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Jim Graham bill would ban bikes, Segways from more D.C. sidewalks

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D.C. Council member Jim Graham has introduced legislation that would ban bicycles and Segways from sidewalks in areas where the city has provided a bike lane.

The bill is aimed at protecting pedestrians, particularly the elderly and children, from “bicycle hazards” on the sidewalk, said Graham (D-Ward 1) who introduced the proposal Tuesday.

The proposal, however, troubles some bike advocates who say the city needs to provide a safe space for the growing bike community before it takes away the only space where many two-wheel travelers feel safe.

“We understand that there is a need to deal with conflict between bicyclists and pedestrians,” said Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. ““I do understand that pedestrians get frustrated, but from a cyclist’s perspective, what the cyclist is looking for is a protected space. Until that exists, banning the cyclist from the sidewalk is really a questionable idea.”

The District has emerged as one of the top cities in the country for bike commuting, in part as a result of significant investments in bike lanes and other facilities over the past decade. Since 2000, the percentage of people who bike to work in Washington increased from 1.2 percent to 4.5 percent. In addition, 13.6 percent of workers in the region now walk to work.

As the city adapts to changes in how people get around, there has been increasing tension between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.  Graham said he received “reports of bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk without sufficient regard for the safety of pedestrians,” especially of the elderly and mothers with young children.

“With so many miles of bike lanes now available, I think it’s time that rather than riding on sidewalks, bicyclists and others be required to use bike lanes,” Graham said in a statement. “I think this bill will help to encourage the construction of even more bicycle lanes for the safety of all.”

District law allows bicycles and Segways  on sidewalks outside the downtown core. Under Graham’s proposal bike and Segway riders would be required to use a bike lane when available. The bill gives an exemption for children 12 and younger.

Farthing said that while his group is concerned about the bill, it sees it as an opportunity to begin a conversation about how to make  public spaces safer for both cyclists and pedestrians.