Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


In 2 letters, road behaviors contrast

Individual drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders naturally have differing views and observations when their modes of travel intersect. In many cases, those intersections are complicated. Below, two letters from readers, Bradley K. and Steve W., describe contrasting road behaviors from, respectively, the views of a driver and of a cyclist.

Bradley K. writes,

A week or so ago, I was driving down King Street in Alexandria between I-395 and Old Town. There was a cyclist riding down the road, mostly to the right-hand side. He was doing a pretty decent speed, but still worth passing.

This is a two lane road, so passing the cyclist was a game of patience. Once oncoming traffic subsided, I passed the cyclist in the oncoming lane (leaving him an entire lane of room) and thought nothing of it.

Of course knowing King Street, traffic came to a halt, and the cyclist caught up to me. He got in front of my car and started shouting obcenities at me and ended up giving me the finger...

This draws a few questions for me:
  1. What did I do wrong? I left the cyclist the entire lane while I passed.
  2. What do motorists expect of cyclists?
  3. What do cyclists expect of motorists?
What I expect of a cyclist:
  • If you are on the street, obey the rules of the road (including stop signs, stop lights etc.)
  • Stay to the right of the road. You don't have to be on the curb, but assist the motorists if they desire to pass you. It creates a safety issue if you are in the middle of the road going 15-20mph.
What I would expect of a motorist:
  • Treat the cyclist as a slow car.
  • Give the cyclist plenty of room if you need to pass.
  • DO NOT PASS if the road is narrow and there is oncoming traffic (see suggestion two)
It seems like Bradley did nothing wrong in this case, but riding in the middle of the lane is often the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, Steve W. writes,

This morning, I picked up a CaBi bike from my local station for the typically relaxing commute to the office. I made my way onto the cycle track on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. I would typically think of this section as being one of the safer and more segmented parts of my commute with no car doors to open or traffic sharing the same lane with me.

However, as I started through the 11th Street intersection going east, a minivan also going east made an illegal left turn in front of my path and onto 12th Street. Fortunately, I was able to slow down and only tap the minivan as it sped by without any consideration for cyclists.

Not only did the minivan not pay attention as it passed me and then turned in front of me on Pennsylvania Avenue, but it also made an illegal left turn as turns are never allowed at this intersection. Unfortunately, many drivers, especially tourists, are not familiar with having to pay attention to bike lanes that are separate but intersect at cross streets.

Perhaps these no-turn intersections should have some sort of red lights to additionally make drivers aware when and where they should not turn. Alternatively, maybe some sort of double yellow line would provide greater awareness to drivers.

I'm fortunate that no one was injured today, but not everyone is as fortunate.

Turning across the Pennsylvania Avenue lane illegally and without looking is definitely not the right thing to do.
Greater Greater Washington occasionally posts letters that raise questions or make points we feel our readers would enjoy seeing and discussing. If you would like to submit a letter, please send it to letters@ggwash.org. If you have feedback on an article you would like to share with other readers, please post it in the comments section of that article instead. 

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Hi Bradley K., the only thing I can think is that the bicyclist might have felt uncomfortable with you behind him. I've been "tailgated" by a car waiting to pass me, and it is very unnerving. One slip and the car's right tire would be rolling over my head. For us, it can be a matter of life and death! So its good to leave extra room when you're following a bicycle--about 3 times as much space as you would leave when following a car. Thank you for being so considerate!

by Alan on Jun 17, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

Perhaps Bradley K was following too close, or used his horn when passing. Or, the cyclist was just being a jerk.

by SJE on Jun 17, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

Or perhaps the driver passed closer than he thought. SJE described the other two things that make me hulk out.

Not knowing why the cyclist was angry, it's hard to know why he was angry. My ability to mind read really goes down when I have to time travel too.

As for staying right or moving right when being passed. I prefer to maintain my line. Moving side to side tends to confuse other road users and it's something other drivers complain about. There is NO safety issue related to going 5 mph below the speed limit in the middle of the road.

by David C on Jun 17, 2011 12:38 pm • linkreport

Bradley K cross a solid line to illegally pass the cyclist? I don't know that stretch of road. If so, that's probably why the cyclist was mad (though it seems a bit of an overreaction).

Illegal lefts aren't as common as illegal U-turns through the PA Ave cycle tracks, but I wish we'd see more enforcement.

by Jon Renaut on Jun 17, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

Bikers are jerks just as much as drivers. Last week, I was the unwanted spectator in a shouting match between to bikers at the end of Key Bridge. One had apparently not passed the other appropriately. Whatever. It was a wonderful day. No need to be shouting at each other for the duration of a red light.

by Jasper on Jun 17, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport


It is unlikely a cyclist started shouting obscenities at Bradley for no reason. If he gave the cyclist plenty of room then that's probably not why the cyclist was upset.

I don't know what happened in this situation, but a couple points jump out at me.

1. Bradley should not treat bikes as slow cars. Bikes are different from cars. Sometimes drivers on one lane roads have to wait to pass bikes. Sometimes cars tailgate while waiting to pass bikes. Its not a good idea to tail gate a car, but tailgating a bike is worse and it can really piss off a cyclist.. I don't know what happened in this case (I'm guessing the bike got tailgated), but the bigger point is bikes should be treated like bikes not slow cars.

