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Why don't people obey the rules when they ride a bike?

On a recent Saturday night, about 11 pm, I was biking home while the wind-chill whipped at 10 degrees. Despite the "No Turn on Red" sign at 15th and New Hampshire and Florida and W Streets, I turned. There was no traffic, I couldn't feel my face, and I just wanted to get home.

What to do here? Photo by the author.

Half a block later a policeman pulled me over. "There was no turn on red at that last intersection," he said. "Bikes are vehicles and you're required to stop and wait for the green arrow, just like cars."

For a moment I was enjoying the heat coming out of his squad car, which further drove the point that we were in completely separate worlds.

But what could I say? He was right.

DCMR Title 18 Section 1201 states, "Every person who propels a vehicles by human power or who rides a bicycle on a highway shall have the same duties as any other vehicle operator under this title, except as otherwise expressly provided in this chapter."

There it is. It's the law.

However, bikes aren't vehicles—not really. They're not cars; they're not motorcycles. There's a lot that separates bikes from cars, and that's why many cyclists act differently than drivers.

Bikes don't have heaters on them, which may have led to my haste last Saturday, and perhaps the lack of sympathy from our toasty friend with the badge. They don't offer the same amount of protection as a car does, so cyclists behave differently.

Bikes are smaller. They're thinner, they're lightweight. Bikes need less room, which is why bike lanes are five feet as opposed to the 10-12 feet required for auto lanes. And even when there's no bike lane, that's why people on bikes can squeeze through traffic at red lights.

Another distinction is that if you get hit by a bike, it might hurt, but you probably won't die. And I say this with all seriousness, because DDOT installed the right turn signals and the "No Turn on Red" restriction because a pedestrian was killed by someone driving an SUV and making that same turn I did.

Bikes don't go as fast as vehicles. The top speed most cyclists can get up to in the District on streets is maybe 10-15, perhaps a little faster on a hill. Because people go slower when they ride bikes, they can see more and react more quickly. This also makes bikes safer to other people.

Riding a bike uses a lot of momentum. It takes effort to get up to 10 mph. So when there's a stop sign with no cars at the intersection, only those determined to obey the laws actually will. Like when pedestrians cross when the light clearly says "Don't Walk. Which brings me to my next point.

People have better visibility when they ride a bike. They can see how close a car or pedestrian is. They understand exactly where their bike is, and how much space it's taking up. And because cyclists are closer to the intersection, not set back behind a hood, they can see the cross traffic a lot better.

When I worked at DDOT, a colleague was telling me how bikers shouldn't cross when it's red. I replied that if it's safe, I did so. She asked, "Well, how do you know if it's safe?" I was confused and just said, "You look." It took a couple of days to dawn on me that when someone drives almost exclusively, they forget that it's pretty easy to see if a car's coming. If parents feel safe telling their kids to look both ways, I'm confident I can pull it off, too.

As a policy decision, there's a lot of reasons to make it safer and easier to ride a bike. There are health benefits, fewer accidents, reduced congestion, and so on.

With more people biking, we have a responsibility to make it safe, just like we did when more people started driving.

However, there are barely 2 pages in the DCMR reserved for bicycle operations, and 20 pages reserved for vehicle moving violations. DC needs to update the DCMR to stop treating bicycles like vehicles, similar to what Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont have done.

There are a lot of examples of good bicycle-specific policies. One example is the Idaho Stop, which allows people who are riding a bike to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs.

People break the rules when they ride a bike not because they're bad people or because they like live outside the law. They understand that almost all of the traffic control in the city is directed at people driving machines that weigh at least 3,000 lbs. and can get up to 100 mph. They don't really make sense if you're on a bike.

The best way to get people to obey the rules when they ride bikes is to write the rules for people who ride bikes.

These updated rules should provide better clarity about situations that didn't really exist 10 years ago. For example, vehicles turning right when there's a bike lane. Is the person driving supposed to wait for the bike? Or is the person on the bike supposed to overtake the car as the driver waits in the bike lane to turn right? What if someone double-parked their car in a bike lane, what is the correct action for the cyclist?

The new rules should then be presented comprehensively to the Metropolitan Police Department, in drivers education classes, and show up on drivers license exams. It would also be helpful to have them distributed to new bike owners.

More cyclists will follow the rules when they ride bikes because the rules would finally make sense.


What's our bicycle "social contract"?

With the frequent calls for cyclists to "start behaving," it's clear that a number of people driving and walking are unsettled by the conduct of at least some people on bikes. But people in cars speed all the time, and people walking cross against the light, and neither generates as many newspaper letters to the editor. What is the difference?

