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!

 

 

 

 

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Bravo Boston Bicyclists!

21 Jun

Well, I made that trip to Boston I told you about in March (see “Anniversary Waltz” post).  You may remember that Boston relies on Massachusetts law on bicycling issues because of the number of smaller cities that intersect with it.  But you may also remember that, in a Boston Reddit conversation over the question of what is a business district in Boston where sidewalk bicycling is prohibited, most commenters reached the same conclusion–treat the entire city as a business district and stay off the sidewalk!

Once I got to Boston I found that Boston bicyclists do what they say.  I was especially impressed when our group was transported into downtown Boston on Saturday night to the Atlantic Fish Company restaurant.  We were in a minibus so I had plenty of time to observe.  And I saw many cyclists in the streets riding along with the auto traffic, stopping at red lights, signalling, knowing they were part of the traffic flow. Some streets we went through had bike lanes; some didn’t.  All persons riding bikes were riding them in the street, like adults who knew what they were doing.

The only bicycle I saw on the sidewalk with a person attached was one woman who came from  the street, dismounted as soon as she got on the sidewalk and walked her bike the rest of the way to a bike stand.  The only people I saw who were careless and clueless were a couple of pedestrians who had hailed a cab and when it stopped a half a block ahead of them, stepped into the bike lane and walked the rest of the way in that lane to the cab.  But that also gave me a chance to see how a Boston bicyclist coming up in that lane handled the situation–He saw them, gave a left hand signal, to cars behind in the next lane over and then moved safely into that lane and around the offending pedestrians.  All accomplished without any yelling, honking by any party.  A wonderful display of city biking and auto awareness as well.

Boston on a Saturday night at least is crowded with traffic on the streets and pedestrians on the sidewalk, not unlike our downtown Central Business District and even my Dupont Circle neighborhood.  But everyone gets along by obeying the rules and watching out for each other.

A final note:  I found out this weekend that one of the neighbors on my floor had worked in Boston for a while (she was wearing a Boston Lumber t-shirt).  So we talked Boston biking for a while.  She said she used to bike in Boston and, of course, biked on the streets, just as I did in NYC.  And then she said that when she first came here she was amazed at how wide the streets in DC were and the huge number of bike lanes, making it much easier to bike in the streets without incident.  SO DC Bicyclists, what’s your excuse for not riding in the streets instead of terrorizing pedestrians on the sidewalks! (Note:  My apologies again to those  DC cyclists who do the right thing.  But unfortunately your good name is being sullied by an increasing number of rogues who don’t.  And your bike association, like the NRA, won’t give an inch to make things better.)

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!

 

 

Anniversary Waltz

18 Mar

March marks the third anniversary of this blog.  So I feel it is particularly important to post at least once this month.  Plus maybe I have a little blog envy after PoPville’s creator was featured in the Washington City Paper, and I discovered he makes money at it.  Who knew?

But, as you know this is not my full time job and it is a public service blog.  When I started it was a desperation move to get attention for the growing problem of sidewalk biking, and other bad behavior like running red lights by a growing number of DC bicyclists.  The blog got some initial publicity from an article in the Washington Post, which led to contact with the Logan Circle folk who were as frustrated as I was and used some of the info I collected to push for a resolution for DDOT to study extending the prohibition on sidewalk biking beyond the Central Business District and later to get a pilot sign project cautioning against sidewalk bicycling.  Every so often I see one of those signs still standing and think wistfully “If only…”

Sadly there’s been little new to report.  And, especially for you regular readers, I don’t want to bother you with the same old things.  But, to keep you up-to-date, there’s been no response yet from Mr. Zimbabwe of DDOT to my letter asking to signage in the CBD to help enforcement of the prohibition on sidewalk bicycling there.  And now that I temporarily have regular meetings in the CBD, I can tell you those signs need to be there.  Even when police see a sidewalk biker forcing pedestrians to yield on crowded K Street, they are unsure were the border is.  I know because I’ve talked to a couple of them recently, especially when I almost got slammed from behind by a sidewalk biker while walking to the Farragut North Metro.

And that brings me to….

BOSTON SIDEWALK BIKING LAWS

I’m taking a trip to Boston in June and since this will be my first trip there in a number of years, I thought it was a good time to check their laws.  To my surprise, I found that, unlike other cities, they had no separate code.  Boston relies on Massachusetts law, which says only that it is prohibited to ride bikes on the sidewalks in “business districts or where specifically prohibited.”  My Google search also brought up the confusion that bicyclists who want to do the right thing have as to what is a “business district” in Boston.  If you want to read that too, Google the question of what is a business district in Boston re: sidewalk bicycling and look for the Reddit Boston site.