2. Its interesting Bradley expects cyclists to obey the law, but does not mention he expects the same from drivers. Sure cyclists don't always obey the law, but drivers don't either. Most speed, talk on cell phones, roll through stop signs very regularly.

3. Someone needs to explain to Bradley that cyclists are aften safer when they "take the lane" because riding to the right on a one lane road at 20 miles an hour can be more dangerous than riding in the middle of the lane (which is legal). That said, yes of course cyclists should be polite and not needlessly impede traffic.

My advice to Bradley is if a cyclist starts yelling at him and he has no clue what they are yelling about then just be a bigger person, apologize and ask what they are so upset about.

by mike on Jun 17, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

RE: The Pennsylvania Ave. bike lanes - I have had cabs pull illegal U turns directly in front of me multiple times, usually without checking for oncoming bikers. More scary, though, was when a Metrobus pulled into the bike lane to pass traffic waiting at a stop light - nearly running me over in the process. Although I wrote to Metro with the time of the incident and route number/destination of the bus, they said that they were unable to do anything because I did not provide a proper bus number (admittedly, I probably misremembered the number or put it in backwards).

by Em on Jun 17, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

One thing I often find when a car passes me on my bike is that even if the driver initially moves sufficiently left to pass, they underestimate my speed and forget about the back half of their vehicle, and so they move back into the right lane without checking to make sure there's enough room. Perhaps the cyclist felt Bradley cut him off in this manner. Or perhaps not- we'll never know.

by RichardatCourthouse on Jun 17, 2011 1:06 pm • linkreport

I assume this is the approx. location on King.


View Larger Map

by RJ on Jun 17, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

@David C 'There is NO safety issue related to going 5 mph below the speed limit in the middle of the road.

You bring up a good issue. Some of these speed limits were probably assigned back in horse and buggy days. The DOTs would be doing everyone a favor if they posted the de facto speed limits on our roads i.e., the real ones that the police enforce and that is 'natural' to the road as other posters here have mentioned. This would avoid the situation of a cyclist being mislead to believe that because they're going 15 mph they're only doing 10 mph less than the posted speed limit ... when the speed limit that is actually enforced there might really be something closer to 40 mph ... or more.

I think what would really help is if cyclists thought to themselves, 'if I was out here without a bike, would I really be standing out in front of 2 ton or more vehicle jogging along at a 'human pace' on a road meant to carry traffic at a motorized speed?'

by Lance on Jun 17, 2011 1:20 pm • linkreport

Btw, the funniest thing I saw last week ...

I was getting ready to cross (on foot) a 4 way intersection where there is a bike lane going southbound. I saw a large truck going eastward through that intersection who had stopped and then started to proceed when a cyclist came zipping through the stop sign causing the trucker to hit the brakes. And then the cyclist yells at the trucker 'It would help if you weren't talking on your cell phone while driving' ... so, not missing a beat, I yelled at the cyclist 'And it would also helped if you learned to stop at stop signs!' ...

by Lance on Jun 17, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

@RJ, Thanks for posting the pic. Yes, this isn't a safe place for anyone to be riding their bike on ... unless they stay on the sidewalk. You have to wonder what goes through the mind of anyone on a bike who'd purposely be on a high speed road like this in the middle of traffic.

by Lance on Jun 17, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

Bradley's treatment of cyclists is a little contradictory. He at once states that cyclists present a safety hazard when they ride at 15-20 mph and that they should be treated as a slow car. I suppose one might naturally conclude that slow cars (traveling at 15-20 mph) present a safety hazard? Would Bradley pass a slow car, or would he only pass slow cyclists? After all, a slow car traveling in the middle of the road presents the same obstacle as a bicycle traveling in the middle of the road.

I don't mind staying to the right of the road, but a lot of conventional wisdom tells us that staying in the middle of the road increases our visibility to motorists and reduces the chance that we'll get hit by doors or people. It's in the cyclists best interest to remain in the middle of the road, even if it's in the driver's best interest for us to keep to the right.

by Scoot on Jun 17, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

@Scoot I suppose one might naturally conclude that slow cars (traveling at 15-20 mph) present a safety hazard?

Actually, I remember being taught in driver's ed that 'too slow' traffic really can be a traffic hazard. We were told it was important to 'match the traffic speed'. And in my home state the highways actually had minimum as well as maximum speed limits posted ...

by Lance on Jun 17, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

"Stay to the right of the road. You don't have to be on the curb, but assist the motorists if they desire to pass you. It creates a safety issue if you are in the middle of the road going 15-20mph."

It may cause grief to an impatient motorist, but it's really not a safety issue.

If it were, we'd have an epidemic of hit-from-behind crashes involving postal jeeps, street sweepers, garbage trucks, and other slower moving vehicles. But we don't.

Furthermore, hit-from-behind is the least common type of crash involving cyclists. And most of these are probably sideswipes, from motorists trying to squeeze by when they should have waited.

There are many reasons for cyclists to ride in the middle of the lane. Staying clear of parked cars and opening doors, debris and potholes in the road, visibility at intersections and driveways -- and preventing unsafe passes, when these conditions are present.

