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Breakfast links: Frustrated about driving edition

The great bike lane debate continues: Friday's post on right hooks and Alice Swanson reignited the debate over bike lanes. Do they make cyclists safer (by giving them dedicated space) or less safe (by moving them next to traffic where turning cars can hit them)? Infosnack HQ found this thoughtful paper on the issue.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Inconvenient for you isn't "dangerous": The Post's Dr. Gridlock sides with MoCo transportation engineers who narrowed Arcola Avenue (near Georgia and Unviersity), adding pedestrian refuges and bulb-outs. The changes make a dangerous intersection safer for pedestrians, but irritate some drivers that liked to go fast on the former shortcut.

Logan ANC hotheaded about Zipcar: Last Wednesday, the Logan Circle ANC voted to recommend removal of a Zipcar lot at 14th and Corcoran because Zipcar hadn't landscaped it as promised and a Zipcar rep hadn't yet shown up to discuss the issue. Later in the meeting, once the rep arrived and answered questions, the ANC withdrew the resolution. 14th and You is disappointed in the ANC for its hasty voting on this issue and on the racially-tinged single sales ban.

Evans illegally parked in crosswalk: Channel 9 has the story about Councilmember Evans' car sitting in a crosswalk across from the Verizon Center during Saturday's game. Via ANC2C02 Forum.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I'm all for more bike lanes as long as the cyclists use them. Nothing drives me more batty than being almost run over on the sidewalk by a person on a bike when there is a bike lane in the road right there (happens a lot on Calvert Street and the Ellington bridge).

by Adams Morgan on Sep 8, 2008 9:55 am • linkreport

Wait a can the ANC demand/regulate anything from Zipcar with regard to the lot? Was a special zoning variance needed to make that a parking lot? If the parking lot is a matter of right, there's not much (nothing really) the ANC can do demand the company landscape the lot...

by Adams Morgan on Sep 8, 2008 10:00 am • linkreport

Not gonna lie: those bump-outs on Arcola (there are others on Connecticut Avenue in Aspen Hill) are god-awful ugly. The motorists who wrote Dr. Gridlock only hate them because their eyes burned so much upon the sight of those little concrete boxes that they veered off the road (hitting several pedestrians, which totally defeats the purpose of the bump-out.)

They make a lot of sense, and I haven't seen worse traffic on either road they've appeared on, but I wish the County would make them into planters or something that at least looked useful to people who'd rather believe otherwise.

by dan reed on Sep 8, 2008 11:10 am • linkreport

Doesn't Zipcar rent that lot from a private owner? If so, how can they be held responsible for landscaping it? It sounds like if there was an agreement with the private owner to have Zipcar landscape it, then the concern should be between the private owner and Zipcar, not hashed out at an ANC meeting.

by Curious on Sep 8, 2008 11:13 am • linkreport

The City of Rockville has used that kind of traffic calming strategy on at least one street in the city, Dundee Rd (which is otherwise an entirely residential street, aside from large numbers of high school students trying to avoid congested Wootton Pkwy). On that street, all of the bulb-outs and medians are landscaped. Maybe it would be good for the County to pay attention to officials in the city where its operations are headquartered.

by Adam on Sep 8, 2008 12:00 pm • linkreport

I'm sure this has been said a million times before, but it seems to me that the "intersection problem" between bikes and cyclists is not solved by a separated bike path. They still have to cross the same road, and cars turning right will continue to need to pass infront of the bike traffic, whether it's from a bike lane or a separated path. The only way to obviate this problem would be to give the bike path a separate light sequence. But even that would be undermined by the tendancy for cars to turn right on red, even when it's clearly prohibited.

Maybe another answer would be some sort of a motion-sensor, where the presence of a bike in the lane would be signaled to the driver by a bright flashing light.

by Reid on Sep 8, 2008 12:37 pm • linkreport

Reid, The intersection problem is easily solved by the bicyclist "taking the lane" and waiting for the light to turn green (assuming the cyclist is going straight at the light.) Obviously, the cyclist should advance as far forward as possible and leave room for a car behind him to make a legal "right on red", but in essense, the cyclist needs to be "part of the traffic" at intersections so as to be accorded his/her traffic rights.

