Dear Dr. Gridlock:
The bicycle resides uncomfortably between the motor vehicle and the pedestrian.
Cyclists are told to use the bike lanes or the street, but when I have been traveling at a good speed downtown in the street, a street without a bike lane, I have been yelled at, cursed at, honked at and told to use the sidewalk. When traveling on the sidewalk outside of the downtown area [where it is legal], I get the exact same attitude from some pedestrians.
I commute by bike but also walk the city and drive (mostly on weekends), so I understand the various perspectives. I used to cycle mostly on the streets but now exclusively use the sidewalks. I no longer feel comfortable or safe cycling on the streets.
Motor vehicles violate every imaginable law in D.C. and often in front of the police. Violations are highest during rush hour. They range from major infractions, such as running red lights or stop signs, illegal turns, speeding, blocking crosswalks and failure to stop for pedestrians, to minor infractions, such as talking and texting on cellphones and failure to use turn signals.
The bicycle has long been ignored as a viable means of transportation. Bicycles are zero-emission, take little space and can allow people to travel significant distances, all while reducing motor traffic. Luckily, D.C. is realizing the benefits and has begun to install bike lanes throughout our wonderful city.
But few bike lanes are what I, as a seasoned cyclist, consider safe. The standard bike lane is approximately 36 inches wide, sandwiched between moving traffic and parked cars. Cars and trucks use it as temporary parking, vehicles often speed in the adjacent driving lane, and parking motorists swing out their doors toward cyclists.
A safe bike lane should allow a novice rider or a child to safely get around; if this criterion cannot be met, then the bike lane serves the purposes of only a minority of riders.
The city has been experimenting with a safer bike lane on 15th Street NW. It is the only bike lane that passes my novice/child safety test. In fact, a D.C. Department of Transportation survey said a third of cyclists using the lane responded that they were cycling more since it was installed.
The bike lane now runs north and south, and is about 60 inches wide. It is sandwiched between a row of parked cars and the sidewalk. Cycling in this lane is a pleasure and can be done with a much greater sense of security. The greatest danger would be from a swinging car door, but at least you do not risk getting run over by a car or truck if you swerve to avoid it. The lane could be a little wider, but at least it is a step in the right direction.
I look forward to continued progress in D.C. and surrounding suburbs and cities. It will make our environment better and may contribute substantially to reducing our traffic congestion.
— Sebastien Guilmard, the District
Reviews I’ve received on the 15th Street cycle track split between cyclists and motorists. The cyclists tend to like the new configuration, offering more protection from motor vehicles. Drivers think they’re being robbed of space that should rightfully belong to them, since the majority of road users are motorists.
Cycling advocates also have different views on ensuring safety. Some endorse a wide expansion of protected lanes, while some figure that bikers and drivers need to figure out how to coexist in regular travel lanes. A similar diversity of opinion appeared in pedestrian safety planning, with some arguing for skywalks and underpasses to separate traffic, while others figure a community is better off if it keeps its travelers at street level.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Metro weekend service is lousy enough already. I’m very disappointed that Metro is considering a cut in service. My daughter works on the Mall and is usually scheduled to work weekend evenings.
As it is, she has a 15 to 20 minute walk to Foggy Bottom Station, then has to transfer at Metro Center. With the weekend work schedule on Metro, she often has to wait more than 20 minutes for each train. Also, we have no evening bus service from either Takoma or Silver Spring to our neighborhood. So if she leaves the Mall between 8:30 and 8:45 on a weekend evening, we’re lucky if she gets to Takoma by 9:45 or 10. I can’t imagine how bad it’s going to be when Metro cuts service!
— Lois Fields, Silver Spring
Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or