Should DC limit sidewalk cycling in commercial areas?
At this morning's oversight hearing for the bicycle and pedestrian advisory councils, Councilmember Jack Evans chastised cyclists who speed on jogging trails, and Tommy Wells expressed interest in exploring restrictions on sidewalk cycling in commercial areas of DC.
At the start of the meeting, Evans said that he jogs regularly, and cyclists have almost hit him 3 or 4 times. He also said he's seen cyclists run stop signs once a week, and travel too fast regularly.
Let's put aside the obvious point that Evans probably also sees drivers run stop signs more like once a day, and travel at excessive speed almost constantly, if he doesn't do so himself. Evans is mostly talking about walking and biking paths, like the Capital Crescent Trail near his house, and some people do travel very fast on bikes in ways that intimidates walkers and runners.
Wells said, "If I get a call from Jack around dusk, I know what it's going to be. It is an issue that we have to keep bicycles separated from pedestrians, especially around sidewalks. We do want people walking and jogging. ... In his own way, Jack is a representative for the jogging advisory council, and we do have work to do."
That work might include looking at whether to restrict cycling on sidewalks in some cases. Currently, DC law allows biking on sidewalks except in a central area. Sean Wieland of the Pedestrian Advisory Council testified that in areas like Georgia Avenue in Ward 4, sidewalks are often somewhat narrow and crowded with pedestrians, and cycling there can create problematic conflicts.
TheWashCycle blogger David C. pointed out that the Mayor already has the power to restrict sidewalk cycling in specific areas as desired. He doesn't think DC should ban it outright, as there are times it's the best move, such as climbing up hills when cars drive fast and there are few pedestrians.
People also start and end their rides on sidewalks, or use them for short distances when one-way streets would otherwise force a long detour. If I ride to U Street, my trip home involves a short segment on a one-way street to get to my alley. I ride on the sidewalk for that short stretch, which is by far the most efficient route.
If I ride on the sidewalk, I always make sure to defer to pedestrians. People on bikes must recognize that people on foot have the right of way, and that while the law might allow using sidewalks, anyone riding a bike on one has to be respectful and stay out of the way of people walking. If that means riding no faster than a slow walk, so be it.
Not everyone does this, however. For this reason, Wells expressed interest in considering restrictions on sidewalk cycling in commercial districts. This could make sense when the commercial district has two-way roads, so people can always bike in the street, and the road is not overcrowded. There seems to be little reason to ride on the sidewalk on Barracks Row, for instance, except between one corner and a bicycle rack on that block.
But what about 17th Street in Dupont? BeyondDC often bikes northbound on this street, which is one way north of Massachusetts Avenue. Going to 18th could represent a fairly long detour. 16th is harrowing. 15th is fairly far away.
A lot of people bike the wrong way in the 17th Street bike lane. Generally, they are able to do that without problems, since 17th is a low-traffic road and cars move slowly. That's illegal, however. Riding on the sidewalk is legal, but those sidewalks are very narrow.
It's too bad DDOT and the neighborhood didn't devise a legal and safe way to ride northbound when recently reconstructing the road. There's now a popular Capital Bikeshare station at 17th and Corcoran. If someone wants to ride there from, say, the station at 17th and L, there's no legal, direct way to do so. As we are seeing in practice, many people are not willing to detour to 16th or 18th for this type of trip.
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