Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bikers in Columbia Heights -- friend or foe?

Just saw a looooong thread on the Columbia Heights listserve about bikes -- a pedestrian was nearly hit by a fast-moving bicyclist in a sidewalk who yelled "get out of my way." Then the discussion goes from there: should bicyclists obey traffic laws? Are laws biased against bikes in favor of cars? Did the biker know what he was doing?

Most people seem to think everybody should just be courteous, but even so there's going to be some reckless driver, biker, or walker who could cause problems for somebody. I was almost hit by a fast moving bicyclist in a crosswalk the other day, but I wasn't really looking, so that's partially my fault. But again, I was in a sidewalk when I was allowed to walk. It's a sticky situation.

Your thoughts? 14th and 11th Streets do have bike lanes, but even then, they'll have to cross sidewalks and other streets at some point.

Photo by St Stev. Not in Columbia Heights, unfortunately.


  1. There are people that are assholes...er.. i mean rude and impatient... in all vehicle types. I think that cyclists are a minority compared to drivers and pedestrians, so its easier for people to call them out. I personally prefer to see people traveling without worsening the air quality, especially in dense urban environments where it makes sense.

    I think that as the percentage of cyclists increases, the reputation won't be as negative.

  2. I'm on the Columbia Heights list serve too, and read all those crazy emails. One, as a pedestrian without a car for the past 8 years, I fear cars much more. I don't think I've ever had a bike almost hit me. I have seen a car hit a bike, and throw its rider, and have had many cars almost hit me. Pedestrians and bicyclists should stick together. Two, the emotional and crazy responses people were sending in that thread were off the hook. I was on the verge of unsubscribing. Those poor martyrs.

  3. I'm new to DC, and in no other city have I seen so many cyclists riding on the sidewalk. And riding very very quickly. I've nearly been hit while standing on the sidewalk waiting for a bus. As a cyclist myself I am aware of the lousy alternatives on some of the streets, but riding recklessly on sidewalks is just going to piss people off and give cyclists in general a bad name. Plus it's dangerous for all: the cyclist and the pedestrian, as most pedestrians aren't expecting a cyclist and may inadvertently get in his or her way, causing an accident.

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  5. Just a note to add. I've been hit by a cyclist on the sidewalk at 14th + Park. I think he was drunk. 100 times better than being hit by a drunk driver...

  6. As a car owner and a pedestrian I doubt I will ever feel compassion for cyclists for one simple reason, they rarely adhere to traffic laws. One a daily basis I witness cyclists ignore stop signs, on the sidewalk in the central business district (http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=116706197888210191894.00045a67012a61efed392&ll=38.897847,-77.032871&spn=0.03026,0.042915&z=14) and the worst offense of all, in my opinion, failing to give right of way to pedestrians in the cross walk.
    While I understand that drivers can be a bit of a nuisance (as I am one,) I feel that cyclists can be just as dangerous on the road. Until cyclist start obeying traffic laws, they are the enemy.

  7. As someone who usually walks and sometimes drives, I find that there are a lot of irresponsible drivers but a lot more irresponsible bikers. My biggest gripe is that they don't obey any traffic laws. They don't stop at stop signs. They ride straight through red lights. They ride opposite traffic. They weave in and out of cars that are obeying the laws. It should not be a surprise that so many get hurt - especially given that they hardly ever wear helmets. I think we need more bike lanes - but more than that we need a cycling community that doesn't think the rules don't apply to them simply because they use two wheels instead of four.

  8. I've always said that at some point during my residence in dc, I have about a 10% chance of getting hit my a car, but a 100% chance of getting hit by a bike. I have said that if I get hit by a car, my insurance will take care of making their life miserable, and if i get hit by a bike I am going to take off the biker's helmet and punch them in the face. The reason is this- I think of bikes and walkers as allies in the anti-car, clean air, alternative transportation movement. For a biker to be aggressive and hostile to a walker destroys that harmony. Yes, maybe a bike cannot kill someone, but it could seriously injure someone and nobody will be held accountable-until we need a license to ride a bike. PLEASE don't make it necessary to have a license to ride a bike. And please don't make it necessary for cops to waste time handing out tickets for running stop signs- which some of my friends have already gotten. Yes, something needs to change in the way of bike lanes, but that's not pedestrians' fault.

  9. To the people who drive and walk but do not ride bikes: your opinion about what cyclists should and shouldn't do is skewed because you do not ride one. Are there jerks out there? Yes. However, as someone who uses all modes of transportation - bike, foot, car, subway - and who bikes probably 85% of the time (except when out drinking), you have no idea how oblivious people on foot are and how selfish drivers are. You also don't understand that bikes ARE DIFFERENT THAN CARS.