Photo by fromcaliw/love on Flickr.

One explanation is that people naturally notice infractions by others on different modes more than those on the same mode. People driving tend to see misbehavior by people walking and cycling rather than from other people driving, for example. Since relatively few people ride bicycles while a great many drive, the outraged letters would skew toward misbehavior by those on bikes and away from that by people in cars.

Felix Salmon proposed another interesting explanation a while back. Basically, he argues that we've developed a clear understanding of what to expect from people walking and driving generally, but lack that consensus for people bicycling:

The trouble all starts when you drop bicyclists into the mix. At that point, a whole new set of combinations comes into play, and as a city we haven't worked out how to make them work. In other cities, especially in places like Copenhagen or Utrecht, bicycles are ubiquitous and everybody knows how to behave on and around them. But we're not there yet.
We expect that people on foot stay on the sidewalk most of the time, and cross when there's a walk signal or an unsignalized intersection, as the law says. We also expect that people on foot sometimes cross against the light if no cars are coming. That might not be legal, but it's generally commonplace and pretty safe. People driving might not like it, but they tend not to be too surprised when it happens and don't write angry letters to the editor about it.

Likewise, we expect that people driving will obey traffic signals and stop signs, and not drive up onto the sidewalk. We also expect that people driving may go a little over the speed limit, which can increase the risk of fatal crashes but is generally widespread. Likewise, people driving often don't stop fully at a stop sign, which adds a small amount of danger but not that much, and so it's generally tolerated.

But what do we expect from people biking? What should they do that's legal, and what are they going to do that's not technically legal, like people crossing on foot against the light or driving a bit over the speed limit?

As Felix Salmon noted, we're not in northern Europe where people riding bikes are everywhere. There, there are so many people on bikes that if 99% of them behave a certain way, people walking and driving are used to it and will generally expect it. Those that stray outside those boundaries will face criticism.

Here are a few examples of bicycling behaviors that are fairly common, and my opinion about whether they should be part of the bicycle "social contract" or not:

Okay: The Idaho Stop. Basically, people on bikes ought to treat intersections as people on foot generally do. If it's a stop sign, look carefully, and proceed if it's safe to do so. If there's a light, stop, look even more carefully, but it's still okay to proceed if it's safe and continuing wouldn't interfere with any people driving or walking.

Bad: Blowing through an intersection against the light without slowing down. This should go without saying, but some do it.

The "C maneuver."
Bad: The "C maneuver." I often see people on bikes approach a moderately busy two-way cross street, then turn right onto that street, merging into the right-moving traffic, then make a U-turn merging into the left-moving traffic, and finally turn right to get back onto the original street continuing along. (Can you come up with a better name for this?)

Good: Riding in the middle of the lane. This is legal but most people riding bikes don't do it. If you're traveling on a bike down a street that doesn't have a bike lane, it's best to act like a car. Ride in the very middle of the appropriate car lane, as if you were in a car.

Most people on bikes ride on the right edge of the roadway. But this entices the people driving cars to try to pass them in the same lane. And if that person in the car turns right, they might "right hook" the person on the bike. Being in the center of the lane makes you very visible. If it's a one-lane street, people on any mode probably shouldn't be traveling that fast. If it's a multi-lane street, people in cars can go around.

Bad: Jumping the queue when it's not really necessary. If you're on a bike, and there's one car ahead of you at a stoplight with enough cross traffic that it's not safe to Idaho Stop across, why go around that car only to make the person driving it pass you again? Just wait behind the car, as if you were in a car yourself.

Okay: Jumping the queue when there are a lot of cars waiting. If there's a lot of traffic, cyclists are going to squeeze up to the front of the line. It's not necessarily safest and as an individual on a bike you might be best off waiting at the back of the line, but when there will be a fairly long wait to get going again after the light changes, people riding bikes are generally going to move up. That's not going to be reasonable to stop.

What do you think about these? What other bicycle behaviors should be part of the ideal "social contract" that will allow people on foot, on bikes and in cars to coexist peacefully, knowing what the others are likely to do and not do?


Letters: Cycling safety starts with cyclists

From time to time, readers email in with perspectives about issues in our region. Sometimes these get worked into articles, but at other times they don't. Therefore, we're starting a new feature, printing letters from readers. We might or might not not agree with what they say, but any we print will present a thoughtful perspective on an issue.