Problems occur when the cyclist tries to use the pedestrian's walk signal or otherwise not follow the rules of the road.

by Lance on Sep 8, 2008 1:10 pm • linkreport

"The intersection problem is easily solved by the bicyclist "taking the lane" and waiting for the light to turn green"

It's not "easily" solved that way. It requires the bike to find a space between cars, which isn't possible much of the time, whether the cars are moving or stopped. You're essentially saying that bike lanes cannot exist in an intersection.

I agree that bike boxes can help bikes when there's a red light, but they're useless when traffic is moving. As long as cars don't realize that they're crossing a lane when the turn right across a bike lane, bikes will be at danger.

by Reid on Sep 8, 2008 1:57 pm • linkreport

Oh hey. This quote is apropos to this comment section as well: "While cycling in Holland, I was rarely cut off at intersections,..." It's from the thoughtful paper on how bikes and cars can manage to be on the road together successfully. The solutions are not simple. If only anything involving humans ever were...

by Bianchi on Sep 8, 2008 2:13 pm • linkreport


"It's not "easily" solved that way. It requires the bike to find a space between cars, which isn't possible much of the time, whether the cars are moving or stopped."

I guess it never crossed your mind that by law the cyclist (like all traffic) is supposed to stop behind the last car already waiting at the light ... and proceed only after the light has turned green AND the cars in front have moved off?

Another reason why painted bike lanes don't work ... Being in his/her own little corner, the biker is left in limbo as to when they have a legal right to go through the intersection ... And the motorists sitting at the same light have all the rights in the world to simply ignore the cyclist that isn't part of the traffic in a legal sense.

by Lance on Sep 8, 2008 4:27 pm • linkreport

Oh Lance. Anyone who has driven a car in DC, or most other places, or ridden a bike here or anywhere knows that cars pull up behind one another at lights in a way that does not leave room for a bike to pull in between them. Please -slow down on Rock Creek and Potomac Pkwy. Be the good example for saftey and couteousness you seek in others. Try to be more understanding of the challenge cyclists face. Please just try.

by Bianchi on Sep 8, 2008 4:48 pm • linkreport

@Bianchi "Oh Lance. Anyone who has driven a car in DC, or most other places, or ridden a bike here or anywhere knows that cars pull up behind one another at lights in a way that does not leave room for a bike to pull in between them."

You're still not getting it, are you. You're not supposed to "pull in between them". You're supposed to wait your turn ... just like everyone else ...

by Lance on Sep 8, 2008 5:10 pm • linkreport

Lance. What you describe is an unrealistic and unweildy way of riding with cars and contradicts reccommended safe practices. You want everything to be perfect in an unachievable way. There will always be someone out there annoying you. Life on earth with humans!

by Bianchi on Sep 8, 2008 5:24 pm • linkreport

Bianchi, I really don't want everything to be perfect ... nor do I expect it to be. I understand full well that you can't take "car rules" and expect to apply them full on to bicycles. I've said before and will say again that we need to make allowances for the differences between the two ... and let bicyclists "slide" from strict adherence to road rules which by and large are car rules. That said, in the absense of having enough "bike rules in effect" (yes, we have a few such as bikes CAN ride on sidewalks in the District outside the downtown area), I think it would help tremendously if bicyclists tried their best to adhere to road rules and acknowledged to others in the traffic flow (e.g., "drivers") when "common sense" requires them to break the law. And ask permission for doing so.

For example ... using your example. I recognize that you are correct that there are times when it is near impossible for a cyclist to "get in line" at a red light as there is just too much traffic to be able to blend into the traffic as the light is turning red. (I'm assuming the bicyclists was riding to the right of the lane and not in the middle because of he/she was unable to keep up with traffic). In that circumstance a bicyclist gets "forced" to glide to the right of stopped cars and essentially gets "forced" to break the law that the drivers there are abiding by. A simple nod of the head to the first car waiting at the red light is usually sufficient to get acknowledge to that driver that you know you are "not in the right" but are asking their permission to place yourself ahead of all the waiting cars. It's a simple thing to do, and the right thing to do if you think about it. But how many times have you seen bicyclists just "claim" that spot. And how is that any different than someone jumping in front of you in line at the register at the super market? Yeah, common sense forces a bicycliest to break the law ... but the least the bicyclist can do is acknowledge that they are breaking the law and jumping ahead of others who aren't breaking the law and are waiting their turn.

