckless sidewalk bicyclists.  STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

 

Two Lives Lost to Reckless Bicycling

23 Jun

While I was dealing with doctors, chemo and its aftereffects, I still kept up on news as best I could.  As readers of this blog know, one of the prime dangers to pedestrians, in addition to bicyclists using the sidewalk as their personal expressways, is bicyclists running red lights.  Although running red lights is against the law throughout DC for bicyclists as well as autos, this law is virtually never enforced against bicyclists.  Yet every day I walked to work I had to be especially alert for bicyclists running the red lights, often after appearing from behind stopped cars to fly through the light.  This behavior is a daily occurrence and many pedestrians have been injured either by being hit a glancing blow or by falling trying to get out of the way to avoid being hit.   Still no enforcement.  But this spring two deaths pointed to the need for MPD to take this problem more seriously.

Pedestrian, Jane Bennett Clark

The first event was the death of Kiplinger editor, Jane Bennett Clark.  On March 9, at evening rush hour, she was going home from her office when she stepped off the curb into the pedestrian crosswalk with the walk signal and all cars stopped.  She had every right to expect she would get safely to the other side where the Metro Station was.  Instead she was hit by a bicyclist running the red light.  While the Post article was not specific regarding her injuries, I am pretty sure that her head hit the concrete street, which is a virtual death sentence particularly for older people.  Despite being rushed to the hospital by DC Fire and EMS, she died the next day.  So far the 27-year old male bicyclist has only been charged with “disobeying a traffic control device” according to a Post report in April.  While the article I read indicated the investigation was ongoing, I have read nothing further since April.

Nor have I read any comment by Mr. “do nothing for the people” Ward 2 council member Jack Evans. When I was first campaigning to keep bicyclists from riding on the sidewalks, I was told by his office that I needed a group behind me before he would pay any attention and a member of my own Dupont Circle Citizens Association cautioned me that “some one important” needed to be hurt before anyone in office would pay attention.  And I’m sure Ms. Bennett Clark’s death got more press because she was well-known, unlike the Asian man a couple of years before who was hit by a hit and run bicyclist on Capitol Hill on a Thanksgiving Day weekend.  I remember hunting for news of his death a couple of days later and finding only a one-liner in regional news.  To me every person is important and one death is one too many.  Still I see little evidence that this daily danger to pedestrians is being taken seriously by the MPD or City Council.

I was encouraged by the comment responses to the article on the charge brought against the bicyclist in Ms. Bennett Clark’s case.  Although I read and printed out only the first 20 comments of 233, every comment, most from responsible bicyclists, showed that ordinary people know how wrong the current situation is.  These comments were representative:

Dan Schiff:  I am a cyclist and I am often more fearful of other cyclists than I am of drivers.  I blame lack of enforcement of cycling laws, as well as inadequate bike infrastructure, which makes some cyclists feel like they have to be rogue ninjas to navigate the streets.

Cyclists should follow the same safety rules as everyone else:  Be aware of what’s in front of you, to your sides, and behind you.  Yield to pedestrians.  Make yourself seen and heard.

Mike Pcf1:  Like some of the posts below, I work in DC and bicyclists never stop at read lights or obey most traffic laws.  If you don’t get out of their way crossing the street they give you the dirty look when they should be the one yielding.  I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents like these.  Police need to crack down on cyclists who run red lights.

Bialk:  As a life-long bicyclist, I am the first to say something has to be done about bicyclists in DC.  There are apparently no laws and certainly no enforcement governing their apparently free-for-all use of roads and sidewalks.  While some oblige, most completely disregard traffic laws.  The police need to get off their phones and actually do something.

Other commenters, bicyclists themselves, brought up the need for licensing bicyclists and tests to get them as other states require.  And one commenter brought up the sidewalk bicycling issue:

Starling1:  Earlier this week, I was walking, just before sunset, on the sidewalk.  A bicyclist passed me, just barely missing me.  I had no idea he was there until he was beside me.  If I had moved even 6 inches to my left, he would have hit me, and I would have been fortunate to avoid the hospital or morgue.  Virginia law requires bicyclists to ride in the street and observe the same laws as motorists.  This bicyclists should be charged wit manslaughter or vehicular homicide.

