Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have been following the dialogue between motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians in your column. ("More Compliance and Attention Needed as Sidewalks Fill With Bicycles," May 18). I see lots of anger and frustration, but few practical solutions offered.
Seattle manages to keep bike/car conflicts to a minimum by putting wide curb lanes or smooth shoulders on most major roadways. This makes it possible for cars and bikes to share the curb lane without getting in each other's way.
It's no coincidence that Seattle, the city ranked Number One for quality of life, was also ranked Number One for bicycling conditions.
A 1985 Maryland Department of Transportation study recommends narrowing the inside lanes to 11 inches and widening the curb lanes to at least 13 feet on four-lane arterial roads. A wide curb lane facilitates law enforcement, snow removal and roadway maintenance. It also provides the extra room needed for bike traffic and it encourages adult cyclists to stay off the sidewalks. BILL CLARKE Greenbelt
Thanks for pointing this out. In addition to Seattle, several cities in California, including Sacramento and Santa Clara, also are enlightened enough to construct wide right-hand lanes, and even to paint a solid stripe a few feet from the curb for a bike lane. More and more people, as a result, are commuting to work by bicycle. Here we are less fortunate. More on that later.
Every time we deal with bicycles, we get a number of viewpoints. Here are more:
I want to respond to your recent column on bicycles being ridden illegally on sidewalks downtown.
1.) The apalling condition of metropolitan Washington roads makes them hazardous to cyclists who do not have all-terrain bicycles. When riding in traffic, a cyclist has the option of swerving to avoid bad spots of road and possibly veering into traffic, or driving through these bad spots and sustaining frame damage. Washington drivers complain about the havoc wreaked upon their vehicles from the condition of Washington roads; imagine what these same roads do to a lightweight bicycle!
2.) Very few Washington roads have bike lanes, forcing bicyclists to share the roads with vehicles, which in turn poses numerous hazards to cyclists: vehicles passing you with literally inches to spare, buses belching diesel fumes in your face, car doors opening without warning right in front of you, and cars pulling out from parking spaces right into your path.
While I am well aware that riding bicycles on sidewalks is illegal and prefer to ride in the street whenever possible, given the above conditions, I will often opt for the sidewalk over the road, as will many cyclists.
Until, and if, the above conditions are remedied, your warning to cyclists that riding on sidewalks is illegal is somewhat impotent. A better solution might be to advise cyclists that on sidewalks they must always yield to pedestrians, as well as alert pedestrians to their approach, whether by using a bell or verbally.
In addition, if necessary, cyclists should walk their bicylces on particularly crowded sidewalks. Such a compromise might provide a temporary solution until (and if) the city remedies this problem, which it should do, given the increasing number of motorists in Washington. JENNIFER JEAN SAXE Washington
You literally take your life in your hands walking on some downtown sidewalks. It is positively dangerous to take one step to the left or the right without checking behind for a helmeted, time- conscious messenger type on two wheels. That is only on the sidewalk! They consistently ignore "walk" signs for pedestrians, and most other traffic signals.
I also understand that very few of these "Rambos" have any insurance, which automatically puts the pedestrian at a disadvantage. I have heard of cases where a pedestrian was struck and the cyclist did not stop. There is no number on the cycle whereby the offender can be identified. Even if one could identify the offender, there is very little recourse under the law, and the chances of recovering any damages from a civil suit would be minimal.
When is the city going to take some affirmative action on this problem? Clearly many people are very aggravated by it. I have heard of cases where a pedestrian downtown has been issued a ticket for jaywalking. When was a cyclist last ticketed for riding on the sidewalk and endangering others? CELIA WARRILOW Alexandria
It is illegal for bikes to ride the sidewalk for good reason: it is frightening and dangerous to pedestrians. However, I think it is reasonable to suggest that the inattention, lack of understanding, intolerance and deliberately dangerous hostility cyclists often experience from motorists on the street may have forced many of them to the sidewalk (even though they risk being ticketed, which does happen.)
Motorists may be consoled, even joyful, if they consider that every cyclist they spot means one less automobile on the road. If we all grant bicycles the respect they legally deserve in the street, fewer cyclists will be afraid to ride there. This will help us achieve safer, more pleasant sidewalks and, perhaps, less crowded streets as more people come to consider biking a reasonably safe option. ANNE BELANGER Silver Spring
Bicycles are not the cause of the major transportation problems discussed in this column, which are congestion, parking and pollution. Bicycles are not the problem. Bicycles are part of the solution. MICHAEL McCENEY HAGAN Washington
Responding to the letter on bicyclists giving audible signals while using "shared paths" with joggers: Most bicyclists do not give one. This is irritating and dangerous for other cyclists as well as pedestrians.
As a year-round, 200-mile-per week cyclist who almost always gives a loud, verbal signal ("I'm passing on your left, please. On your left."), here are some results of this practice:
1.) Nothing. The runner is wearing headphones (an estimated 25 percent of the time).
2.) Nothing. I get no acknowledgement from the runner, so I can't tell whether they've heard me (estimated 60 percent of the time). Note that where my signal is not acknowledged, I must slow down and proceed to pass with extreme caution. I just do not know whether the runner will swerve to my side or elect to turn in front of me as I pass.
3.) The runner changes course to move into me.
4.) The runner gives me verbal abuse. "Oh, big deal." "Well, let's get out of the way, there's a bike." "So, what do you want me to do?" "What's your hurry?" (an estimated 5 percent of the time).
5.) The runner, who is on the right side, immediately holds up his or her left hand to acknowledge me and says "thank you" as I overtake them (an estimated 10 percent of the time).
Essentially, I find the utility of audible signals to be overrated. Runners share the blame. KEVIN NEARY Washington
The tone of "Too Many Bikes" was that bicycles are a dangerous annoyance to be banned from downtown Washington, and from area bicycle paths. Do your readers have any idea what downtown traffic would be like if every bicyclist was driving instead?
When the same bicylists who ride on sidewalks are to claim their rightful places on the roadway, motorists will scream that the roadways are "filled with bicycles." I agree that bicyclists should not ride on downtown sidewalks, but when will D.C. provide the safe on-road facilities necessary to discourage sidewalk riding? ARON START LIVINGSTON Director, Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Washington
Dr. Gridlock checked with the District's bicycle specialist, Tom Pendleton of the D.C. Department of Public Works, who offered these thoughts:
It is illegal to ride on downtown sidewalks between roughly 23rd and Third streets NW and Massachussetts Avenue NW and D Street SE and SW. However, to bicyclists who complain they sometimes have no other choice but to ride on city sidewalks, Pendleton says, "I agree with them."
Few tickets are issued to bicyclists who ride on sidewalks (or motorists who commit moving violations as we all know.)
A law was enacted by the D.C. Council requiring couriers to have visible license numbers, but that law has not been put into effect. Problems include some technical legal matters and the lack of money to hire people to issue the licenses.
Bicyclists are not required to carry insurance; if a person is struck by a cyclist, the option seems to be to file for civil damages, or if the offender is a courier, to try to come to a settlement with the courier company.
There is enormous room for development of a bike path network in the area, both for recreation and for commuters. The area has nothing like the bike lanes that exist on the West Coast, which have proved popular.
Peter Lagerwey, bicycle coordinator for the Seattle Engineering Department, told Dr. Gridlock that that city is accessible from all directions by major bike trail and lane networks, and more are being built. He says the city was made sensitive to the need for this by activists.
"We try to make our streets as bicycle friendly as possible," he said. "We try to create wide curb lanes, bike lanes, change drain grates so they don't swallow bike tires, routinely cut back bushes, turn around potholes in 24 hours."
Two-thirds of Seattle area residents recently passed a bond referendum that included $30 million for more bike trails. As soon as they are built, they are heavily used, Lagerwey said. "The citizens want it," he said. "Fortunately, here, the government is responsive."
Pendleton, a bicyclist himself and the chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's bicycle subcommittee, said bicycling here is often brushed aside by public officials. "They don't think it's a serious form of transportation, that it's slightly ridiculous," he said. The impediments to building a better bicycle network here are "money and will," he said.
There is a bicycle network plan for some of the city in an embryonic stage, and nothing yet drafted for the central business district. Pendleton said he could use volunteers. Call him at 939-8016.
If you have specific suggestions for improvements, he prefers them in writing, mailed to Tom Pendleton, Bicycle Office, Department of Public Works, 2000 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20009. As part of his regional COG duties, he will accept volunteers and suggestions for Maryland and Virginia concerns, and forward them to the right people.
Bike trails and lanes are not the panacea for our gridlock, but it sure looks like they could help, both in getting cars off the street and bicycles off sidewalks. They could also help with access to Metro stops, particularly in the suburbs, where new parking facilities are full of cars.
If we want more bike opportunities, though, it looks like the official attempts could use a big boost from the citizens.
Dr. Gridlock appears in Metro 2 each Friday. You can write (please don't phone) to DR. GRIDLOCK, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.