Several weeks ago, I published letters from eight readers who complained about bicycle riders. It is now time to give bikers a chance to reply.
Of the 14 bicyclists who responded, 13 thought they had been unfairly criticized; one took a balanced view of the issue. The score has therefore shifted from 8 to 0 against the bikers to 13 to 8 in their favor.
Here are some excerpts:
From John W. English of Falls Church: "Yes, many bicyclists run red lights and stop signs, ride on the wrong side and generally ignore traffic laws. But a lot of us ride responsibly and do comply with traffic laws. It is unfair to lump us all together under a stereotype.
"Furthermore, bicyclists have no monopoly on the practice of ignoring traffic laws. Among the people who complain about bicyclists, there are many who exceed speed limits, walk when the sign says 'Don't Walk,' and ignore other rules.
"Bicyclists generally do not use the bicycle path along MacArthur Boulevard because it is too dangerous. One problem is poor maintenance, resulting in glass, loose gravel and deep sand and mud on the path, and low overhanging tree limbs above it. Also, like any bike path along the side of a road, this one exposes bicyclists to unnecessary and dangerous conflicts with turning motorists. It is especially dangerous because it carries twoway traffic on one side."
From Robert Friedman of Springfield, Va.: "I do not agree that points should be assessed against a biker's driver's license. No permit is required to ride a bicycle."
From Carol McCann of Chevy Chase: "The bike path is a hazard because of glass, gravel and debris thrown from passing cars. Your entire article seemed pretty one-sided."
From Daniel R. Woodhead: "The arguments you used to support assessing points against a bicyclist's driver's license could also be used to assess points against the driver's licenses of those who walk while the 'Don't Walk' signal is on. Under existing law, bikers can be issued tickets and required to appear in court or forfeit collateral. But no deterrent system works unless it is enforced. As for the MacArthur Boulevard bike path, it is narrow, and it dips and twists alarmingly."
From Gabor Karafiath of Silver Spring: "Within the last three years of bicycle commuting, I have been smacked on the back by a passenger in a passing car, deliberately run off the road, yelled at, jeered at and spat upon more times than I can count, and cherry-bombed twice."
From Jeremy E. Parker of Brookmont: "According to traffic engineering books, there is 10 times more risk from cars when one rides the bike path than when one uses the road. The county DOT has told me that they have learned from this path and will not build any more designed like it."
From M. Howar of Charlottesville: "As a former driver and delivery biker in D.C., I've seen both sides - and everyone's right. The drivers and bikers are both to blame. There is only one solution: make drivers slow down and persuade both drivers and bikers to respect each other's rights."
From Kenneth T. Cornelius of Potomac: "The only way for a biker to use that path safely is to approach each intersection with great care."
From a Georgetown reader whose penmanship was flawless until he or she got to the serawled signature: "I have been hit by autos twice, and both times the driver's negligence was a major factor."
From Laura H. Wise of Southwest: "The bike path I was riding on crossed a road. They all do, eventually. The car that hit me did not stop for the stop sign, the bike-crossing sign, or me."
From Bruce Borchardt of Southeast: "The law in Maryland has been changed, and it is no longer mandatory for a bicyclist to use a bike path parallel to a road. It is often safer to use MacArthur Boulevard than the bike path alongside it."
From Dennis R. Freezer of Alexandria: "I agree with most of your comments.Many cyclists are grossly inconsiderate and break traffic laws continually. But if you want to learn defensive driving in a hurry, just try bicycling in the metropolitan area."
From Roger Kohn of Springfield, Va.: "I like your column, even though you are sometimes wrong." And Willis W. Jourdin Jr., general counsel of the Washington Area Bicycle Association, wrote a thoughtful letter that I cannot publish, alas, because it is a column long all by itself. Even so, I think readers will get the message: Motorists who criticize bikers ought to first make sure their halos are on straight.