The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

More bikes on the roadways means more tickets for cyclists, right?

Bike lanes in D.C. (Gerald Martineau/Washington Post)

There are more bicycles on D.C. streets these days, so it makes sense that that would translate into more traffic citations for bicyclists, right?

Not really.  At least, that’s what D.C. Police statistics suggest.  So far this year, police have issued 63 tickets to bicyclists and users of other personal mobile devices –like Segways.

Keep in mind it’s just the beginning of prime bike season and that number is likely to grow over the summer. Still, the number of citations issued so far is much lower than in previous years.

Violations by year
2010  300
2011   231
2012   446
2013   203
2014 (through
May)   63

D.C. ranks seventh in the nation among cities in which bicycling to work has gained popularity. Since 2000, the percentage of people who bike to work in Washington increased from 1.2 percent to 3.1 percent. In the past four years alone Capital Bikeshare, the popular bike sharing program, has quickly expanded to more than 300 stations in the region, the majority in the District.

Still, since 2010 DC police has issued only about 1,250 citations for bike and other personal mobile violations. These were mostly issued to bicyclists, but also include tickets to users of the Segway, the popular two-wheeled battery-powered vehicle popular among tourists.  The number of violations recorded by D.C. Police peaked in 2012 when 446 citations were issued. Last year the number was down to 203, and through May of this year police had issued only 63 citations. And it’s unlikely that the low number is due to the exemplary behavior of cyclists.

Bicyclists are required to use the roadway the same as motorists, and follow the traffic laws, D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said.

Greg Billing, advocacy coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said many bike riders remain confused about the rules they need to follow. Some cyclists don’t know they need to obey traffic laws just like drivers of motor vehicles, or that they must ride with traffic, and that there are areas where riding on the sidewalk is prohibited. And, as the number of cyclists has increased, so have tensions among bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians.

Still, even to cycling advocates the number of citations issued to bicyclists this year seems “incredibly low,” said Billing.  He said the low number could be a reflection of the resources the city has assigned to traffic enforcement. While the city’s traffic cameras have taken on a role to monitor motorists behavior, there is no division exclusively assigned to monitor pedestrian and bike traffic, Billing said.

In case you’re wondering, some of the most common infractions carry a $25 fine. They include hitching on a vehicle, impeding or obstructing traffic, failing to yield, and riding on a sidewalk where it’s not permitted.  See WABA’s bike law pocket guide for more information about what you need to know if you ride on the road.