Today's letter is from Adam Irish, who wrote the recent "streetcars are preservationist" op-ed. Do you have a letter you'd like printed? Email it to

Riding my bike home from work the other day, I was almost killed. This is not an unusual circumstance for the DC cyclist, who is endangered daily by aggressive drivers and unfriendly roads. But this time it wasn't the absence of a bike lane or a driver's carelessness: it was a reckless bicyclist.

Australian PSA. Photo by Gui v R on Flickr.

Many Washington bicyclists fail to respect even the most basic traffic laws. By neglecting the rules of the road, errant cyclists not only endanger their own safety, but the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and above all, other bicyclists.

I was at the intersection of G and 12th NW, pedaling through a green light in the bike lane, when the car next to me swerved into the bike lane and slammed on its brakes. Luckily the vehicle was a few feet in front of me and I was able to brake before plowing into his back windshield, but the difference of a foot or two saved me from an ambulance.

Why had this car nearly killed me? No fault of the driver. An oblivious bicyclist was slowly navigating across the intersection, through heavy traffic and a red light. A moron. The problem is, morons on two wheels abound in this city. I'd say at least a third of my scary encounters on the road involve reckless fellow cyclists. I'd go farther and say that a good portion of the road rage we endure is the product of unsafe and disrespectful bicycling.

The bicycling community these days is rather prickly when it comes to criticism, and for good reason. As a regular bike commuter, I know the disrespect from automobiles and infrastructure inequalities firsthand. Bicyclists have a right to be on the road. They deserve dedicated lanes and signals. They deserve respect from drivers and pedestrians.

They also deserve to receive tickets, pay fines and attend court dates just as motorists do when they fail to obey the rules of the road. "When traveling on city streets, cyclists should follow the same rules of the road as motorized vehicles," says the DC Metropolitan Police Department website. "This means stopping at stop signs; obeying traffic signals and lane markings; and using hand signals to let others know your intention to stop or turn."

This should be a revelation to many DC cyclists, who seem to feel entitled to break as many traffic laws as possible. Almost every day I witness two-wheeled commuters clustered at a red light jockeying with one another to cross an intersection and dodge oncoming traffic. Sometimes I wonder if such public feats of rush-hour derring-do inspire some people to bike to work in the first place.

If bicyclists want to be treated equally on the road, they need to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. A biker running a stop sign should be just as likely to get a ticket as a motorist doing the same. This is certainly not the case in the status quo. Until then, DC bicyclists need to take the initiative to obey traffic laws without enforcement for the sake of safety and courtesy. After all, they go hand in hand—just ask an infuriated driver or a cyclist who has met one.


12 ways our region could reform bicycling laws

The percentage of people riding bikes for transportation has been rising for the better part of two decades and there is every reason to believe that trend will continue. While engineers and traffic planners work to update the infrastructure and physical elements to encourage cycling, there is more that legislators can do to help too.

Photo by richardmasoner.

Some laws unnecessarily restrict safe cycling or where cyclists can ride or park. There are other laws that haven't caught up with technology and make the roads more dangerous for all. And there are still other laws that fail to protect vulnerable users or punish negligent drivers.

These laws should be rewritten. In many cases the change in laws will protect pedestrians and/or drivers as well. Below is a summery of recommended changes for the DC region that ran as part of a series on the Washcycle.

  1. Replace contributory negligence with comparative negligence. Maryland, Virginia and DC are three of only five "states" that use contributory negligence to establish damage awards in civil cases. Under this standard, if an injured road user was even 1% at fault for a crash with another road user they would be unable to recover damages unless they could prove that the other road user had the "last clear chance" to avoid the accident. Last clear chance involves proving four separate facts about the crash, all of which must be true, and can be difficult to prove.

    Every other jurisdiction uses some form of comparative negligence, which allows the injured party to recover some of their loses even if they were partially to blame. Contributory negligence is loved by big business and the insurance industry but it punishes victims—who are disproportionally pedestrians and cyclists—twice, and should be changed.

  2. Close the negligent driving loophole. In Virginia and Maryland, it can be very difficult to convict a negligent driver with a crime. In both states recently, drivers who were over-driving their vision or not paying attention hit cyclists from behind and killed them. In one case the driver got a $313 ticket in the other the driver wasn't punished at all.

    The problem is that simple negligence is only a misdemeanor in Maryland and not a crime at all in Virginia. DC, on the other hand, has a law against "careless, reckless or negligent" driving that can result in 5 years in prison or a fine of up to $5000. Virginia and Maryland should close the loophole that allows negligent driving to be treated as "just an accident."

