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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!

Holiday Potpourri

22 Dec

First, I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season.  This post contains a few bits of info and even a movie review that I didn’t have time for this year.

But, first, be sure to read the comment to my last post (Holidays are coming…) from one of this blog’s faithful readers who tells a story that’s all to familiar to DC pedestrians.  He’s walking with the pedestrian light in the crosswalk but has to do so really carefully because cyclists are running the red light.  Not just the first one, whom he yelled at to watch the light, but five or six behind that guy!

Interestingly, after I got that comment and approved it I heard about a bicyclist in DC near the MD border who ran a red light and got hit by a car.  A couple days later he died and the Post article confirmed that he had been running the red light.  A sad way to go when it can be so easily avoided by just following the law.

New MPD Enforcement Initiative

And speaking of the law, I saw a piece two weeks ago on NBC4 News that the police are going to start enforcing the law against bikers riding in the street, forcing them to obey the same laws as other traffic–no running red lights, talking on your cell phone while riding, etc.  And MPD should do this because cyclists in the street are traffic, whether they like it or not.  Only problem I see is it will force more onto the sidewalks, where traffic laws don’t apply, only a few ambiguous rules and, of course, common courtesy, which the rogue bikers ignore.

City Paper’s Best Place to get hit while riding a Bike

Every spring the City Paper comes out with their “best” awards.  And this one caught my attention because the winner was Connecticut Avenue NW, which runs through my neighborhood and where I used to do more shopping than I do now, in part because even on a lazy weekend you will find reckless cyclists riding on the narrow sidewalks hitting pedestrians who dare to stop to look at a shop window.  The author of the City Paper piece notes that riding from Chevy Chase Circle to Farragut Square is a problem–no bike lanes, potholes,  and MD drivers, etc.  His solution, of course, is to ride on the sidewalk any place outside of the CBD.  But he does add: Sidewalk riding is still a bad decision since even the sleepiest portions of Connecticut Avenue are filled with pedestrians, even more so around Dupont Circle and the National Zoo.  Oh, pedestrians, we’re such pests, walking on the only place we’re allowed to walk, filling up the space so the bikes can’t speed by easily.

Best Movie of the Year for Readers of this Blog

Finally, earlier this year I saw a Noah Bambach  film, “While We’re Young”.  Good movie about a 40ish couple who meet a young couple in their twenties who seem to have a lot of the same likes and dislikes, and introduce them to experiences that have them reliving their youth.  The whole film takes place in NYC so, when Ben Stiller, the 40ish guy, and Adam Driver, the millenial, are biking in Manhattan, amid much more serious auto traffic than MD drivers and world class potholes, they are biking in the street, of course, and I think not just because it’s against the law to bike on the sidewalks but because they’re real men, not these wimpy big kids we have here.  But, about 2/3 of the way through the film came a line I didn’t expect, but definitely made my day.  Ben and Adam are walking on the sidewalk in downtown Manhattan when a rogue biker speeds by them.  And it’s Adam, the young guy, who yells at him:  Ride in the street, Man!

With that, I say belated Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza and Happy New Year to all.  But, remember, STAY ALERT!  DON’T GET HURT!  Because I want you back here reading and commenting in 2016.

 

 

Holidays are coming–and so is snow

11 Nov

FIRST–HAPPY VETERANS’ DAY to all you vets out there. AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

Now, my apologies again to my readers for posting so infrequently. I’ve had an unexpectedly busy year, not only with a lot of family and friends trips for weddings, births, big anniversaries, etc., but also more business trips than planned and a changing of the guard at the main non-profit I work with, which has caused a lot of extra work during the changeover. So that’s my excuse for not regularly posting–and I’m sticking to it!

But it’s also true that there hasn’t been much of import to report and, with the holidays almost upon us, there’s likely to be even less to report since governments at all levels tend to hit the snooze button during this season too. Still there are a couple of things important to pedestrians to note:

1. DC Snow Team: One good thing that will surely help us is that Mayor Bowser has established an enhanced Snow Plan. Since forecasts now say we could get 20-25 inches of snow over the winter, the new snow plan comes none too soon. And there’s an opportunity for us to help–While the Mayor’s office promises enhanced enforcement of the law that requires property owners(residential and commercial) to clear sidewalks surrounding their properties within 8 hours after a snowfall, the Mayor has also formed an action plan to help those who are seniors and residents with disabilities. Snow teams are being formed with those of us who can volunteer to help our neighbors.

If you would like for join, go to:

snowteam.dc.gov

Right now through December they’re offering free orientations in each Ward on the Do’s and Don’ts of Shoveling Snow.

NOTE: When I got notice of this program, I joined up, but told them I would not be at an orientation because, besides being busy then, as a former Northern Ohioan, I know how to shovel snow and know to shovel it early before it ices over. They agreed. But I also mentioned that they should add to their list the shoveling of curb cuts so people can get across the street.

If you can, I urge you to join the Snow Team formally, or just help a neighbor on your own. And adopt a curb cut or two as well. I’ll be out at Q and 16th again this year with my little shovel. I met so many nice grateful people and a couple of helpers last year.