Cycling Savvy has a great page about this, "Why do you ride like that?"

by Virginia Bicycling Federation on Jun 17, 2011 1:34 pm • linkreport

As a regular cyclist around town, I can honestly say that the greatest risk I face while on my bike is other cyclists. I used to be in denial about this, but people get stupid when they're on a bike.

by MJ on Jun 17, 2011 1:39 pm • linkreport

I think what would really help is if motorists thought to themselves, 'if I was out here without a car, would I really advocate for motorists going above the posted speed limit, on a road that is not a highway, which may have pedestrians, bicyclists and motorized vehicles all sharing the same space, or space in close proximity?'

A road is not a highway. All non-highway roads share space.

by greent on Jun 17, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

@Alan (Commenter #1) or anyone else ...

I have a question about this statement: "its good to leave extra room when you're following a bicycle--about 3 times as much space as you would leave when following a car."

If I'm measuring my distance from the car in front of me, I'm going to keep 2 or 3 car-lengths behind them. So for the bike, are you telling me to stay back 2-3 bike lengths, or 6-9 car lengths? The former seems like it might be too short, but the latter is totally unreasonable ...

by mccxxiii on Jun 17, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

As a driver, I could probably get past the epidemic of cyclists not stopping at redlights and stop signs and generally behaving in a passive aggressive or all out aggressive manner when interacting with cars IF they would only look out for themselves and my car when they're going to go around something or someone in the road. I get it. The asshole is standing in the bike lane. However, if someone is in my lane, I dont just cut off the person in the lane next to me. I slow down and go around them when its safe.

I have, one too many times, been sharing the road, very kindly, with a biker only to have the biker unpredictably swerve into my lane.

by Anon on Jun 17, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

And King Street in Old Town is nothing like a highway. The whole "slow traffic can be a hazard too" meme only works on something akin to an interstate where its already illegal for non-motorized transportation. So can please all agree to stop with the whole "slow traffic can be dangerous too!" stuff. Because thats never the case and the excuse "he was going to slow so I hit him" should get you laughed at.

by Canaan on Jun 17, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

@Canaan: "So can please all agree to stop with the whole "slow traffic can be dangerous too!" stuff. Because thats never the case"

I would never condone hitting a cyclist for being slow! But if I'm at the head of a line of cars going 35/40, and I come around a curve or over a hill to find somebody (bike *or* car) going 15/20, I'm going to have to slow down quickly. And that WILL be a danger to my back end.

I can't control how closely the guy behind me is following me, and that's where the 'slow traffic is dangerous' idea comes into play.

by mccxxiii on Jun 17, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

You bring up a good issue....The DOTs would be doing everyone a favor if they posted the de facto speed limits on our roads i.e., the real ones that the police enforce

Actually that was not the issue I brought up. But I think speed limits are already posted. If you think only the speed limits that are enforced should be posted, perhaps all the stop signs that aren't enforced should be removed too.

so, not missing a beat, I yelled at the cyclist 'And it would also helped if you learned to stop at stop signs!'

Zing! BTW, I loved you on Laugh in.

Yes, this isn't a safe place for anyone to be riding their bike on ... unless they stay on the sidewalk

King Street is perfectly safe. And no one wants cyclists on the sidewalk.

You have to wonder what goes through the mind of anyone on a bike who'd purposely be on a high speed road like this in the middle of traffic.

"This is so much faster and safer than being on the sidewalk"

by David C on Jun 17, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

Yes, and Bradley K. was subsequently late to his charity auction where he was planning to donate all his money to homeless kids in Pakistan.... Without the cyclist's story, the letter tells us nothing about driver behavior.

@ MJ -- I couldn't agree more. As a regular bicycling commuter, I'm more prone to get upset at Spandex boys riding all over the roads, wrong way down roads, and not even bothering to slow down at intersections -- even during rush hour. These guys definitely give all bicyclists a bad name. (And BTW, do you REALLY need to wear $3,000 of racing apparel to bike 12 blocks to your office?)

by OX4 on Jun 17, 2011 2:18 pm • linkreport

@MJ I can honestly say that the greatest risk I face while on my bike is other cyclists.

I'm sorry, but the numbers disagree with you. The bike-bike fatal crash is so rare that I can't even find an example of one. But 600+ cyclists a year are killed in crashes with automobiles.

OX4 do you REALLY need to wear $3,000 of racing apparel to bike 12 blocks to your office?

Do you really care what other people wear? It's bad enough having drivers pulling out hack insults about spandex-clad cyclists, we don't need to do that to ourselves. You're like the nerd who insults other nerds when football players are around. And that guy is not cool.

by David C on Jun 17, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

Interesting that the general reactions have been to assume that Bradley K did something wrong (and offer suggestions as to what that might have been), while Steve W's account is taken at face value. Because we're more than willing to accept that the driver of the van is just an inconsiderate asshole, but the cyclist must have been provoked to act like an asshole.

by dcd on Jun 17, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

Lance, check your facts if you want to have any credibility. This is NOT a high-speed road. Use that streetview image you've so nicely complemented to proceed a few clicks down the road, and you'll see very clearly that the speed limit is 25 MPH.