Ordinary people understand the need for stranger laws and enforcement of the ones that exist.  How long before the Powers-That-Be wake up and do something?

Bicyclist, Dan Neidhardt

Sadly, when bicyclists disobey traffic laws that are their for everyone’s safety, sometimes the bicyclist is the victim.  That is what happened to Dan Neidhardt when on April 28 he rode through a red light and collided with a pickup truck at First Street and Florida Avenue NW.  The Post also wrote more than one story about him because he was part of a small artist community in Brookland.  According to the May 13 article, Mr. Neidhardt had taken up cycling as part of his exercise regimen as he turned 70.  Four years later he’s obviously become as serious cyclist, takin on 20 mile rides and riding a $5000 carbon road bicycle.  But sadly he never learned the rules of the road.  His death could have been avoided if he had and the Brookland artist community wouldn’t have lost a friend.  This tragedy is yet another argument for licensing bicyclists as we do auto drivers.  At lead they will know the rules when they set out instead of just watching others who may be intentionally ignoring them.  Whether cyclists follow the rules or not is their choice.  But more enforcement of existing laws would help them make the right choice.

This has been a long post.  So I will just end by saying, to pedestrians, bicyclists and auto drivers alike–BE ALERT; DON’T GET HURT.

 

Danger in the Crosswalk

6 Sep

Hope you all had a Happy Labor Day weekend.  I did. the weather was good for outdoor fun.  And yesterday was amazing in that unlike other holidays bicyclists in my Dupont Circle area took advantage of the empty streets to actually ride there instead of piling on to the sidewalks.  And I even a bicyclist walking his bike on the sidewalk!

But not all is well.  First thing Monday morning I turned on WTOP and heard a story that traffic light cameras had picked up in the last year 1,500 bicyclists running red lights.  Of course, as the announcer pointed out, since bikes are not required to have licenses, there’s no way to ticket them from this evidence.  The MPD spokesman said that police have to actually sight them in person to ticket.  A friend I met while walking told me that this story had been in the Washington Post as well.  I must have missed it.  But the number is staggering when you think about it.  And point up again why we pedestrians have to be constantly alert even when all cars are stopped behind the line and we are walking in the crosswalk with the pedestrian light.

Saturday I finally received a letter from DDOT purporting to answer my January letter to Sam Zimbabwe.  This after I finally had involved the Mayor’s office.  Unfortunately the letter was boilerplate about all the things I already knew–where it is legal to bide bikes on the sidewalk,the CBD boundaries, the Street Smart program, etc.  So I will have to follow up again.  Over a year now just to campaign for signage in the CBD and suggesting a study to expand the prohibited zone.

That’s all I know right now.  Enjoy the short work week.  And remember, even in the crosswalk. BE ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

Summertime and the living is not so easy

9 Aug

This morning on the way to work I saw something that made me laugh although I was happy that neither sidewalk biker was injured.  As usual I had barely got out of my building, looked both ways before entering the main sidewalk, and then started walking south to the corner of 16th and Q.  I’d barely got 50 feet when a sidewalk biker sped by me from behind without a word of warning.  What made me laugh was still to come.  She got to the corner to cross Q and, because she was a little unsure of what to do next,  slowed to get around and finally stopped behind a group of pedestrians waiting for the light to change so they could enter the crosswalk.  Stopping behind was a bad idea because from the side came another sidewalk biker, in a suit and tie no less, on a racing bike came flying across the pedestrian crossing on 16th and almost hit the back of her bike.  Considering the speed he was going this would have been a bad crash, but she saw him at the last minute and managed to push further into the crowd of pedestrians to avoid a crash that probably would have injured the poor standing targets, the pedestrians, as well.  But this is the second time in as many months I’ve seen two bikers almost hit each other because of their reckless riding.

