cycling in dc: where is the love?

It seems that the coming of spring in DC has brought out three things:

1. Lots of pollen (all cars not kept in garages have a green-yellow hue to them).
2. Lots of cyclists.
3. Lots of angry drivers.

The latter two seem to be related: the glut of cyclists has given the drivers, who had all winter to become content and complacent in their ways with fewer two-wheeled companions on the road, fits of rage.

Evening at Gravelly PointSome of this is warranted. Cyclists in this town tend to be anything but courteous to drivers, are seldom predictable, and tend not to follow basic traffic rules and regs. You’ll see the lot riding in packs, donning headphones, completely dismissing fellow cyclists, motorists, stop signs, traffic lights, and so forth. Many emulate the examples of the hammerheads and couriers, who brashly act as alpha cheetahs in the midst of angry bears and rhinos (the cars). Nothing will stop these folks, save for “sudden deceleration interactions” with cars, potholes, lamp posts, and walls.

And it’s most unfortunate for those of us who use common courtesy on the roads, complete with proper hand signals and full eye contact with drivers. I mean, folks like me even get chided by other cyclists, who truly believe that traffic laws don’t apply (and as a lesson to all cyclists: the only state in the United States where stop signs do not apply to bicycles is Idaho, where they still act as yield signs – i.e. slow down, assess, and stop if necessary). And I’ll admit that I’m not universally adherent to stop signs, but that’s the case in rural areas, where it’s most clear that there’s no cross or oncoming traffic.

But in a city, you get all kinds of cyclists: novices, casual tourists, racers, couriers, commuters, kids and teens playing, etc. And they all interact with the traffic at some point. While it’s not expected that kids will know traffic laws (and kids that young shouldn’t be riding on busy streets at all – at least without a parent watching), any teen or adult should know the laws and follow them. As stated earlier, in most states bikes fall under the same laws that govern motor vehicles. This means riding with traffic in all cases (including one-way streets), signaling intent (turning and stopping), obeying proper yield and right-of-way at intersections, and being assertive without being overly aggressive. Riding this way minimizes the chance of accidents and adverse interactions with motorists.

And on single-lane or narrow roads, take the lane and remain courteous. Many states have “three foot rules” that require motorists passing cyclists to give a three-foot berth to the side of the cyclist. Meanwhile, the only truly safe way to pass parked cars and prevent being “doored” is to give parked cars three feet of space. Where does this put the cyclist? In the middle of the lane – which is perfectly legal and safe.

And while most areas allow bikes to be used on sidewalks, I frown on this quite a bit because of basic safety (pedestrians + limited space + non-predictable surfaces + too many distractions = disaster waiting to happen). For short distances, it’s perfectly reasonable to use the sidewalk, but not for long-distance riding, especially in areas with high pedestrian traffic.

Really, I don’t mean to give the stink eye to all motorists (though if you live in a city or a greater metropolitan area with decent public transit and roads, there’s no real reason to drive anywhere, save for carting very large items to-and-fro). I just want us to interact peacefully and with mutual understanding: I’m willing to follow your rules, so long as you’re willing to accept that I’m equally entitled to use the roads.

4 thoughts on “cycling in dc: where is the love?”

  1. I hope I remember to comment about this later, as I’ve been encountering lots of cyclists on the drive home from work and have a lot of thoughts about them/driving!

  2. Hi–

    I am about to begin cycling around DC, but have yet to get a bike. You seem to be in the know, do you know where one could procure a good quality (i.e. non rusty) secondhand road bike around here?

    Good post, btw.

  3. Having been doored a couple of times myself in the course of my life, I never ride closer than door’s length anymore.

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