You can also see that the street is narrow, the narrow sidewalk has no buffer from the travel lane, there are houses lining the street with driveways that drivers will need to back out from, and intersections with cross streets have limited sight distances. In other words, the need to share a lane with bikes or other slow vehicles is only one reason that high speeds here are dangerous and completely inappropriate.

by RichardatCourthouse on Jun 17, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

@Lance wrote:

You bring up a good issue. Some of these speed limits were probably assigned back in horse and buggy days. The DOTs would be doing everyone a favor if they posted the de facto speed limits on our roads i.e., the real ones that the police enforce and that is 'natural' to the road as other posters here have mentioned. This would avoid the situation of a cyclist being mislead to believe that because they're going 15 mph they're only doing 10 mph less than the posted speed limit ... when the speed limit that is actually enforced there might really be something closer to 40 mph ... or more.

Chapeau, Lance!

I have often thought the same thing when riding my bicycle on the area multi-use paths and on sidewalks. For example, the posted speed limit on the Capitol Crescent Trail is 15 mph. But that is *extremely* misleading to any walkers who might be on the trail.

As you say "The DOTs would be doing everyone a favor if they posted the de facto speed limits on our [trails] i.e., the real ones that the police enforce and that is 'natural' to the [trail] as other posters here have mentioned".

It does your average pedestrian no favors to be led to believe that bicycles on a given sidewalk or MUT will be travelling at one speed (i.e. 15 mph) when they'll really be travelling at a much higher speed--one that could prove dangerous to a pedestrian. By giving pedestrians solid information with which to assay risk, we can help them make informed decisions as to whether they should use a particular sidewalk or MUT.

by Oboe's Id on Jun 17, 2011 2:33 pm • linkreport

@dcd,

Interesting that the general reactions have been to assume that Bradley K did something wrong (and offer suggestions as to what that might have been), while Steve W's account is taken at face value. Because we're more than willing to accept that the driver of the van is just an inconsiderate asshole, but the cyclist must have been provoked to act like an asshole.

I think the point is that we believe both accounts: that the driver didn't believe he did anything wrong and that the cyclist was clearly provoked.

Or are you arguing that folks just randomly go ape-shit for no reason whatsoever--perhaps the driver had a McCain-Palin bumper sticker or something.

by oboe on Jun 17, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

mccxxiii ,

And thats why you should be cautious around hills. Thats why people behind should follow at a safe distance. Thats why cyclists on curvy, hilly roads usually wear bright clothing. Most of our car/bike interactions are actually on straight/relatively flat city streets. All of those things mean that except in maybe a sliver of cases the problem of "slow traffic" isn't what the cause of an accident is. Anything could cause you to brake and have someone rear end you. Then that sucks and I hope you're ok but the solution to a problem like that is that have better drivers.

by Canaan on Jun 17, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

Interesting that the general reactions have been to assume that Bradley K did something wrong (and offer suggestions as to what that might have been), while Steve W's account is taken at face value. Because we're more than willing to accept that the driver of the van is just an inconsiderate asshole, but the cyclist must have been provoked to act like an asshole.

Thanks dude! I've been amused by the tone and assumptions that people have demonstrated here. And the thing is, I doubt they see any sort of "wrong" in their approach to something that none but the two involved have factual information.

It's the anticar thing again...

by HogWash on Jun 17, 2011 2:37 pm • linkreport

Interesting that the general reactions have been to assume that Bradley K did something wrong... while Steve W's account is taken at face value.

This is because Bradley K's account is missing critical information - namely, why the cyclist was upset. This leaves us all to speculate on various reasons and the most likely reason for a cyclist to yell at a driver and give them the finger is that the cyclist thinks the driver did something wrong. In fact, without making a large stretch, I can't think of any other reason why this would happen.

There is no such missing information in Steve W.'s account. So either you believe him or you don't.

Now just because the cyclist feels like the driver did something wrong that doesn't make it so. But, in no particular order, I find most angry confrontations occur because the driver did something wrong and almost hit the cyclist or the cyclist did something wrong and was almost hit by the driver. Since the second item wasn't described, I lean towards the first. But I welcome other theories. Do you have one or are you just interested in pointed out supposed hypocrisy?

by David C on Jun 17, 2011 2:40 pm • linkreport

Sorry, Bradley.

I know that stretch of road and it has a double yellow line (as we can see in the picture).

You were wrong to pass.

by ceefer66 on Jun 17, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

One question for the folks who like to ride in the middle or left of the lane: When you come to a stoplight, do you stay in the middle of the lane and wait behind whatever cars are lined up at the signal as if your bike were a car, or do you slide over to the right and skip ahead of all the waiting cars by riding between them and the curb?

by Neil on Jun 17, 2011 2:47 pm • linkreport

There is no safety issue with the cyclist in the middle of the lane on King St; VBF already linked the excellent Cycling Savvy page. Broadly speaking, the evidence for the Solomon Curve is spotty at best but we know that there is an impatient driver issue. "De facto" speed limits just emphasizes the scofflaw driver problem that legal pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers face.