So much for  my experience.  I have no good news to tell you.  I have finally written to the Mayor and enclosed a copy of my post about the bureaucratic swamp we find ourselves in when we dare to ask questions of DDOT and other agencies.  Since the Mayor assigned someone last year to look into my questions, I hope she gets after them.

Finally, I tend to pick up free papers when I’m going to the gym.  And last week the monthly Beacon was among them.  The Beacon is a paper geared toward seniors.  And there I found in the Letters to the Editor a letter from a woman who wished to remain anonymous but had  a story to tell that was perfect for this blog:

Dear Editor:

Bicycles on sidewalks are a huge problem.  If I had a dollar for each time I’ve come close to getting hit, I’d be rich.  The D.C. Mayor’s office said they are allowed on sidewalks except in midtown D.C.

This must change.  The bicyclists come on the sidewalk at the speed of light.  One young man knocked my husband to the ground.  No concern, no apology.  All he said is, “Oh mister.  Do you think my bike’s damaged?” I swear!

Why can’t a law be passed to make bicyclists stay in streets?  Many pedestrians are at risk! Every day I walk along Wisconsin Avenue I have to look all around me every second.  It’s a war zone, thanks to bicyclists.

All I can say is, I agree.  I have written a letter to the Beacon responding to this letter and suggesting they might want to take up the cause.  But until the law is changed so pedestrians can walk safely–Enjoy the rest of the summer as best you can and, remember, STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

 

 

 

DC Bicyclists: Beware of Sidewalk Riding

28 Jun

SIDEWALK CYCLING TRAGEDY

A couple of weeks ago I was reading the Post and a small article in the Local Digest caught my attention: “Cyclists, 16, fatally struck during a ride.”  When I read further I found that, according to police, the young man had been riding on the sidewalk in Gaithersburg and fell from his bicycle, landing in the adjacent street where he was hit by oncoming traffic.  A real tragedy.  I don’t know Gaithersburg sidewalks, especially in the area of North Summit Avenue where he fell into the street and was hit.  But I can’t help but wonder if he would be alive today if he’d learned to ride properly in the street and walk his bike on the sidewalks like I did when I was younger than he.

Athough this tragedy is an an extreme example, it reinforced the point that it is more dangerous for bicyclists to ride on the sidewalks than on the streets (provided they obey traffic rules there).  You may remember an early post I did entitled “Ode to Adam” in which my neighbor broke his leg when he was riding on the sidewalk, turned a corner and met an immovable obstacle he hadn’t planned on.  Other bicyclists have been injured in similar ways because sidewalks are not designed for bike riding as The Guide for Development of Bicycle Facilities, published by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Facilities, explains:

Sidewalks are typically designed for pedestrian speeds and maneuverability and are not safe for higher speed bicycle use.  Conflicts  [meaning “accidents”]    are common between pedestrians traveling at low speeds (exiting stores, parked cars, etc.) and bicyclists, as are conflicts with fixed objects (e.g. parking meters, utility poles, sign posts, bus benches, trees, fire hydrants, mail boxes, etc.). [in addition] pedestrians often have difficulty predicting the directions an oncoming bicyclist will take.”

WABA IS NOT BEING STRAIGHT WITH DC BICYCLISTS

WABA, the bicyclists’ lobby, used to have a similar warning as above in its booklet, Safe Bicycling in the Washington Area.  Under the heading “Sidewalks and Pedestrians” in the chapter “Traffic Basics” the paragraph opened with:

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…

Unfortunately, as WABA became more and more a lobby for more bike lanes and more rules favoring bicyclists, it became less the helpful member of the community giving good advice to bicyclists, especially new bicyclists.  So they did not upload that manual to their website or offer any similar warnings.  When I commented to then director Shane Farthing, he answered that they did not have the publisher’s permission, which, of course, would not have stopped WABA from writing up its own warning as part of a brief statement of do’s and don’ts for bicyclists.

