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Urban Etiquette: Biking for Dummies

by Borderstan.com October 11, 2011 at 11:00 am 1,207 13 Comments

"Borderstan""14th Street NW""14th Street Bikers"

The 1500 block of 14th Street NW in Logan Circle. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Urban Etiquette runs biweekly with Borderstan contributor Mike Kohn writing about some common-sense rules of etiquette with an urban twist. We welcome your ideas for future columns.

From Mike Kohn. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @mike_kohn.

One of the best parts about living in Borderstan is that it’s so easy to walk everywhere. Don’t want to walk, or think it’ll be too far? Hope on a bike and ride. With Capital Bikeshare setups all around the ‘hood, you don’t even have to own a bike to do that. The city went out of it’s way to create bike lanes for all of the people who want to ride, which makes it so much safer for bikes to get around places.

So why the hell are all of these bikers nearly running me over on the sidewalk?*

Let me just pause for a second to say this: cyclists get a bad rep. There are a whole lot of people who ride bicycles well, observing traffic laws, being courteous to both car drivers and pedestrians and not interfering with anyone else trying to get places.

That being said, there are a few cyclists who really ruin it for the rest of them by being general pains in the ass. So keep in mind that this article is directed at those people on bicycles, not the large majority, who I do think do a great job (read: don’t attack me by telling me that you’re a good bicyclist — I get it).

Okay, now that that’s out there, here’s what I’m recommending for bikers:

  • Bike in the street. There are bike lanes all over the city (including 15th Street NW, among other places) that you can use. When you can’t use a dedicated lane, stick to the road — just don’t be in the sidewalk interfering with the pedestrian pathways, if you can help it.
  • Obey the traffic signals. That includes lights and stop signs. True story from a reader of mine: “I’ve been hit by a bike in the crosswalk. Bike zoomed through the cars, stopped at the red light and nailed me.” Come on! Don’t be running people down!
  • OK, so that one’s impractical for you? If you’re in so much of a hurry that you really can’t wait 25 seconds for the light to change, be sure you actually look both ways and into the crosswalk ahead when you cross against the signal so you’re not crashing into people because you’re so unobservant.
  • Stop or lock your bikes in a way that doesn’t block everyone else’s path. For example, don’t lock your bike at a staircase so no one can climb the stairs. And don’t stop in front of a building entrance where people have to wait for you to move before getting in and out. Annoying.
  • Use common sense when riding metro and elevators. That sounds dumb, but it would be really helpful. Sense whether it’s too crowded and you should wait for the next one. Don’t knock everyone over to squeeze your bike on. Things like that would be nice.
  • This isn’t etiquette so much as safety, but wear a helmet. Don’t care if you’re riding for 5 seconds or 5 hours, but be safe and put it on.

What else would be helpful for our two-wheeled friends? And any cyclists out there have any comments about some of this stuff?

As always, if you have any other tips, feel free to shoot them to me in an email at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @mike_kohn.

* DC law allows for bicycles on sidewalks in our neighborhood. The cutoff is Massachusetts Avenue NW, with bikes allowed on sidewalks north of Massachusetts.

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  • bikinginthecity

    To be honest, I bike on sidewalks only when I try to avoid going out of my way following one way streets… to many of those in some places.

    • Mandy

      Well by all means take over our sidewalk if it keeps you from going out of your way. It’s your world.

      I suppose you would drive threw my backyard too if it was a shortcut for you.

  • I totally agree with all your tips, although I did want to clarify one thing about stopping at stop signs and occasionally red lights. The problem frequently isn’t so much waiting 25 seconds for the light to change as it is the loss of momentum. When you’re riding on a very lightly-trafficked street with stop signs every block, or on a hill, that loss of momentum can be pretty damaging. That said, mindfulness is crucial! Better to lose momentum than to endanger yourself or others or inconvenience anyone with the right of way!

  • Tori

    Thank you for writing this. It has to be my biggest pet peeve.I cannot tell you how many times a day I almost get run over while walking dogs. And let me just tell you how hard it is to control a dog who is startled by a biker zooming by from behind. The surprising thing is how many times this happens to me on streets with bike lanes. Very frustrating!!

  • MiCoBa

    Amusing, when I bike on the street, people yell at me to get on the sidewalk, when I’m on the sidewalk people yell at me to get on the street. No win situation for this bicyclist.

  • Tef

    YES! Good post but need more guidance to the bikers. I love that we have so many and are encouraging more, but they need to obey traffic laws. Whether walking or driving, I always seem to be dodging bikers doing dumb things.

  • Hugo B Lystic

    As long as pedestrians are given right of way, my understanding is that District Law allows cyclists to use the sidewalk in most areas of the city.

  • M

    A few points…1. I think the law-abiding cyclists are the minority. I have no idea what city the author is talking about because most of the cyclists I see run lights and stop signs as a matter of routine. 2. Riding bikes on the sidewalk is legal except downtown. Not a good idea or very polite, but legal. 3. Passing a car flashing its right turn signal on the right. I see this one at least once a week. Real bright you geniuses. 4. My pet peeve – cyclists on 15th street that ride in a lane of traffic even though there is a protected 2 way bike lane. And I’m not talking about the ones who are about to make a right. The city totally screwed up 15th St., formerly known as the Midtown Expressway, just to accommodate cyclists. But some still prefer to block traffic because they can.

    Interesting fact – the majority of bike accidents in FF country from Jan – Sept 2011 were the cyclists fault. The leading cause – failure to yield right of way (shocking). I’ve seen similar stats for Arlington. I can’t find any DC stats.

  • just some chick

    Bicyclists need to heed the law that says pedestrians have right of way. I am so sick of getting screamed at and nearly hit by cyclists blasting through lights and stop signs.

    I fear the bike lanes and other considerations have delivered a real sense of righteous infallibility to cyclists.

    That said, I never mind bikes on the sidewalk. Wherever they want to ride is fine, as long as they are good citizens about it.

  • I appreciate this post. Complaints about bicyclists have started to fill my inbox and, as ANC 2F02 Commissioner, this is certainly an issue affecting my community. The agenda is not yet out, but I believe there is intent to have this issue scheduled the November ANC 2F meeting, seeking public input. You can get meeting time and location at http://www.anc2f.org.

    • We will be interested to see where this goes.

  • Mark

    Frequent reader, rare commentator Mark here.
    I don’t mind bikes on the sidewalk (outside of the central business district), but I do think bikes should yield to peds when on the sidewalk. It’s just common courtesy.
    The flip side of that, however, is that peds should pay attention to what they are doing and not walk 2 (or 4 or 5) abreast if it means they are obstructing other peds- or bikes- on the sidewalk.
    Courtesy all-around, please. 🙂


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