  3. Ban distracted driving. Distracted driving is quickly emerging as one of the major causes of road casualties. DC, Maryland and Virginia should move swiftly to make distracted driving (and that includes cycling) illegal.

    This means making texting while driving a primary offense in Virginia, where now it is a secondary offense, and increasing the fine from $20. It means banning the use of electronic devices while driving, including phones, computers, pagers and video games. Hands-free phones aren't significantly safer than hand-held phones and drivers should not be allowed to use those either. Finally, drivers should not be allowed to manipulate a GPS device while driving, though they can listen to directions.

  4. Treat cycling as transportation. Complete Streets is a doctrine requiring transportation agencies to build roadways that enable safe access for all users. Several states have adopted complete streets legislation or policies.

    Maryland adopted weak Complete Streets legislation in 2000, but it needs to be stronger. Virginia has a policy to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, but it needs to be expanded. DC has no complete streets policy and should pass legislation to that effect.

    In addition, both DC and Maryland should emulate Virginia's ban on culs-de-sac, as they make for circuitous cycling on traffic sewers. M-NCPPC should end its policy of closing trails at night or when it snows and region-wide, critical trails should be cleared after a heavy snow. People still commute at those times.

  5. Leave a safe distance. Maryland and Virginia should follow DC's lead and pass a three feet minimum passing distance law, as well as a law making it illegal to open a car door unless it is safe to do so.
  6. Fix equipment requirements. Maryland, Virginia and DC require some equipment that isn't needed, fail to require one piece of valuable equipment and should try to standardize their light rules.

    The three have different laws about what kind of lights are required, but a common set of rules would help DC area cyclists. Combining the three state's laws could create a requirement for, at minimum, a front light visible 500 feet away attached to the bike, a rear light visible at the same distance attached to the bike or the rider and a rear reflector visible 100 feet away.

    While bells are nice, they shouldn't be required. I've never met a cyclist who thought their life, or anyone else's, was saved by a bell. And Maryland and Virginia should match DC's unique law allowing fixed gear bikes without a separate brake.

  7. Improve the return of recovered and impounded bikes. All three jurisdictions should create a process that maximizes the number of recovered stolen bikes and impounded bikes returned to owners. They should check all such bikes against the national bike registries. They should place photos of them on a recovered bike web site, as Arlington County does, and make it searchable by serial number.

    The serial number of bikes that are auctioned, donated or scrapped should be recorded in a searchable online database so that owners can recover the money or donation receipt for their bike. All jurisdictions should regularly report recovered bike statistics such as total number, number returned, number disposed, etc... as well as registries used to return them.

  8. Let cyclists decide where to ride. The uniform vehicle code, which most states use to define traffic laws, requires cyclists to ride "as closely as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway" and then lists several exceptions. While Denver has rewritten the law to make cyclists the judge of where in the lane a cyclist should ride, a more dramatic change is needed.

    It's not unreasonable to require cyclists to move right to accommodate faster traffic when safe and necessary, but attempting to codify this has led to frequent misinterpretation. A better rule would require riding right only when the lane is wide enough to allow a car to pass a bicycle safely in the same lane (safe), and when there is only one lane in that direction (necessary). Those cases are actually quite rare, so DC, MD and VA could be required to sign those roads as "Ride Right Roads." In addition, Maryland should repeal its law requiring cyclists to use bike lanes and shoulders when present.

  9. Let cyclists ride more than two abreast. Most places limit cyclists riding in a group from riding more than two abreast, and only when not being passed. Cyclists riding in an informal group ride often find themselves riding three or even four abreast, and under current law that's illegal. Instead the law should only require cyclists to stay in a single lane, except when legally changing lanes, and to move right to facilitate overtaking vehicles when judged safe and necessary.
  10. Improve access and parking. Building rules restricting bike commuters from bringing bikes inside as well as rules restricting bike parking in the public space make it unnecessarily difficult to park a bike. The region should adopt a rule similar to New York City's Bicycle Access to Buildings law which requires buildings to allow bicycles inside under certain circumstances. Cyclists should also be allowed to park their bikes to poles within bus zones or located within 25 feet of an intersection.
  11. Decriminalize safe cycling. Laws that were written for cars and drivers shouldn't necessarily be applied to bikes and cyclists. The Idaho stop law allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs, which is what many cyclists do anyway. Since it's inception in Idaho, cycling has actually gotten safer.