Nonetheless, taking Bradley at his word, I see no reason to let out a profanity laced tirade at the stoplight. Maybe Bradley cut off the cyclist when returning to the lane, but it really helps no one to respond in such a manner.

by Geof Gee on Jun 17, 2011 2:47 pm • linkreport

do you stay in the middle of the lane and wait behind whatever cars are lined up at the signal as if your bike were a car, or do you slide over to the right and skip ahead of all the waiting cars by riding between them and the curb?

A little of both, depending on the situation.

by David C on Jun 17, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

Nonetheless, taking Bradley at his word, I see no reason to let out a profanity laced tirade at the stoplight. Maybe Bradley cut off the cyclist when returning to the lane, but it really helps no one to respond in such a manner.

This is true, but equally true that it does no good to fire off a string of expletives when I drop a claw hammer on my little toe.

by oboe on Jun 17, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

"Since the second item wasn't described, I lean towards the first. But I welcome other theories. Do you have one or are you just interested in pointed out supposed hypocrisy?"

I don't have another theory. And I wouldn't call it hypocrisy, supposed or otherwise. Bias, perhaps.

by dcd on Jun 17, 2011 3:04 pm • linkreport

Bias, perhaps.

I call it Occam's Razor.

by David C on Jun 17, 2011 3:06 pm • linkreport

Making assumptions is different than Occam's Razor. It could be that Bradley did something wrong or that the cyclist was just a prick (ride the Potomac trail any weekend day for an example). It does seem that many of the posters here are biased against drivers.

by John on Jun 17, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport

@mccxxiii: The rule on following distance is 2-3 SECONDS, not 2-3 car lengths. At 30 mph, 2 seconds is 88 ft. The average mid-size car is about 16 ft long, so that's about 5.5 car lengths. That's the MINIMIUM safe distance for following CARS. For bicycles, you should be at least 6 seconds back. At 20 mph, that would at least 176 feet, or at least 11 car lengths.

by Alan on Jun 17, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

Making assumptions is different than Occam's Razor.

Well Occam's Razor is about making deductions using the combination of inferences that makes for the most likely scenario.

That Bradley did something wrong - or at least the cyclist thought that he did - is more likely than the cyclist was just a prick, the evidence I might gather on the "Potomac Trail" not withstanding. Would you not agree, or do you frequently see people screaming at strangers without provocation?

by David C on Jun 17, 2011 4:08 pm • linkreport

I'm perfectly aware of what Occam's Razor is. I think that your bias in favor of cyclists leads you to that conclusion. It's just as easy to say that the cyclist thought he was wronged in some way and was incorrect as it is to say that Bradley did something wrong. After all, why would Bradley write the letter in the first place? He clearly tried to do the right thing and was perplexed by the cyclist's reaction. That tells me that Bradley was trying to be safe and there's a good chance that the cyclist overreacted. I've ridden that stretch of King Street on a bike and I know that drivers can be completely out of line. That doesn't seem to be the case here, unless Bradley was driving dangerously and then contrived to cover up his misdeeds by writing a letter to a local blog in order to muddy the water. That's not very Occam's Razory, is it? The simplest answer actually might be that a sainted cyclist overreacted.

by John on Jun 17, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

I often ride to the right. I rarely see cyclists around town riding in the center of the lane. Perhaps because I do most of my riding during rush hour? Even on lazy afternoons, etc, I usually see cyclists bearing to the right side of the road.

Is there any law that controls where cyclists should ride in the road?

side note: Most of my problems involve double parked cars that I have to weave around. Sometimes I have to break to let faster traffic pass before I can merge...

by Alan Page on Jun 17, 2011 4:51 pm • linkreport

Typo: I have to *brake*, not break.

by Alan Page on Jun 17, 2011 4:52 pm • linkreport

Some of these speed limits were probably assigned back in horse and buggy days. The DOTs would be doing everyone a favor if they posted the de facto speed limits on our roads i.e., the real ones that the police enforce and that is 'natural' to the road as other posters here have mentioned.

If that were true, then the speed limit on Maryland Ave. NE should be 40 mph. As a resident of that area, I would vehemently protest any move to increase the speed. There is a public library on that street, it's residential, and a lot of children and families crossing it. What drivers need to do is obey the speed limit, and quite frankly, DDOT should implement traffic calming measures during non-rush hour. The cops won't enforce the speed because there is not enough traffic during non-rush hour to make it worth their while.

by lou on Jun 17, 2011 5:20 pm • linkreport

@Oboe, It does your average pedestrian no favors to be led to believe that bicycles on a given sidewalk or MUT will be travelling at one speed (i.e. 15 mph) when they'll really be travelling at a much higher speed--one that could prove dangerous to a pedestrian.

Believe it or not, I agree. You know how many times I've encountered people walking on the bike paths 2 or even 3 abreast ... And not staying to the right so that a cyclist can pass them when safe. Of course, most pedestrians are polite and will actually, believe it or not, walk off the trail long enough to let a bicyclist pass. I remember back when cyclists used to be polite like that too ... Actually, I even remember myself as a cyclist stopping and moving off the road to let a car go by if I was in the way. If you can't keep up with the traffic, that's not a reason to impede the traffic. Move over and let those who can keep up go by. You chose to ride a slower speed conveyance, that doesn't give you the right to slow down others.

by Lance on Jun 17, 2011 5:26 pm • linkreport

One question for the folks who like to ride in the middle or left of the lane: When you come to a stoplight, do you stay in the middle of the lane and wait behind whatever cars are lined up at the signal as if your bike were a car, or do you slide over to the right and skip ahead of all the waiting cars by riding between them and the curb?