2. My 2015 Resolutions: Because the holiday season is almost upon us, I am holding off my followup to the new DDOT Administrator on what action they might be taking in response to Mayor Bowser’s promise to me after my letter that things would improve for pedestrians in the CBD at least. But I’ll be writing the letter and have it ready to send out first thing in January.

I will also check with Dupont Circle Citizens Association on the creation of that task force their President mentioned to me to deal with controlling sidewalk biking in the neighborhood.

That’s all I have time for now. I’ll try to get in another post in the next month since I do have some diary tidbits you might enjoy.

Meanwhile, have a good start to the holiday season, and remember STAY ALERT! DON”T GET HURT!

Back to Normal, Sadly

2 Oct

Last week was, as you know, the week Pope Francis visited DC. At mid-week also occurred Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when persons of Jewish faith contemplate their sins of the past year, ask God’s forgiveness, and vow to do better in the coming year.  Between these two major religious events, it seemed to me that virtually everyone in town was on their best behavior.  On the days I went to work, which luckily is in my own neighborhood(so no traffic issues for me), I noticed fewer cyclists and even those were stopping at red lights and generally not riding on the sidewalk.  It was truly a blessed week.

But, of course, nothing that good can last for long.  Tuesday morning, my first day at work this week, I met up with an aggressive sidewalk biker just before the corner of 17th and Q.  Perhaps lulled by last week’s peaceful days, while I remembered to look both ways and behind me when I stopped at the kiosks to get the Express and the Examiner, I started to step back into the main sidewalk toward the corner without thinking and then I saw him.  A scruffy looking biker racing up the handicapped cut at the corner, through people waiting and then right past me on the slim sidewalk outside the outdoor part of the coffee shop there.

I did not shout, but when I’m suddenly surprised like that, I do say something, almost involuntarily.  And I said “stupid jackass sidewalk biker”.  But I only said it in a normal, non-shouting voice. Ah, But this guy heard it.  And what’s more, my guess is that he’s been called out before, because, as I proceeded to the corner, he yelled after me, “Ma-am, Ma-am” until I turned around.  Then he said,”  I don’t like being called a jackass.  It’s legal for me to ride on the sidewalk outside the Central Business District.”  I said “There’s a bike lane going your direction on Q, why not use that?.”  His answer really got me–“Did I impede you in any way?”  “Impede”  Who uses that in this kind of confrontation except a lawyer?  Anyway I decided it was worthless and had to get to work, so I didn’t answer and started to proceed to the corner to cross.  He called after me–“Answer the question!”  Ah, yes, a lawyer, for sure.  But a bad one.  There are lots of good lawyers in town and they don’t go out of their way to pick fights.  But now this bozo had an audience of the people sitting in the outside portion of the coffee house, some of whom might be my neighbors,so I figured I had to say something.  I answered by saying “If I had taken one more step forward you were riding too fast to have avoided hitting me.”  He yelled something back that I didn’t understand but I was sure it wasn’t nice.  So I did finally yell, “Listen, I’ve been hit by one of you jackals before, you don’t belong on the sidewalk.  Be man enough to ride in the street.”  The light changed and I started across, my peace of mind ruined, when I heard him yelling some more unintelligible garbage and finally, the last refuge of the scoundrel, a really surly “Have a nice day.”  You ever notice how many people say that in anger?

Well this post has gone on a little longer than I’d intended.  And I do have some links to give you.  But let’s leave that for next time, which I promise will be next week, come hell or high water(the latter a distinct possibility this weekend).  Meanwhile, especially since the weather will be wet this weekend, watch out when you’re stepping around puddles.  There may be a sidewalk biker racing behind you with his umbrella in one hand (honest, I saw, not one but two of these yo-yo’s yesterday.  So, STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

Notes from the Underground

15 Sep

I apologize to my readers for not posting regularly this summer.  I have been out of town at family events and business trips every couple of weeks this summer and, of course,  have to catch up on work when I return. And frankly, after the summer started off with a bang—Will Sommer’s ode to his reckless sidewalk biking (See earlier post Sidewalk Biking Scofflaw Whines and slurs others), there hasn’t been much to report on. Of course, there are still plenty of sidewalk bikers endangering innocent pedestrians and other bikers running red lights.  Sadly, there have also been many pedestrians, including some with small children, endangering their lives by crossing against lights or not using the pedestrian crosswalks.