    Another change should allow cyclists waiting at a light to move past the advanced stop line while the light is still red so as to stay in front of and in view of drivers. And finally, Maryland should review its law requiring cyclists to have both hands available for reaching the handlebars. DC and VA don't have such a ban and and this law could make it illegal for a cyclist to do something as simple as grab a water bottle.

  12. Allow more sidewalk cycling. Though sidewalk cycling is a critical tool to effective cycling, it's illegal in Prince William County, Alexandria and most of Maryland.

    While it might make sense to ban it in certain areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, such as DC's Central Business District, a county-wide ban is excessive and imprecise. These jurisdictions should make bans the exception and not the rule. Even in areas where its been decided that a ban makes sense, the law should allow riding on the sidewalk for the purpose of parking, as is done in Denver.


Almost nobody stops at stop signs

Whenever the topic of bicycle infrastructure or changing bicycle laws comes up, some people say, "We should not do anything for cyclists until they start following laws like stopping at stop signs and lights!"

Commenter oboe pointed out this video of a Philadelphia intersection along Rittenhouse Square. On a narrow one-way street, it has a stop sign on each side, plus an overhead arm containing a third stop sign and a blinking red light. Clearly, the city really wants people to stop. See for yourself whether they do.

WashCycle also has a followup from Montgomery County police to the report that an officer threatened cyclists for "being annoying."

Chief of Police J. Thomas Manger says that the officer, Officer Jordan, stopped them for "riding two abreast and impeding a vehicle whose driver was attempting to pass." Someone who was bicycling with that group claims they were not blocking any vehicles, staying as close as possible to the side of the road, and riding two abreast only when space permitted, or single file when necessary.


Breakfast Links: The cyclists are naked and rolling

Rolling stops in Loudoun: The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office ticketed a number of cyclists last weekend who were participating in a muscular sclerosis charity event. In defending the citations for riders in the event who had slowed to 1 mph at a stop sign, Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson noted that "[t]hey forget the fact that they're sharing that road with motor vehicles." More than 700 cyclists participated in the event. (Loudoun Extra, Pat O, Cavan, Gavin Baker, ah)

Photo by hoyasmeg on Flickr

Pedestrians are traffic too: For the first time, the Montgomery County planning department's Highway Mobility Report, which analyzes congestion at 130 intersections across Montgomery, also counted pedestrians, who until recently were often given short shrift in discussions about how to make roads and intersections safer and more efficient. "We wanted to make sure we were accounting for all different modes of travel," said Dan Hardy, transportation planning supervisor for the county's Department of Park and Planning. (Post)

Oil prices jumping: Cementing the recent trend reversal, prices of sweet crude passed the $71-a-barrel mark, more than double its low of $30 a barrel from four months ago. Some analysts are predicting $250-a-barrel oil in the future. Noted GGW tipper Steve, "If it goes there, new Metro alignments won't look so expensive." (Guardian, Steve)

(Near) naked: The fourth-annual "Naked Bike Ride" (potentially NSFW) to protest oil dependency will take place today Saturday 6/13 at 3pm, beginning at Franklin Square. In contrast to sponsors of the ride in other, less conservative cities, local organizers have stated that "riders are asked to conform to the DC laws, which means stopping just short of the 'full Monty.'" (WashCycle, Lynda)

Camera data in MoCo: Supporters of the always-controversial speed cameras in Montgomery County have produced auto-fatality data to argue for the devices' continued existence. This year, to date, nine people have died in traffic collisions, a number which is roughly half the number from the same period in each of 2008 or 2007. "This is not a blip on the radar. This is long-lasting, profound effects on our roadways," said Police Captain John Damskey, before continuing, "[t]hey've got to be playing a part." (WTOP)

Miami-Dade Car-way The Miami-Dade busway is on the verge of being opened up to cars in order to fill a budget gap. An oft-ignored drawback of busways over other fixed-guideway transit corridors is that, once paved, there may be considerable political pressure to open them up to cars. (Miami Herald via The Overhead Wire, Cavan)

And ... Froggie has a number of photos from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge trail opening (Va Highways) ... After finding additional sponsors—Comcast and the Trust for the National Mall—HBO has announced that Screen on the Green will not be cancelled after all, just shortened (DCist) ... It's the summer, so, as usual, a number of streets will be closed this weekend, this time for the "Lawyers Have a Heart" Race and the "Capital Pride Festival.

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Let's talk about enforcement

Councilmember Jim Graham is eager to create a DDOT bicycle-mounted enforcement squad. Depending on whom you ask, this squad might be designed to mainly enforce laws against cyclists, or to enforce laws against both cyclists and drivers. We need even-handed enforcement of dangerous behavior regardless of the type of vehicle. And we definitely need more enforcement.

19th between K and L at rush hour. Photo by dionhinchcliffe.

Both types of vehicle operators sometimes act dangerously. Both also frequently engage in annoying but not necessarily harmful behavior. For cyclists, blowing through a red light at a busy intersection is an example of the former, while slowing and proceeding through a stop sign without coming to a complete halt is one of the latter. For drivers, driving in the bicycle lane so that cyclists lack room to maneuver, or turning across the bicycle lane without entering it or looking, is dangerous. Overlapping the lane just a bit is wrong, but perhaps not quite so dangerous.

Recently I bicycled down the length of the Q Street bicycle lane from Dupont to Bloomingdale. I slowed and yielded at the many stop signs along the route, but didn't stop completely each time. But when I reached Rhode Island Avenue, I stopped to wait for a safe time to cross.

Meanwhile, nearly half of the drivers positioned their cars not in the center of the car lane, but in or closer to the center of the roadway, overlapping the bicycle lane. For most of the cars, this was annoying and could create a greater risk of getting hit by a parked driver opening a door. Some of the drivers, however, blocked the lane entirely, especially ones with wider vehicles, or parked in the lane, forcing me to merge into traffic to get around. One woman was sitting in her car in the bicycle lane while two consecutive parking spaces sat open just ten feet ahead of her.

Technically, not stopping at the stop signs or driving just a bit over the line into the bicycle lane are illegal. I didn't appreciate the latter, while some drivers find the former annoying. A bicycle enforcement squad could ticket all of these. That would be a waste of time. Instead, they should focus on ticketing cyclists who blow through lights dangerously and drivers who encroach upon bicycle lanes in dangerous ways.

We also need better enforcement of double parking downtown, especially at rush hour. The Downtown BID says that congestion, much of it caused by truck loading and other non-moving vehicles, creates a major obstacle to further economic growth. It's also a major obstacle to safe cycling and less stressful driving.

Not infrequently, I find myself along 18th and 19th Streets around rush hour. Almost every day, a big beer delivery truck parks on 18th Street between Massachusetts and N to deliver goods to Cafe Luna. 18th in this area is only one lane in each direction. It must be tough for Cafe Luna, being sandwiched between Connecticut and 18th with no alley, but that isn't an excuse for taking over a whole street at rush hour.

A lot of bicyclists, in particular, commute on 18th, where they share the lanes with cars which often pass them at close distances. When cars have to squeeze in both directions around delivery trucks, it's even more dangerous for bicycles. Couldn't Luna schedule their deliveries early in the morning or in the middle of the day? 18th is pretty empty then. Or better yet, let's put a midday loading zone on the east side of the street, where there's parking.

Delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and federal employee vehicles also use these major streets as their personal loading zones. Yesterday, I had to drive down 19th at the height of rush hour. 19th was packed with cars and taxis trying to change lanes around the various vehicles turning in and out of garages, at corners, and parked illegally. The left lane was blocked by parked vehicles, but the right side of the road was clear. I was in the rightmost lane. A driver, turning left, was trying to make his way out of the alley between M and L across the travel lanes. Trying to be a courteous driver, I let him in. He immediately entered the lane, stopped, parked, jumped out of the car holding a pink folder, and walked back across the street.

The car bore an official US Government (GSA) license plate. Where was he going? The passport office? Why did he have to exit the alley and cross the street all the way to the other side, only to then block the road to run his errand back on the opposite side? I and the other drivers had to then try to squeeze back to the left, and so did the cyclists, at least one of which I almost didn't see. Today, I was in the area again at rush hour, and there was another government vehicle parked in almost the same spot. This one belonged to the Architect of the Capitol.

It's amazing how many cyclists ride on these roads, given the numbers of parked cars blocking lanes, drivers switching lanes quickly, and general traffic. I sure wouldn't. If there's a place in DC that needs protected bicycle lanes, it's downtown. There should be at least one protected lane north and south on the Golden Triangle side and one on the Metro Center side, plus one east-west across both.

And there's clearly plenty of capacity. At least one and sometimes two lanes of most major roads downtown doesn't even operate for most of rush hour, since they're blocked by government scofflaws or beer deliveries. Get all the double parkers to at least use the same side of the street, and we could create a protected lane like Manhattan's Eighth and Ninth Avenue lanes without taking away any actual capacity from cars or buses.

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