Before writing this post, I checked the WABA site again, to see if things had improved.  I found instead they’d only got worse.  There is on that website a new(Sept. 2015) “Pocket Guide to DC Bike Laws”, co-sponsored amazingly by the MPD and DDOT.  Neither of these government agencies must have read or thought through the implications of their endorsement.  (More on this in a future post)  Don’t get me wrong, there is some good info, like emphasizing in the Q and A’s on Traffic Law that bicyclists have to ride with traffic not against it and must stop at red lights and stop signs.

BUT this “Pocket Guide” does not emphasize bicyclists’ responsibility to yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk and in crosswalks.  That responsibility is buried at the end of sections.  For example, the answer to the question “Who has the right-of-way in a crosswalk?” begins ” According to DC code Section 1201.11, a bicyclist in a crosswalk has all the rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, though cyclists must yield right-of-way to pedestrians…”

As to whether it is legal to ride on the sidewalk , all of the cautionary language regarding dangers from the earlier pamphlet is gone.  Instead the answer begins with non-bolded language:  “While not recommended safe cycling practice in most instances”  The the answer continues with what the entitled group of rogue bicyclists really want to hear: “DC Code states that cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk as long as they are outside the central business district.”  There followed a description of CBD boundaries and the added plum that, even within the CBD, bicycling is allowed on lands under National Park Service jurisdiction like Lafayette Park, Farragut Square Park, the National Mall and Dupont Circle.  Finally the last sentence of this long paragraph mentions those pesky pedestrians by saying “However, if cyclists do ride on the sidewalk they must yield to pedestrians.”  Nothing in the paragraph or elsewhere is there any explanation of the very real dangers to cyclists of riding on the sidewalk.

This new “Pocket Guide” , emphasizing more bicyclists’ rights than their responsibility for themselves as well as others, misleads bicyclists who rely on it and it alone to judge how dangerous certain behaviors might be, especially riding on the sidewalks.  As a person who is both a cyclists and a pedestrian and who usually walks to work, I say to  bicyclists: Avoid riding on the sidewalks at all costs. Every day that I walk to work, I notice uneven sidewalks, big foot-sized holes in concrete and numerous obstructions that would be a real danger to me if I were riding a bicycle rather than walking because even going slowly, I would be riding too fast to easily avoid these pitfalls–if I saw them in time.

SO, PLEASE, FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY, RIDE YOUR BIKE ONLY ON THE STREET AND WALK YOUR BIKE WHEN YOU MUST USE THE SIDEWALK.

And to all–Have a Happy Fourth of July.  And, remember, STAY ALERT, DON’T GET HURT!

 

 

 

 

The Merry Month of May

3 May

Did you know May is National Bike month?  I sure didn’t.  But I have been watching for news about a new bike event since I first read about it in the March Washingtonian.  Then the Sunday before last I was at the Dupont Circle Market and saw a table set up for DCBikeRide and went by to talk with the people manning the table.  They were very nice and true cyclists.  We talked cycling for a bit and I confirmed that, of course, they would be riding in the streets for the event.  So I invited them to send me a brief message for this post and I’ve  put it below.

DC Bike Ride–Sunday, May 22

“Come celebrate National Bike Month and ride through the city completely traffic-free.  Are you looking for an exciting, new way to explore our nation’s capital with the famliy?  Our friends at DCBR have put together a perfect day for a bike ride.

“Join the inaugural DCBR on Sunday, May 22. The 17-mile recreational ride is open to riders ages 3+ and offers a scenic view of the District’s most iconic monuments.  Ride starts at 8 AM and you will be able to cruise at your own pace on a car-free course, perfect for the kiddos! After the ride, at the Finish Festival on Pennsylvania Avenue, enjoy musical performances by DC Questlove (from the Tonight show starring Jimmy Fallon!), White Ford Bronco, and more!  Additionally, the DCBR Finish Festival will have a Kids Zone with fun activities for all ages, a post-ride yoga session, the REI Village, yummy food trucks, and other awesome activities.