I love that you bring this up, because I've been thinking about this a lot. I almost always stay in the middle of the lane and wait in line with vehicles. I always wonder about all those cyclists that filter to the front: what are you going to do when the light turns green? You painstakingly squeezed up to the front along that narrow space between the stopped cars and the parked cars only to be re-passed by an onslaught of a whole queue of drivers when everyone gets going again?

Of course if there is a separate bike lane or a bike box or a bike lane begins on the other side of the intersection, then sure, go ahead.

I am almost always alone in doing this (I live in Boston/Cambridge, but I'm guessing it's about the same down there).

by Thom on Jun 17, 2011 5:29 pm • linkreport

@Lance

Absolutely true. On the more heavily-travelled bike trails in the area, the greatest danger comes from the slowest and the fastest users. Walkers act as though they're the only ones on the trail (walking 2-3 abreast) and some of the cyclists act like the trail is their personal track, allowing them to ride at speeds that are unsafe and make dangerous passes of walkers and other cyclists. Clearly, more civility would help.

by John on Jun 17, 2011 5:31 pm • linkreport

As both a cyclist and a car driver, I view Bradley's letter as useless. Without more information regarding either the erroneous reporting by the driver, or the motivation of the cyclist, nothing constructive can be deduced from the information provided. Given the information presented, we are left to infer one or both. I do agree that the ability of most people on this thread to infer driver error from this post does illustrate a bias.

Calling that road unsafe for cyclists, most especially if that judgement is rooted in the (reportedly) universal disregard of the posted speed limit, is pretty much a universal indictment of car drivers, and I'm surprised to see Lance make such a sweeping generalization about their scofflaw behavior.

Then again, I neither agree with his assumptions regarding their behavior, nor it's impact on the safety of the road for cyclists.

by CJ on Jun 17, 2011 5:55 pm • linkreport

"Interesting that the general reactions have been to assume that Bradley K did something wrong (and offer suggestions as to what that might have been), while Steve W's account is taken at face value. Because we're more than willing to accept that the driver of the van is just an inconsiderate asshole, but the cyclist must have been provoked to act like an asshole."

This is the best summation of this blog's one-sided editorial policy: When in doubt, blame the driver, even when very few details are known.

Anytime an incident involving a car and a bike is brought up here, the car driver is either blamed and condemned, or the incident is written up in such a way that the cyclist couldn't possibly have been at fault. Again, often these write-ups are written by someone who wasn't at the scene of the incident, only knows perhaps 10 percent of the real story and is trying to throw their virulent car hate into the retelling.

It's hypocritical, really, because the administrators of this blog are quick to shame other media outlets that they claim present things in a one-sided way.

A little balance to the reporting/commentary on this blog is direly needed.

by Anon on Jun 17, 2011 8:11 pm • linkreport

dcd, Interesting that the general reactions have been to assume that Bradley K did something wrong

Actaully, rereading the comments, I'm unclear of where you see assumption. Can you point out exactly what you're talking about?

@John I think that your bias in favor of cyclists leads you to that conclusion.

What conclusion?

It's just as easy to say that the cyclist thought he was wronged in some way and was incorrect as it is to say that Bradley did something wrong.

No, it's a little bit more of a stretch. Here are the two scenarios.

1. The driver passes the cyclist too close, but doesn't notice. Cyclist gets angry.

2. The driver doesn't pass too close, but the cyclist - for some reason - thinks he does. Cyclist gets angry.

Scenario 2 makes little sense. It basically involves the cyclist thinking he sees something that isn't there. But scenario 1 only requires the driver to not notice somthing that is there (which is the far more common mistake).

Another reason to think the cyclist is more aware of what has happened is that they're closer to the action. Even if a driver gives 3 feet, the cyclist is closer to the right side of the car than the driver is. And as the driver passes the cyclist has a far better view of the back right side of the car then the driver who is 6 feet away and in front of the action.

If there is a play at home, I trust the home plate umpire's call over that of the umpire at first base. Especially if the first base ump is looking at the outfield.

Now, as I said before, we don't know what happened, and it's possible anything is the cause of the cyclists reaction, but that's a boring answer and there is nothing to learn there. Pointing out what actions can cause such a reaction is instructive, and considering Bradley asked "What did I do wrong?" it's not so crazy for people to answer that question. And really, "you probably passed too closely or too aggressively and didn't notice" really is the most likely answer.

After all, why would Bradley write the letter in the first place?

He is totally unaware of what he did wrong.

That tells me that Bradley was trying to be safe and there's a good chance that the cyclist overreacted.

I'm with you half way. He tried to be safe. But what makes you think this is an overreaction? Do you think Bradley stayed 5 feet away at all times and the cyclist still yelled at him? You think this cyclist is just totally irrational? Is that likely?

unless Bradley was driving dangerously and then contrived to cover up his misdeeds by writing a letter to a local blog in order to muddy the water.

Not necessary. Maybe Bradley doesn't know he passed too close because was paying attention to something else.