by Lance on Sep 9, 2008 1:30 pm • linkreport

How is it different from endangering everyone by driving 20 mph over the posted speed limit? The least a driver can do is admit to endangering everyone's safety, including his own, when he goes 50 mph in a 30 zone. Not everyone does it. I don't. I drive on the Rock creek and Potomac Parkway. I honestly can say I have never, in 18 years, gone 50 mph on the RC & P Pkwy. If you want people to admit to their unsafe practices, start with yourself. If you want people to practice better safty behaviors while on the road, start with yourself. The only person in the world any one of has any control over is oneself. Instead of expressing anger and resentment at bikers, try imagining what its like to be yelled at, honked at, squished into the line of parked cars or into the gutter. Show some compassion. Slow down. Yes, the world is full of rude people and we tend to remember negative events better than benign events - usually because the negative events scared us in some way and we stored the memory as a safty warning. Make yourself aware that a biker experiences these life-threatening events nearly on every ride. Make yourself aware of the air quality improvemt for you personally that is achieved with 'n' fewer motorized trips on our roads. Make room for bikes. Expect imperfection; be prepared for it. Be a good example and others will emulate you.

by Bianchi on Sep 9, 2008 2:13 pm • linkreport

Bianchi, Please stop trying to shift the sands of the discussion and stop pulling the canard about going 50 in a 30 zone. First off, it's not a 30 mph zone (it's either 35 or 40 or something like that) and second off you know I was just saying that the traffic was going fast ... faster than what is safe for a bicyclist to be around. I just pulled 50 out of the air as that is what it feels like on that road. It might very well be lower, but that has nothing to do with this discussion ... Other than that you obviously can't debate my points and are trying to shift the subject.

I am speaking as both a driver and a cyclist and I will repeat again that way too many DC cyclists don't know how to cycle. Yes, they know how to pedal ... but that is the extent of their cycling abilities. And THEY give a bad name to the rest of us good cyclists. Assuming you are a good cyclist, I would think you'd agree with me rather than try to change the subject ...

by Lance on Sep 9, 2008 3:10 pm • linkreport

... and just to get back to the original point. A good cyclist doesn't belong on the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway during rush hour. Whether the traffic is going 50 or 40 or even 35, four lanes of rush hour traffic on a confined, narrow-laned, curving road is no place for a prudent cyclist to be, if for no other reason, from a self-preservation perspective. There's a reason the taxpayers have funded a separate bike path in that spot for bicyclists. As a bicyclist I ALWAYS use that bike path ... even during non-rush hours. I do it not only for "self-preservation" but because I know that a cyclist on a parkway is an encumbrance to the traffic. That's just common sense .... which I thought you were all for ... ?

by Lance on Sep 9, 2008 3:22 pm • linkreport

Okay, lets go back to the cyclist on the RC & P pkwy. We do not know why s/he was there. Without that knowledge we can not say the act was ignorant or arrogant or both. Perhaps the biker got lost and accidently found him/herself in that place. Truly ignorant and worthy of sympathy. Perhaps s/he knew it was a dangerous choice and would be annoying to drivers and s/he had other options but did it anyway. Probably arrogant. But what if s/he was responding to an emergency at home and that route was the fastest one to take and s/he had to turn off onto the left side of the park so s/he rode in the left lane instead of trying to cut across 4 lanes of traffic as the turn off approached - We Do Not Know Why that rider was there. We can not comment on the ignorance or arrogance of the rider without that knowledge. However, it remains that bikes are allowed on, and frequently use, the roads in this city including the roads in RCP. You might not like it. You might think it's a poor choice. Say so and say why you as a driver have a hard time reacting saftley to a bike in those conditions - don't try and read the mind of someone else and ascribe motivations or frame-of-mind to that person. It doesn't tell me anything about your unique experience. I could learn something from your experience!

Finally, the biker at the corner of CT & R avoided getting crushed becasue he either had the experience to be aware of the danger or he just got lucky. Thank goodness! If more motorists were more aware of bikes tragedies like the one that took Alice Swanson could be avoided. When i ride I am excruciatingly aware of my vulnerability. This awareness and all I do to protect myself is not enough. I rely on motorists to have a desire to avoid killing me.

by Bianchi on Sep 9, 2008 3:43 pm • linkreport

Jesus, Lance, way to come off as an ignorant schmuck. The speed limit on Rock Creek is indeed 30 miles per hour; when it becomes Beach Drive, it drops to 20. You and your irresponsible auto-loving pals are the reason cyclists and pedestrians alike can't safely enjoy trips around this city.

by CP on Sep 9, 2008 3:52 pm • linkreport

I constantly see confusion about what cyclists are allowed to do at lights and in traffic by people who think that cyclists ought to "wait in line" like vehicles are doing. In fact, lane-splitting, where bikes go between stopped cars, is legal in DC. Therefore, any arguments about bikes not following the rules by not waiting in line is moot.

