Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I, too, have been terrorized by bicycle couriers going down one-way streets the wrong way at high speeds. There is no excuse for that kind of reckless, inconsiderate behavior. But if any motorist were to spend three days commuting to work on a bike, they would understand why cyclists behave the way they do. I have been screamed at, run off the road, and had things thrown at me. Once I even had a bag of dog excrement tossed my way (and yes, I too wondered what sort of sick person would drive around with a bag of dog excrement in his car).
People in cars routinely ignore even the most basic rights of cyclists. They cut us off, open passenger doors as they pass us, ignore our right to occupy a lane, turn left on us as we enter intersections, run stop signs in front of us, and in general make our attempts to ride a bicycle in traffic a life-threatening experience.
Motorists engage in this kind of behavior simply because cyclists are not surrounded by two thousand pounds of metal. And for a cyclist, the single most dangerous situation is to be riding with traffic. This explains why most cyclists routinely run red lights. We don't do it because we're law-breaking daredevils who delight at thumbing our noses at authority; we do it to put distance between us and the traffic we're riding with. We do it for our own personal safety.
I'm reminded that several years ago Colman McCarthy ran an article lauding a cyclist because he commuted to work every day and always obeyed every traffic law. The man had been struck by cars seven times in 15 years. Maybe I don't obey every law, but the fact is: I've been cycling in downtown traffic for 15 years, and I've been struck by cars zero times -- maybe because I do everything possible to make sure a car couldn't hit me even if it tried (and some do try). And if I can enhance my safety by going through a red light, I don't hesitate to do it.
Someday, hopefully, there will be so many people riding bicycles that our rights will be respected and our lives not so constantly threatened. When that day comes, if ever, then those angry motorists will have a case. But that day is far, far away -- and I want to live to see it. JAMES POPE Reston
Have we really come to the point where bicyclists have to run red lights to be safe? There's more: Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have lived in Holland, where there is an extensive network of roads dedicated to bicycles and considerable use of bicycles on normal roads. In every case, the Dutch treat bicycles as what they are -- a vehicle with a particular set of advantages and disadvantages -- and roads are laid out with this in mind. There is no need for this to add significantly to the cost.
On the other hand, most parts of the U.S. seem unable to decide what a bicycle is, which results in such nonsense as side road traffic (even from private driveways) having priority over bicycle traffic on a cycle path, while having to yield to traffic on the main highway.
A further problem with bicycle paths is maintenance. For example: There is a trail along MacArthur Boulevard which is often unusable because of broken glass. If I wish to travel in this area, I must use the roadway and be subjected to continual harassment from drivers who perceive my presence as a threat and react by indulging in aggressive behavior ranging from unnecessary use of the horn to attempts to force me off the road.
The answer is easy and cheap. There is nothing to prevent the coexistence of all types of vehicles on most roads. To get to work, all I ask is the treatment from others that they would wish to receive from me should the roles be reversed.
A few ideas: Don't expect cyclists to ride in the gutter -- it is covered in broken glass and discarded auto parts; don't turn right just as you have passed a bicycle (this happens a lot); don't pull out from a side road immediately in front of a bicycle.
Remember, every time somebody uses a bicycle instead of a car, there is a little less pollution, a little less congestion today, and a little more oil for your grandchildren. GILES MORRIS Arlington
I haven't owned a car in almost eight years, and I'm proud of it. Life is too short to spend stuffed in a hot little metal box with a plastic lining and wheels.
We've allowed the automobile industry to convince us that we can't survive without automobiles, that they make us sexy, powerful and enviable, that driving them is convenient and pleasurable. Yet people sit in traffic day after day, year after year, complaining, complaining, complaining.
The solution is obvious. Use public transportation or a bicycle to get back and forth to work and save your cars for emergencies and pleasure. Live closer to where you work.
Yes, I know that waiting 20 minutes for a bus is inconvenient, and I know there are few bicycle lanes. But you commuters make it clear every day as you sit in traffic that you wouldn't have it any other way.
By owning and driving your car, you're sending out mega-signals that you want more roads and more problems.