The simplest answer actually might be that a sainted cyclist overreacted.

overreacted to what?

by David C on Jun 17, 2011 8:22 pm • linkreport

Anytime an incident involving a car and a bike is brought up here, the car driver is either blamed and condemned,

Show me where the car driver is blamed or condemned.

by David C on Jun 17, 2011 8:24 pm • linkreport

Hmmm ... when I learned to drive the lesson was keep 3 car lengths between you and the car in front of you while driving in town. (Obvs more on the highway.)

Keeping 11 car lengths behind a bicyclist in a dense, urban environment is preposterous. The cyclist would essentially have a bubble the length of an entire city block behind him, and that space wouldn't last a minute before other cars passed/turned into it to fill the gap.

by mccxxiii on Jun 17, 2011 10:57 pm • linkreport

@Lance,

Believe it or not, I agree.

It was never in any doubt.

by Oboe's Id on Jun 17, 2011 10:57 pm • linkreport

Everything I'm reading here has reinforced my belief that bikers are generally arrogant self absorbed and have 2 different sets of rules for the road. For cars: you must obey the letter of the law or you are an asshole. For bikes: the rules don't apply and anyone who says that they do is an asshole and probably a driver.

If you think it's your right to go well under the speed limit and keep a line of cars behind you for miles (theyre not allowed to pass on a solid yellow and you will go to the front of the line at stop lights because it's youre right as a bike driver) it make you a self centered prick blinded by your ideology.

by Anon on Jun 18, 2011 6:18 am • linkreport

Hmmm ... when I learned to drive the lesson was keep 3 car lengths between you and the car in front of you while driving in town. (Obvs more on the highway.)

you must have learned a very long time ago. research has shown that people are essentially incapable of correctly judging "car lengths" at speed, which is why the current pedagogical method is based on seconds. (It is much easier to count seconds from a fixed reference point than to correctly judge distance ahead.)

by Anony on Jun 18, 2011 7:39 am • linkreport

No doubt that riding in the middle of the road is sometimes the right thing, but if it's the only option, and cars can't pass you, then you shouldn't be on that rode with a bicycle.

A little balance to the reporting/commentary on this blog is direly needed.

Lance provides the "provincial middle aged car driver" commentary, and he does it well. Not to mention the fact that car-drivers already have their advocates: they're called "everyone." If this blog makes you feel "alienated," then you need to go somewhere else instead of whining like a child that your precious feelings aren't being validated, you self-centered, self-absorbed jerk.

by Tyro on Jun 18, 2011 3:23 pm • linkreport

@Anony: Wow, thanks for calling me old ... :)

by mccxxiii on Jun 18, 2011 6:04 pm • linkreport

For cars: you must obey the letter of the law or you are an asshole. For bikes: the rules don't apply and anyone who says that they do is an asshole and probably a driver.

Or, to put it another way: don't put other folks' lives in danger. Cyclists don't. Drivers want to be given carte blanche to do so.

by oboe on Jun 18, 2011 6:36 pm • linkreport

Everything I'm reading here has reinforced my belief that bikers are generally arrogant self absorbed and have 2 different sets of rules for the road.

Well then, it doesn't take much to reinforce your beliefs does it? Unless you'd like to cite some examples.

If you think it's your right to go well under the speed limit and keep a line of cars behind you for miles... it make you a self centered prick blinded by your ideology.

It is my right. That's what the law says. So if you have a problem it is with the set of rules that the rest of society has agreed upon. That said, this rarely happens - not for miles. And when it does it's not about ideology, but personal safety. Although coming home safe every day is a personal ideology I suppose.

Expecting cyclist to put themselves at danger for your convenience even though it's not required by law makes you a prick, in my opinion.

but if it's the only option, and cars can't pass you, then you shouldn't be on that rode with a bicycle.

I strongly disagree. But I do think it's an argument for complete streets. Until then, I'll do what I have to.

by David C on Jun 18, 2011 7:20 pm • linkreport

@David C: "It is my right. That's what the law says."

And Fred Phelps and his "church" have the right to protest at soldiers' funerals. Whether one has a right and whether one is choosing to contribute to civility or incivility are two completely different matters.

There's too many of us and not enough transportation options to go around. We'd all benefit from doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, rather than yelling "it's my right" and "the law doesn't require it." And that's the case whether we're behind a steering wheel or handlebars.

by just passing through on Jun 19, 2011 2:07 am • linkreport

So it's about time I chime in:
First of all, I wanted to thank all of you (even the people who downright think I am a jerk) for your responses.

A few things;

1. I really didnt know what I did wrong... It has been speculated that I either followed close or cut the cyclist off. I know I didnt follow close (from my perspective) but I may have cut him off... I don't think I did that either, but I was in an unfamiliar car, and that is rather likely.

2. Please remember I didn't write the email as a motorist that hates cyclists.... In fact it is 100% the opposite. I care a lot about sharing the road, and want to make sure I do not repeat my mistakes.

3. 'treating a cyclist as a slow car' may have been a mistake in the way I perceived the statement... but nonetheless I am glad some people clarified my actions.