    When a car comes to a complete stop, the person driving the car simply has to move their foot about 30 degrees and wooosh they are up to 10-15 miles an hour again. Not so with a bike. Bikers avoid constant stopping and starting because it's not as simple as a car, or for someone walking for that matter.

    Coming to a full stop every block at a stop sign or red light is unnecessary for a responsible person on a bike. There is no front hood on a bike, therefore there is no impediment to anticipating traffic. A driver must stick the front of the car out into moving traffic to see, and can't pull back as easily. In this way, a person on a bike is similar to a pedestrian. Would you have all pedestrians come to a complete stop at an empty intersection? Cars in most places are allowed to make right turns on red when traffic allows because it's UNNECESSARY to make responsible people wait in a safe situation and hold up traffic. Would you vote to end that?

    Also, must I point out how many people cross streets outside of the crosswalk and cross streets against the light? Do you know how many times I have to slow down or stop when I have the green because 15 people are mindlessly crossing against the light?

    Instead of pontificating on something you don't do, maybe you should try biking for a day. There are people riding all over the place that YOU DON'T SEE that ride safely and do all the things you claim are serious offenses.

    One last point: I have had the pleasure of biking elsewhere in the world and Americans (yes I am one) are among the worst when it comes to simply sharing public space. Everyone lives in their own little world. This happens on the streets with drivers, bikers AND pedestrians, and it happens on the subway. The behavior and the self-serving attitude that forms the base of it is unconscionable. Watch videos of intersections in India where bikes, peds, people with cows and cars all share the road. People without an inflated sense of their own importance can handle this.

    It's as simple as this. Share space with me, I'll share space with you. Fight me over the extra 2 seconds you'll save by forcing your way, then don't be surprised about negative consequences.

  10. Re: DC Naive

    I read your comments and I have to say that none of the examples you stated are valid reasons to VIOLATE the law.

    You asked, "Would you have all pedestrians come to a complete stop at an empty intersection?" The answer is yes. Everyone is taught at a very young age to stop and look both ways before you cross the street. Practicing that simple procedure saves lives. I constantly do it because I don't want to ever be struck by a car while walking. Large red hand in the cross walk means don't cross.

    Granted I agree with you that many people in this area seem to be self absorbed with a 'me first' attitude but that does not include everyone. I do my best to treat everyone with respect whether they are driving, riding or walking. The main reason may be due to the fact that I don't want to be injured. Is that considered selfish?

    One last point: If I am in a cross walk and a biker does not yield to me, they are an asshole. Just because they are on a bike and not in a car does not mean that a pedestrian that they might run into will not get hurt.

    I will reiterate my first point, bicyclist must adhere to the same rules of the road as motorist. It is the law. Until the laws change, please abide by them.

    Oh, one last question. Is your bike properly registered in the district? Something tells me that it isn't.

  11. How ironic - I recently posted on my blog about how bad the cyclists in columbia heights were. I took video at 14th and Park for about 15 minutes, and out of 8 or 10 cyclists who came through during that time while the light was red (for 14th Street), not a single one stopped for it.

  12. Okay, so cyclists violate traffic laws and this has some of you upset. So you drivers/peds NEVER speed? NEVER jaywalk? If you do, you're breaking traffic laws. I don't think you can be sanctimonious about it when cyclists do. I agree with much of what DC Naive says, but I will say that I don't think anyone should be riding a bike on a sidewalk in Columbia Heights.

  13. DC NATIVE (and Scott) THANK YOU, sheesh. I have a car, but mostly get around on bike or foot and it is OBSURD how kamikaze pedestrians are out there. I've never been to any other city where there is such blatant disregard for traffic signals than by DC walkers. But I also think that drivers here often feel too entitled to stop for those in crosswalks. We are all at fault and need to start leaving our egos at home and par attention.

    I also think, although WABA has really improved this in the past couple of years, that the lack of Bike lanes on really busy streets is forcing some cyclists to hop onto the sidewalks. There's just nowhere safe to ride on some rediculous streets (16th, Connecticut). And yes, sidwalks were built for safe walking and the roads are often made with just enough room for cars ... where else should cyclists go? Don't blame the bikers for being on the sidewalk when they are just trying to avoid the angry drivers and potential injuries.

    I think everyone needs to just pay attention, get off your phone, take off the headphones and make a concious effort to LOOK. This goes for everyone! And peds, please be careful when the "don't walk" sign is flashing and it SEEMS like there aren't any cars or bikes coming. eek.

  14. Please forgive the terrible spelling and punctuation errors.


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