As a commuting cyclist and the director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, I have ample opportunity to talk to couriers, drivers and pedestrians about the current state of bicycling in the District. Several things stand out from these conversations.
The couriers' biggest concern is the bill introduced by Nadine Winter to regulate commercial bicyclists by requiring them to: 1) pay a $50 licensing fee;2) pass a safety training course; and3) wear visible ID tags. The couriers have many arguments against this bill, but they do agree that workable laws need to be passed to improve the behavior of couriers.
One of their arguments is that they are no worse than cabdrivers (not necessarily anything to be proud of, given the reputation of cabbies in Washington) and that, furthermore, cabs pay much less than $50 for their license and, much as they may need it, are not required to take a safety course.
The couriers also wonder about the safety training course. The law would require them to pass one, but there is no mention of who would teach it or who would pay for it.
Finally, couriers wonder about the ID tags. There is nothing in the bill outlining what actions would be taken against couriers who refuse to wear them or, for that matter, what would happen when they got pulled over for any of the infractions set out in the bill.
Those who commute to work on bicycles have varying opinions about all this. Some think the licensing of couriers would inevitably lead to the regulation of cycling in general. Others are relieved that something is being done to regulate the behavior of cyclists who consistently and blatantly break the law. Commuters are often targeted for abuse by pedestrians and motorists alike who don't differentiate between lawbreakers and law abiders when they decide to vent their anger on cyclists.
Many pedestrians and motorists don't realize that bicycles are considered vehicles on the road and have all the rights and responsibilities of other vehicles. The most frequent comment I hear on my commute is "Get off the road. Don't you see the sidewalk over there?" In the central business district, it is illegal for me to ride my bicycle on the sidewalk, and it is also dangerous both for myself and for pedestrians, not only in the central business district but on any busy sidewalk.
I also hear a lot of comments from jaywalkers. Usually what they say to me is unprintable. When I try to explain that I am within my rights and that they are breaking the law, the comment is often repeated with accompanying hand gestures.
Because of the current heated feelings on both sides of the issue, with pedestrians and motorists ready to ban bicyclists, it is essential for bicyclists to be even more aware of what the laws and regulations are and to follow the law to the letter. It is also imperative that the driving and the pedestrian public be educated about the rights and responsibilities of cyclists, as well as the rights and responsibilities of driving a vehicle or walking on the streets and sidewalks of the District.
-- Lisa Gurney is executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.