4. Whomever pointed out that this is a solid yellow line, that is correct, it is... maybe I shouldn't have passed, that was my call, and given 100% of my car was across the line, I feel that call rests in my hands, not the cyclists. and this CERTAINLY did not warrant the badgering my mother from out of town and I got from the cyclist.

Yes I am being defensive, and that would probably be used against me, and no I don't have the other side of the story, but I wanted to thank you all for your comments.

by Bradley K on Jun 19, 2011 11:23 am • linkreport

Whether one has a right and whether one is choosing to contribute to civility or incivility are two completely different matters.

True. But that wasn't the point of the previous poster. He started with "If you think it's your right..." and I was pointing out that it is. Furthermore, you've failed to make the case that taking the lane on a bicycle is like shouting "God loves dead soldiers" at a military funeral, except that you have a right to do both. In that sense it is also like owning a gun or voting.

There's too many of us and not enough transportation options to go around.

If you're arguing that we should ban single-passenger cars (aka the least efficient users of the transportation network) that is a bold position to take and I admire your moxie.

by David C on Jun 19, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

@David C: If you're arguing that we should ban single-passenger cars (aka the least efficient users of the transportation network) that is a bold position to take and I admire your moxie.

David, that's an asinine interpretation of what I said. Congratulations--that's even dumber than the people who point out that METRO moves only a small proportion of the daily trips in the area for a large price tag and think we should reduce support for public transit. And I thought *that* was a dumb transportation idea.

But given that you'd already created a strawman about a supposed suggestion that you should put yourself in danger for someone's car-based convenience--and then took the chance to call that person a prick in response to something they didn't say, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that you'd opt to draw an inference that cannot possibly be supported by what I said.

Look, most of us are just trying to get to where we need to be, whether by foot, bike, transit, or car. When we can do things to make that easier for others, as well as for ourselves, why not do so?

(Finally, you're correct--taking the lane is nothing like protesting at military funerals. One is a foundational, first amendment freedom, no matter how repulsive you or I might find it, and the other just isn't, no matter how many times you say it is.)

by just passing through on Jun 19, 2011 11:39 pm • linkreport

David, that's an asinine interpretation of what I said.

Yes. Intentionally so. That's because you didn't really say anything specific and left the details open to interpretation, so I was making my point by having a little fun with the interpretation.

You did it again when you said this:

When we can do things to make that easier for others, as well as for ourselves, why not do so?

What are you getting at? Which behavior are you talking about? It sounds innocuous enough, but it's so vague that I'm left to wonder what things you think people should or should not do. While I agree with this statement, I think we might disagree on what makes things easier for others as well as myself.

It's like asking "If we can do things that are awesome, shouldn't we do them?" With which you might agree, until I tell you that I think getting a life-sized tattoo of the board games "Shoots and ladders" across my chest and face is awesome.

One is a foundational, first amendment freedom... and the other just isn't, no matter how many times you say it is.

Touche. When someone says something is so, without any foundation at all, that is a powerfully convincing argument. I am proven oh-so wrong and must now hang my head in eternal shame. Obviously, only the rights that are specifically enumerated in the Constitution exist - as long as you stop reading after the 9th Amendment.

by David C on Jun 20, 2011 12:11 am • linkreport

David, I suggested civility rather than your pronouncing "It's my right" to ride according to your interpretation of the law. I'm sorry that wasn't specific enough for you.

And your response was to make up stuff about what I said. Clearly, you do need more specificity about what civility means. But I'm not your kindergarten teacher.

We're the only ones left on this thread. And now you're alone.

by just passing through on Jun 20, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

jpt,

Well, I wrote "It's my right" because a previous commenter brought that into question by stating "if you think it's your right" and I was trying to remove that from question. That it is my right is without question. But then you made it seem as though I was yelling "it's my right" as though that were all that mattered. You, what is the phrase I'm looking for, made up stuff about what I said. [I should note that the exclamation point is used to denote yelling, and I didn't use one.]

Then you implied that exercising that right was not contributing to the civility of society, similar to the Fred Phleps behavior, and that - because there is not enough transportation options to go around - that cyclists should move out of the way of cars rather than yelling "it's my right." You compared a cyclist taking the lane to Fred Phelps. Is that civil?

BTW, I did not make up stuff that you said. I said "if you are trying to say..." "If" being the operative word, as in "I'm not sure what you're trying to say, but it could be this." That is far cry from making up stuff.

As for civility, where does dropping in, comparing someone to a kindergartener, calling them asinine and dumb and then running away - "now you're alone" - fall on the civil to not-civil scale.

by David C on Jun 20, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

You have to wonder what goes through the mind of anyone on a bike who'd purposely be on a high speed road like this in the middle of traffic.

Hmm. Tough one. Which stands out first, that it is a suggested route on the Capital Bikeways Map and Google Maps (bike directions)? Or that that's the only through route from Point A to Point B in that part of town (hooray cul-de-sac land!)? Or that it is illegal for anyone over the age of 16 to ride a bike in any part of the City of Alexandria? Or that it is a public road meant for all users with no prohibitions against non-motorized vehicles?

And it's NOT a "high speed road". The speed limit on the portion being speculated about is 25mph. And for good reason (hilly, curvy, narrow, poorly lit, residential, recommended bike route).


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by Catherine on Jun 20, 2011 4:54 pm • linkreport

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