Secondly, I am seeing arguments about how bikes ought to merge from bike lanes into the vehicular lanes of traffic to stop at lights. Because the bike lane is an actual traffic lane, bikes are allowed to use it even if there are stopped cars in the vehicular lane next to them. If you were driving and saw five cars stopped at a light in the left lane, and no cars stopped in the right lane, you would have no compunction about driving in the right lane to pull all the way up to the light before stopping. Why is it different for bikes? As long as the cyclists are aware of their surroundings and ready to stop in case a car suddenly turned right from the front of the line, there is no law being broken, nor is it contradictory to common sense.

by Melissa on Sep 9, 2008 4:31 pm • linkreport

"Secondly, I am seeing arguments about how bikes ought to merge from bike lanes into the vehicular lanes of traffic to stop at lights."

We (or at least 'I') were talking about situation where there areN'T separate bike lanes. The issue of what to do where there IS a separate (painted) bike lane is a whole other kettle of fish 'cause if there are rules governing that situation, they certainly aren't well known.

by Lance on Sep 9, 2008 4:38 pm • linkreport

@ Bianchi - First, thank you for a well thought out and serious response. You make good points ... overall ... I wouldn't go so far as agreeing that an emergency would justify reckless actions on the part of the rider in the left lane, but I'd agree with the gist of the rest of what you are saying.

by Lance on Sep 9, 2008 4:43 pm • linkreport

Lance, that's fine, but that doesn't change the first statement, which is that lane-splitting in DC is allowed and thus renders your argument (that cyclists who go between cars "break the law") null.

by Melissa on Sep 9, 2008 4:49 pm • linkreport

Melissa, do you have anything to reference that verifies that lane splitting is legal in DC? Also, are you referring only to the case of non-motorized bicycles lane-splitting ... or ALL vehicles (e.g., Vespas) lane-splitting? Thanks

by Lance on Sep 9, 2008 5:26 pm • linkreport

Per Wikipedia, the only place in the US where lane splitting is legal is California. Is there maybe an exemption for non-motorized vehicles?

by Lance on Sep 9, 2008 5:33 pm • linkreport

I've found Wikipedia only to be as reliable as the individuals who contribute to it (and I say that as a contributor). =)

According to the summary of bike laws posted at, "Passing Cars: Allowed to pass on left or right, in the same lane or changing lanes, or pass off road."

DC's Municipal Regulations, Title 18, Chapter 12, Article 1201.3(c). "If a lane is partially occupied by vehicles that are stopped, standing, or parked in that lane, a person operating a bicycle may ride in that or in the next adjacent lane used by vehicles proceedings in the same direction."

Unfortunately, I do not know (nor have time today to look up) any information about motorized vehicles lane-splitting; I am just referring to human-powered bicycles.

by Melissa on Sep 9, 2008 5:59 pm • linkreport

Melissa, Thanks for the info. Interestingly, I once asked a street cop what the law was for bicyclists and he said: "The same exact laws apply to bicycles as to cars ... except we only enforce the laws against them if they're causing a problem or get into an accident. If they're well-behaved we just 'let it go'". This, incidentally, was a bike cop I used to ride with.

by Lance on Sep 9, 2008 10:37 pm • linkreport

"Jesus, Lance, way to come off as an ignorant schmuck. The speed limit on Rock Creek is indeed 30 miles per hour; when it becomes Beach Drive, it drops to 20. You and your irresponsible auto-loving pals are the reason cyclists and pedestrians alike can't safely enjoy trips around this city."

Just wanted to point out that the speed limit on the parkway portion of Rock Creek is 35 in some areas (most of the section between Calvert and the boat house parking lot. From there to the entrance to West Potomac Park it's 25, if I remember correctly. On Beach Drive, it's 25.

Whether it's 35 or 25, that's a perfectly reasonable road to be riding a bike on. With one caveat: douchenozzles operating autos are not exceeding the speed limit.

Or course, that's always the rub, isn't it.

by ibc on Sep 30, 2008 12:52 pm • linkreport

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