But here’s an end of summer status report:

  • My new ANC commissioner has done nothing with the info I gave him in March and, like other bureaucrats in this town, has learned too early that, if you simply don’t reply to e-mails or letters from citizens who have concerns that are also yours, there’s little they can do.  As I’ve said before, “Bureaucracy is the enemy of democracy”  Ingo Schultze.
  • But your blogger doesn’t give up easily.  As I wrote earlier, Mayor Bowser did respond earlier in the summer to my request to at least consider putting signs in the CBD warning that sidewalk biking is not allowed there and to look at extending the prohibited zone to other now busy neighborhoods with substantial foot traffic.  She said she had informed the appropriate people and they would be dealing with it.  So, just last week, I followed up with another true public servant I know at DDOT.  He responded promply, no bureucrat he, but not encouragingly saying that signs in the CBD had been discussed “many times” but he knew of no immediate plans to install any.  He said, however, that someone else might  be working on this initiative.  Next stop for me:  A letter to the new DDOT Director.
  • There is also a new WABA Director, Greg Billing.  I don’t know him but will try to make his acquaintance.  He seems to have an interest in more protected bike lanes.  Interestingly, when the Will Sommer flap came up in June, I was about to write on that topic, having brought back from the Real World info from Detroit papers on what they are doing.
  • Speaking of bike lanes, DC seems to be falling behind in constructing new ones.  The goal was to add 7.5 miles by the end of this year, according to the Express, but only 2.27 miles have been constructed.  Of course DC currently has  over 69 miles of bike lanes.  That in a city that has only 61.4 miles of land surface.  And the rogue bikes still ride on sidewalks even on streets with bike lanes.  Go figure!
  • The City Paper’s current issue seemed promising with cover art entitled “The Walking Dread”.  But sadly the story inside merely details DDOT’s Vision Zero plan to end traffic fatalities by 2024.  And the Struck in DC update has only comments from cyclists, although the dots show plenty of pedestrians hit.  Are we not worth the interview or don’t we whine enough.  Still, worth the read.  Since this appears only in Print, I would go to http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com and click on “Print Version”.  The pages you want are page 9 for Struck in DC and page 15 and following for the Vision Zero article.

Finally, a small ray of hope.  I met up with my neighbor, who is now the head of our neighborhood citizens association. She appears to be ready to step into the fray in a small way and is thinking of suggesting a “task force”.  We’ll see how that goes. But I told her I’m in if she gets it started.

More soon.  But don’t forget(as if you could with the constant news coverage)  Pope Francis is here next week.  Great events for a great many.  But traffic snarls throughout the city.  So STAY ALERT.  DON’T GET HURT.

Pedestrian Alert and more

10 Jul

Good morning! We are about to enter another weekend and I thought I would make you aware of something I’ve been noticing in my walks around town, especially in my own neighborhood, Dupont Circle. WALK LIGHTS with numbers counting down to the red hand seem to be out of sync. I’ve noticed when I’m coming up to a light where I think I have plenty of time to get there and across, suddenly the countdown numbers change dramatically. For example, the light starts counting down from 60, gets to 17, then the next number is 5. Or a 30 second light will get to 15 and then the next number is 4. This doesn’t seem to have any consistency to it. One day the light will act this way. The next day, it will be back to counting down normally. Then a day later, out of sync again. I’m thinking that, if I don’t get to a crossing with at least 20 seconds to go, I’d better be quick or wait for the next light. At any rate, to be safe you still want to cross with the light and not against it. The longest you wait is 60 seconds for the next light, easily better than getting mangled or killed by traffic.

Report if you or another is hit by a car or a bike

On that note I should mention again the Washington City Paper’s effort to catalog situations where pedestrians (and bicyclists) have been hit in DC. I’ve been in communication with the editor who is conducting this effort, Sarah Hughes. If you go to their site


http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/go/struck

you’ll find an alarming number of pedestrians hit already this year. If you click on a dot on the map, you can tell how it was reported and when and where. All the ones I opened were reported from police reports. The only problem with this is that, as Ms. Hughes tells me, MPD will not release police reports on struck peds/cyclists until the case is closed, which can take a good deal of time. So unless she’s able to find the person, she’s not able to determine whether they were hit on the sidewalk or in the street. So I remind you that, whether you get hit, or you see another person get hit, especially if they are on the sidewalk, it’s important to go to the site and report.

Ms. Hughes also mentioned that they do have the 2014 data and plan to publish that in the fall. So stay tuned.

A couple of good takeaways from the infamous Sommer article

When I re-read the Will Sommer rant for sidewalk bicycling, I noticed a couple of things that give we pedestrians hope:

1. Sommer opens with “My latest run-in with the law happened last August.” This means to me that at least some police are enforcing the current law. It would help them if there were better signage in the CBD and to mark the boundaries. But clearly some officers recognize the danger.
2. There appears to be a techblogger, one Anthony Sodd, at DC Inno, who is a cyclist like I am and other good cyclists throughout the city are. Of course, Sommer hates him because Sodd tells the truth, like an adult cyclist on a sidewalk being “simultaneously revolting and pitiful.” I’ll try to find his blog and see what more he has to say.
3. Sommer is evidence of what we all know about sidewalk bikers when he mentions among the reasons for sidewalk biking “avoiding going the wrong way on a one-way street” and “when traffic is backedup and the cars are too close to the curbs to filter past.” Guess what you’re traffic too! You go in your lane, and, like other traffic, if you have to go a block out of your way to get a street going the way you’re going, you do it! Oh, and he also mentions, in the “inconvenient” part of sidewalk biking, “you have to watch out for pedestrians… and, if you’re really scrupulous, you’ll have to ring a bell every time you pass a pedestrian.” No, the law says YIELD to pedestrians!

Ah, well, it’s summer and it’s supposed to be nicer weather than last weekend. So enjoy. But STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT.