The 27-year-old pulled a bright red bike from the rack at Park Road and Holmead Place NW on her way to Adams Morgan. Tabucchi said she feels safe using Capital Bikeshare for her usual trek to yoga class — most of the time. The native Californian has been “doored” — struck by an opening car door while bicycling — twice since moving to Petworth just over a year ago.
“Drivers aren’t as conscious here as they are in other cities,” she said before pedaling away.
By some indicators, it has never been a better time to travel by bike. Gas prices are soaring, spring has arrived, and the District is already one of the most active cities in the country, second in biking and walking only to Boston, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking. But there’s a downside to the region’s cycling growth: Authorities and advocates are struggling to keep up with a crowd of riders whose skills range from expert to novice in an already congested city.
According to rush-hour counts at 20 intersections throughout the city each year by the District Department of Transportation, bike traffic during peak times surged an average of 20.7 percent from 2010 to 2011, with a total of 7,113 bikes moving through those intersections. Nearly 25 percent of those riders weren’t wearing helmets, according to the data.
A chunk of the District’s growing user group comes from Capital Bikeshare, a regional rental system started by the District and Arlington County in September 2010. By this past January, it had mushroomed into a 1,200-bike, 140-station system. Compared with overall ridership, the number of reported collisions is lows, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the problem is much bigger. Police have logged 829 bicycle collisions in the District in that time frame.
Since Bikeshare’s inception, 20 collisions have been reported by people using the system, a small number when one considers that 93,082 Bikeshare trips were taken in the District in January. But when crashes happen, injury rates are high — two-thirds of bike accidents injured one or more people involved, according to police data.
Data collected by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association indicate that some crashes go unreported to authorities: A form the association distributed to cyclists pointed to at least 80 incidents over the past year, according to bike ambassador coordinator Daniel Hoagland. The group is also collecting data on cases of intimidation and harassment from motorists and encouraging cyclists to serve as better accident witnesses.
“It’s very hard for someone who has been in a crash to resist the urge to leave,” Hoagland said. “If you get doored and can walk away, there’s no way anyone’s going to report that. It’s just really important to take the time to do it right.”
Miscommunication and human error can result in serious accidents and fuel tension between motorists and bicyclists. When a cyclist riding a Bikeshare bike Feb. 28 was struck by a tractor-trailer during morning rush hour, he was issued three citations. But one of the alleged violations — biking without a helmet — is not a law on the D.C. books for people older than 16. The ticket was issued in error and withdrawn, according to police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump.