Monday, May 20, 2013

Dr. Gridlock Chat (5-20-13)

As a public service, DCBAC periodically views bicycle-related comments / questions issued to Robert Thomson on his Monday midday Dr. Gridlock chat on the Washington Post website, unedited.

This week, comments regarding Bike to Work Day and riding on the sidewalk.

Feel free to comment.

Q. Bike to Work Day, etc.
Thank you for addressing biking issues in your columns. I enjoyed bike to work day immensely but I'm also an every day bike commuter. I did want to address two issues in your online column Friday about BTW Day. First, I was dismayed you suggested there will be a "clash of cultures" on BTW day. I have been commuting for years and I find the vast majority of drivers are respectful and provide adequate berth. More bikes means fewer cars, and (sure there are exceptions but there are for all commuters) everyone gets along pretty well. No reason to foment difficulties. I want to thank the drivers on my route -- it's working pretty great. Second as for your observation that you "rarely see a cyclist stop for a stop sign or red light," from the ground I must disagree. I urge you to go outside the Post to 15th and L and observe those using the cycletrack. You'll see most sitting there waiting at the red lights and going only when it changes. I stop for every light on my 5 mile route and I wait more often than not with my fellow bike commuters. Sure there are exceptions (mostly novices who sort of glide through, and I don't condone it) but the people bike commuting each day are largely law-abiding. With more experience more riders will become more compliant. Now cars, I dare say, are mostly speeding, many on phones or even texting, and few use turn signals. Pedestrians most all seem to cross when the way is clear rather than waiting for the walk light. I'm not trying to excuse lawbreaking in the least, but it's hypocritical for drivers to point to bicyclists as fonts of dangerous behavior. And I can excuse the 150-200 lb bikers or walkers when compared to the two ton cars who can really hurt someone! In any case, thanks.

A. Robert Thomson:
15th and L is a great observation point to watch the behavior of all travelers, and I use that, as well as many other spots in downtown DC. (I've been writing recently about how drivers behave at Mass Ave and 12th Street NW.)

My general observation from watching intersections is this: Few travelers -- car drivers, cyclists, walkers -- obey any traffic law that don't believe they absolutely have to obey.

In other words, tend to obey traffic laws when they think they risk getting a ticket or might have a collision.

I don't see any type of travel behaving any better than any other type. (And I don't pick sides. I just want everyone to be safe.)

"Clash of cultures" comes from reading travelers letters for the past seven years, as they complain about each other's behavior.

Q. Bikes and helmets and sidewalks - oh my
I turn right onto H St NW every morning from 18th. This morning, a bicyclist with no helmet, riding on the sidewalk, rode straight into the crosswalk with the red hand - don't walk signal while flipping off the cars that were turning. Cars with the right of way correct? The light was green, but the walking signal stops so that the cars who have been waiting through the walk signal can take that right. Otherwise, cars would never be able to make that right turn.

A. Robert Thomson:
I think that pedestrians and cyclists in crosswalks retain the right of way till the light turns red. (Anybody want to offer a specific citation from DC traffic law on this?)

My view is that bikers and pedestrians should not start crossing when the red hand shows, partly for the sake of allowing the cars to turn.

But I strongly believe that the main thing is for people to watch out for one another, even for the people who are misbehaving.

Q. Sidewalk cyclist
18th and H NW is within the downtown exclusion zone where cyclists can't ride on the sidewalk, so that cyclist shouldn't have been behaving like a pedestrian at all there. Completely unlawful behavior in addition to rudeness and unfairness. That said, it should be noted that there's nowhere in the DC metro area where adult cyclists are required to wear helmets. So while people may feel his helmetlessness is a bad idea, he wasn't breaking any law by not wearing one, despite what many people seem to believe.

A. Robert Thomson:  
Cyclists are banned from sidewalks in the Central Business District of DC, though I've never seen a sign warning of that. I'm not sure the ban applies to cyclists using crosswalks. I've never seen a reference to that in traffic law.

It's insane not to where a helmet while cycling. The Grid Sis works with head-injured people in California. Lives altered drastically by contact with pavement.

She'd prefer I wear a helmet while driving my car, let alone while cycling.

Q. Bikers
I also take exception to your comment that you rarely see bikers stop at signs or red lights. I NEVER see bikers stop for them, and this from a daily MD-DC commuter.