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Learn this etiquette and lingo so you’re ready to ride in D.C.’s bike lanes

See images of drivers obstructing cyclists at (Craig Chester)
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Are they bike lanes or yikes lanes?

As Evan Wilder, who bike-commutes from Mount Rainier, Md., to Farragut North, puts it: “If you’re new to the lanes, they can be deceptively reassuring.” You’re biking along and feeling secure. But a delivery truck could block the way. Or a motorist could swerve in front of you. Or the lane could suddenly disappear.

Here’s some guidance to help you navigate D.C.’s bike lanes.

Learn the Basics
It’s obvious that a bike lane — whether merely painted or physically separated from cars — is meant for cyclists.

But what about a sharrow? The word is a mash-up of “shared lane” and “arrow,” and you know you’re on one if there’s a picture of a bike and a pair of “^” painted in the middle of the lane. These markings serve as a reminder to drivers that they’re sharing the road with cyclists.

“I imagine the motorist thinking, ‘Oh, right, it’s OK that the biker’s in the middle of the road,’  ” Wilder says.

At an intersection, cyclists might also find themselves in a horizontal box with a row of bikes painted on it. That’s a “bike box,” located in front of the white line where cars must stop for a light. The space gives cyclists a chance to move safely from left to right (or vice versa) for a turn.

Think Ahead
You may have to take evasive action even in a bike lane. Trucks, taxis and police cars are such frequent idlers in the L Street lane that they’ve inspired a Tumblr: “Who’s Blocking the L St. Bike Lane Today?”

That’s why you need to be “scanning,” says Greg Billing, advocacy coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. When you see an obstacle ahead, he advises, you should slow down, look over your shoulder, signal with your arm if the lane is clear, move out of the bike lane into traffic, then return once you’ve passed the blockage.

You can call 311 to report the license number of the offending vehicle, which is subject to a $65 ticket. An officer might not arrive in time to catch the driver, but Billing believes it’s good to get it on record.

If the bike lane is next to a row of parked cars, also keep an eye on the doors. They can open unexpectedly, says DC Bike Party organizer Lia Seremetis, who likes to keep her distance from parked vehicles even if it means riding closer to traffic.

Play Nice
When a driver makes a dangerous move — like illegally cutting into a bike lane — you may want to bang on the car or yell. Road rage won’t help. Veteran bikers recommend using a gentle tone instead. You might note that drivers who hit a cyclist in D.C. can be fined $500 and get six points on their license.

Cyclists, too, can cause problems. “Salmoning,” aka riding the wrong way in a bike lane, is a no-no.

“That puts me in the difficult position of having to move over into the door zone or quickly merge into traffic,” says Carolyn Szczepanski, spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists.

When passing other cyclists, “don’t sneak around,” says Brian McEntee, who blogs at “Tales from the Sharrows.” Ring a bell and/or call out “passing.” If the bike lane is narrow, pull into traffic to get by the slower cyclist. And at an intersection, don’t move your bike ahead of someone already there. That’s called “shoaling,” and it’s as rude as cutting in line at the deli counter.

Next in Lanes …

Cyclists looking for new routes on Bike to Work Day on Friday can try out the cycle tracks on M Street NW (from Thomas Circle to 28th Street) and First Street NE (from Union Station to the Metropolitan Bench Trail). The newest additions to D.C.’s 65-plus miles of lanes are not officially finished, but both have already been attracting riders — and are notable for having sections protected by a concrete curb. The District Department of Transportation is also using green paint and a Twitter campaign (#parkingdirty) to remind drivers to keep out.

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