I ended up calling Boston City Hall, where I spoke to the representative of Boston Bikes, Najah, who provided at least a reasonable explanation.  Turns out there are no official business districts in Boston.  And the reason:  unlike other cities (she cited NYC and Philly) Boston is intercut throughout by smaller cities, e.g. Cambridge, which look just like Boston in housing, business buildings and roads.  So people cannot easily tell when one jurisdiction begins and another ends.  But cyclists must be sure where they are because, unlike Boston, a lot of the smaller cities have very clear codes.  Cambridge, for instance, lists several business districts where the prohibition exists.  Harvard Yard is one(got to protect those future presidents and Supreme Court justices!)  The Cambridge code also makes specific that where bicyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk they can only ride “at walking speed.”  (Boy, would that cramp the style of DC’s rogue bikers!).

As a result a number of the Boston Reddit commenters essentially concluded cyclists should treat the entire city as a business district and stay off the sidewalks.  A great idea!

Finally, I promise that if anything noteworthy happens, I’ll certainly post it.  Here’s hoping Metro’s Wednesday shutdown didn’t inconvenience you too much and that you had a great St. Pat’s Day.  And this weekend is the first day of Spring—so happy spring.  But remember–with spring and the cherry blossoms come more sidewalk bikers and red-light runners. So, until next time–

STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

 

 

 

One step forward, three steps back

9 Feb

Between end of year reports at my job, medical appointments I foolishly scheduled all in January when things should have been slow, and my Resident Snow Team service, things got a little out of hand.

But, as promised, I did write my followup letter to DDOT to see how they were responding to my request to Mayor Bowser for proper signage and enforcement of the law prohibiting sidewalk bicycling in the CBD and for a DDOT study to see if the prohibition should be extended to neighborhoods with significant pedestrian traffic.  I addressed my letter to Sam Zimbabwe, the DDOT associate director who seemed most appropriate to deal with this request.  No response yet but I was encouraged that, when he was interviewed this weekend at a hearing on protected bike lanes, he mentioned as one of  the reasons for the DDOT plan for such lanes in the Shaw neighborhood, getting bicyclists off the sidewalks there.  SO–at least he is thinking sidewalk bicycling is a problem.  [BUT the best solution is just to prohibit sidewalk biking, with rare designated exceptions, like other cities do rather than linking it to the need for protected bike lanes.  There is a need for both]

That little step forward was offset by other events:

1. Post snow return of rogue bikers.  After a blissful week during the snow storm when I and my little coal shovel cleared curb cuts and fire hydrants and helped neighbors clear parts of the sidewalk not cleared and walked to work without worry, seeing only a few hardy bicyclists in the street once it was fully cleared, on Sunday, January 30, I started out for my Sunday papers and provisions and was almost run down by a sidewalk biker racing from behind without warning.  Nine a.m. Sunday morning with virtually no street traffic.  That afternoon, coming back from a matinee at the Keegan Theatre, I noticed something on the clean sidewalk in front of my building that might have been a bottle that someone might trip over.  I was just about to move left to pick it up when another rogue sidewalk biker almost got me from behind and then almost got the couple walking in front of me. The fact there were many more pedestrians on the sidewalks than cars on the street meant nothing to this biker with an entitlement mentality.  After all if he rode in the street he might have to ride in the correct lane or stop for a red light!

2. No sidewalk biking task force in Dupont yet. Then I learned from my friend in the Dupont Citizens Association that the promised task force had been changed to a commitment to developing an overall transportation plan for the area.  So, knowing how even citizen bureaucracies work, I don’t expect anything productive on sidewalk biking for years, if then.  But I did ask to be kept informed so if I can make a difference, I will.

3.  16th Street bus lane.  Finally, it appears that our ANC is set to support DDOT’s 16th Street transit corridor plans.  Our Citizens Association appears to have some reservations on historic preservation and pedestrian safety.  And, the day before the big snow, I attended a public hearing on the issue and saw some real problems.  For one thing DDOT plans to eliminate some critical bus stops, including one in front of the DCJCC in my neighborhood.  But also plenty of people were there protesting an elimination in front of a school and one in front of a nursing home.  The DDOT rep explaining their rationale explained that the people will only have to walk an extra block.  Try that with a toddler in tow or if you are disabled or at night in the rain.  And the longer queues at the remaining stops will make things more difficult for all.  All to save six minutes in time.  Why not just get to the stop a few minutes earlier?

For more info, here’s the cite to the plan:

http://ddot.dc.gov/page/16th-street-nw-transit-priority-planning-study

and here’s the cite to a very good Washington Post article on the hearing:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/02/03/d-c-s-16th-street-on-track-to-get-a-bus-lane

and if you want to sign a petition against the elimination of stops:

http://tinyurl.com/ja57t96

Sorry this was so long.  But at least you know what I know.  And, as always, 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.