Safety reminders for Bike to Work Day

Peter Murphy of Falls Church writes that he’s never seen a bicyclist stop for a red light or get ticketed by police for breaking the law.

Sharon G. Hadary of Bethesda says that she’s an avid walker and that there is no place where pedestrians are safe from bicycles — on the streets, sidewalks or even off-road paths.

From out in Gaithersburg, James Rush writes that upcounty cyclists ride two abreast, forcing him to cross the yellow line in the face of traffic to get around them.

All three say sharing the road works both ways.

Shane Farthing, head of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, has read those recent letters to The Washington Post and similar sentiments from drivers in e-mails, letters and in conversation.

As thousands of cyclists are expected to join everyday bike commuters for Bike to Work Day on Friday, Farthing agrees with those who say that cyclists will get more respect if they adhere to traffic laws.

“Cyclists need to preserve their own safety first, but they need to follow the law, too,” Farthing said.

The League of American Bicyclists launched Bike to Work Day 54 years ago without much fanfare and to far less enthusiasm than it receives today. That was an era in which scant few adults rode bicyclists other than on vacations.

Now, with cycling an established part of the transportation agenda and bike lanes proliferating across the urban landscape, bicycles have been embraced for commuting and exercise.

“More than 7,000 Washingtonians bike to work each day, and that number is on the rise as the idea of commuting on two wheels instead of four becomes increasingly popular,” said John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA. “We want to remind bicyclists and the motorists with whom they share the road to learn and follow the rules to ensure safety for everyone.”

One of the regular frustrations for drivers comes when some cyclists are erratic, which Farthing says the bicyclist association’s education courses help cyclists address.

“For bikes to be treated as a viable part of the transportation system, cyclists have to be visible and predictable,” Farthing said. “They have to behave in ways that help motorists understand what to expect.”

He also said that greater awareness on the part of those behind the wheel would also help keep people safe.

“There are things that seem like minor details to drivers but keep the cyclists in safe places,” he said.

For example, sometimes a road’s shoulder is not safe for cyclists if there is glass, debris or potholes. Riding too close to parked cars can be dangerous for cyclists if doors suddenly swing open. Drivers who turn right without checking for bikes can collide with cyclists in adjacent lanes.

To encourage biking to work, the bicyclist association will offer food, drinks and prizes at 49 pit stops across the region.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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