I say let your selfish readers endure the inconvenience of driving to work. They simply don't have the imagination to make it any better. GREGORY S. COURTNEY Washington
You make some points, Mr. Courtney, but do consider that many people, particularly those living outside the Beltway, have no alternative other than driving that will allow them to get to work in, say, less than half a day. Cameras on Corners Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have seen the cameras stationed at intersections in several cities in Australia. THE SYSTEM WORKS!
I cannot understand such arguments against them as "Big Brother is watching." So are the police officers, if only they would enforce the traffic laws.
When I walk from Connecticut and K Street to 13th and Constitution Avenue during the days I volunteer at the Museum of American History, I can count at least 10 traffic violations. They start on K Street with the red-light runners. It continues to 14th Street and includes those who turn illegally both left and right.
Traffic enforcement in this city is a joke. Giving tickets to parked cars and jaywalking pedestrians is a waste of manpower weighed against the real problems. It is obvious that officialdom is not concerned. BARBARA H. KEMP Washington
Positioning cameras at intersections to blunt red light running -- even a test -- will not occur until key officials are moved to do so. So far, no luck.
Lesson From California Here's an excerpt from the September edition of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance Report:
"Virginia state and local officials who are currently reluctant to ask the public to support new funding for badly needed transportation improvements could learn a lesson from California, where a carefully crafted package of revenue measures was approved by the voters and will yield a bonanza of $18.5 billion for transportation over the next 10 years.
"California is the home of Proposition 13 and other measures limiting taxes and government spending, so approval of the transportation measures was no small accomplishment.
"Proposition 111 raised the state's gasoline tax a total of 9 cents per gallon -- 5 cents as of Aug. 1 and 1 cent per year for the next four years. Truck weight fees were also increased. This measure is expected to yield $15.5 billion over the next 10 years.
"A companion measure, Proposition 108, was a $1 billion bond issue for mass transit. Proposition 116, which was placed on the ballot by citizen's groups, was a $2 billion bond issue for specific rail projects.
"California's transportation improvement program had stagnated in recent years due to lack of money. The new revenue will allow the state transportation commission to immediately fund more than $500 million worth of projects that are 'on the shelf' for lack of money.
" 'Proposition 111 was approved because we identified specific needs and we painstakingly put together a consensus proposal to address those needs,' said Gov. George Deukmejian.
"Northern Virginia's transportation priorities are well documented. The enactment of a funding plan is long overdue."
Parking for the Disabled Dear Dr. Gridlock:
As has been noted in the past in your column, certain members of our society feel their convenience far outweighs the needs of the handicapped when it comes to the use of designated parking places.
It has also been noted that the policing of these transgressions has been spotty.
I am happy to report that at least one municipality takes seriously the needs of the handicapped. Arlington has created a "hot line" to be used to report inappropriate use of these parking spaces -- and has made the commitment to act on such reports.
Your publicity of this number (358-7141) would go a long way towards helping to show to the less considerate members of our society the error of their ways. RAY KELLY Arlington This is a good development. But before picking up the phone, please consider the following from a fellow Arlington resident:Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am the parent of a young, handicapped child who has been legally issued a Virginia handicapped parking permit, which hangs from the rearview mirror. My car thus does not have "handicapped license plates."
As my child is young and small, to a casual observer she may not appear handicapped. However, she cannot sit or walk. When I park in a handicapped parking spot, people will often direct rude and angry comments at me. If these people looked in the front window of my car, instead of only at the license plates, they would see that the required permit is in place, and therefore no need to comment. KAREN F. DAVIDSON Arlington
Wrong Stop on Red Line
Dr. Gridlock erred last week in confusing the Forest Glen and the Glenmont stations on the Red Line. The pre-opening tour tomorrow and Sunday for the elderly and disabled will be at the new Wheaton and Forest Glen stations, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The stations will open to the public on Sept. 22. The Glenmont station, at the end of the Red Line, has not been built.
Dr. Gridlock appears in Metro 2 each Friday to explore what makes it difficult to get around on roads. You can suggest topics by writing (please don't phone) to DR. GRIDLOCK, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.