DON’T HAVE A BIKE?

“Families who do not have bikes, or are unable to transport bikes to D.C.should check out information about bike rentals through DCBR’s official partner, Bike and Roll DC.

“MORE INFO AT DCBIKERIDE.COM.

And now returning to me again:  Sounds like fun and the Washingtonian article said it was expected to attract about 8,000 participants.  The 17 mile course will be closed to other traffic during the ride.  So enjoy!

Bike to Work Day–Friday, May 20

Of course the annual Bike to Work day is the Friday just preceding.  So cyclists can make a weekend of it.

Once again I challenge those biking to work on that day to do it obeying all traffic laws–ride in the direction of traffic, stop at red lights and stop signs and obey all other traffic signs.  And ride in the streets both where you must (in the CBD) and elsewhere because the pedestrians navigating the sidewalks will appreciate it.  And have a great time.

Bike Month in NYC

The cyclists in NYC have already started their events.  First, on April 30, hundreds of cyclists had their bikes blessed at St. John the Divine Church in Manhattan.  Then Sunday about 32,000 cyclists took to the streets for the 39th Annual Bike New York 5 Boro Bike Tour, the largest charitable bike ride in the country.

For all of us, pedestrians(who don’t have a special month, sadly) and cyclists, enjoy the spring weather once the rain stops and remember STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

Navigating DC’s Bureaucratic Swamp

29 Apr

Two weeks ago I followed up my January 20 letter to Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s Associate Director of Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration.  I wrote a brief email reminding him of the letter and the requests to be addressed, most notably installing signage in the Central Business District noting that sidewalk bicycling is prohibited there.  At the conclusion I added a note of personal experience:

Since I wrote you the problem is only getting worse.  Just three weeks ago in the CBD, I was injured when I tripped trying to get out of the way of a speeding sidewalk biker.  Of course, he just kept going, endangering others on the crowded sidewalk.  People from the bus stop to which I was heading helped me up and as we waited in the safety of the bus shelter, others shared their stories.  One woman had been actually hit and injured by hit-and-run sidewalk bikers twice in recent months.  If you have never been hit by one of them, you don’t know that it can cause lasting injuries. A couple of years ago I was hit from behind and it took months of therapy to get my shoulder back in good working order.  And, should a person fall and hit his head on the sidewalk, it can cause death.  If there are no witnesses or the person just thinks he has a mild concussion and moves on after regaining consciousness, he can still die from that hit because of internal bleeding on the brain.

In concluding I asked only that he tell me what, if anything, DDOT is doing on this issue and, if he were not the appropriate person to contact, to refer me to the appropriate person.  Needless to say, I have yet to receive even an acknowledgment of the email.

So what good does it do to write to the Mayor (who IS responsive) if she must delegate to others to do the followup?  The same good it did to write to Chief Lanier about enforcement in the CBD, who responded by delegating to Sgt. Terry Thorne, who provided only a general link to the Street Smart program and said I could contact him with any questions.  It is now over two years since I asked the simple question of him–How do you judge the success of the Street Smart program?  I have yet to receive an answer.  In the meantime the self-same Sgt. Thorne told a Washington Post reporter she would have to do a FOIA request to get info on enforcement statistics.  Good luck with that.

So long as petty bureaucrats stonewall the public both through failure to answer FOIA requests and through failure even to respond to reasonable questions, nothing will improve.  These people are paid by our tax dollars.  They are public servants.  That means they are to serve us, not ignore us.  Frankly I feel sympathy for both Mayor Bowser and Chief Lanier that, with all the important issues they have to deal with and decisions they have to make, they cannot rely on some of their employees to do the right thing in responding to the public.

Well, down off the soapbox–I wish you a good and safe spring weekend and remember–STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!