Borderstan Candids: Sidewalk, Not Sideride (Says a Biker)

by Borderstan.com January 12, 2012 at 8:00 am 1,860 12 Comments

"Borderstan""Bikes", dc bike laws

1500 block of 14th Street NW: Sidewalk? (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Candida Mannozzi. You can reach her at [email protected].

If you live in Borderstan (or anywhere in DC, for that matter) I know this has happened to you: you’re strolling down the sidewalk, maybe on your way home from the farmers’ market, or chatting with a friend, when all of a sudden and with no sound of warning, someone brushes past you on a bicycle, startling you. They zip past, weaving in and out among pedestrians, leaving a trail of surprised, startled and often irritated folks (and pets) in their wake.

I think my friend Julie put it beautifully when this happened to us some time ago. She yelled after the biker: “It’s a sidewalk, not a sideride!”

Bikers, and I’m one of you, keep your turning wheels in the traffic lanes and leave the sidewalks to those of us walking, jogging, pushing strollers or shopping carts, guiding our children or pets.

The city has been increasing its miles of bike lanes, so use them! If, for whatever reason, you insist on riding on the sidewalk, then at least give the pedestrians you are approaching a clue that you are on their heels, OK?! Ping your bell, or shout “bike on your left/right” as the case may be.

I look at it this way: if you’re riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, you’re in a bigger size and speed category than the pedestrians. Therefore, you’re not supposed to be there. So, the least you can do, when you decide to use the sidewalk inappropriately, is to give everyone fair warning, giving folks a chance to work around you. (Editor’s note: It is legal to ride on sidewalks north of Massachusetts Avenue NW.)

Oh, and thanks for stepping up to be the nuisance du jour, it takes a special kind of courage.

Related Posts

  • Christine

    I bicycle regularly in town, and whenever possible, use bike lanes. However, there are some streets where bike lanes are not available and riding among traffic (and often, ongoing construction) is simply not safe. In those instances, I ride on the sidewalk. District of Columbia law allows this with the exception of within what’s called the Central Business District, which essentially falls between Massachusetts Avenue, NW and the National Mall. I always defer to pedestrians, am polite, and if the sidewalk is crowded, I walk the bike. Ms. Mannozzi’s post is offensive, and I’m surprised Borderstan, which is normally so reasoned, agreed to publish something that’s factually inaccurate. “You’re not supposed to be there” simply isn’t true. I have just as much legal right to be there as she does.

    • You are correct that DC law allows bikes on sidewalks north of Massachusetts Avenue. I believe the point of Candida’s column was regarding manners (and judgement), but will leave it to her to respond. Thanks.

    • Candida

      Thanks for your comment. I am sorry if my point was misunderstood (and will take that as a hint to do more wordsmithing in the future), but as Matty also confirms, my column was aimed at manners and common courtesy, not at decreeing whether bikes on sidewalksa are legal or not.

      • But you did decree whether bikes on sidewalks are legal or not. This is your line:

        Therefore, you’re not supposed to be there.

        You can claim you didn’t mean what you said, but why did you say it then?

        I understand the point of the article, but your choice of words is poor, at best.

        • Yes, we should have caught it.

  • The bike lines in this city are a step in the right direction, but they’re not at all ‘safe’ by any stretch of the imagination. Well, you can definitely imagine they are safe, but only if you are rather dull or, conversely, a deeply creative and magical thinker. They’re actually quite dangerous.

    Sure, there are *actual* bike lines like those on 15th Street NW, which often feature structures effectively separating them from the flow of automobile traffic, but even those places are few and far between. Elsewhere, where bike lanes exist, they are a formality defined by paint, and drivers pay very little attention to them. It is far too easy to have dangerous and disturbing experiences while using them, and if someone is riding in them without a sense of on-alert hyper-vigilance, I wish them all the luck. I’ve come to assume that any car can and probably will veer into them with no prior warning; it has happened to me in countless instances.

    Essentially, DC bike lanes are way too dangerous to be considered proper bike lines, and while I fully concur with the notion that bikes should be in the street whenever possible, and especially in accordance with city ordinances, but sidewalks are still the safer alternative in many corridors. Sure, bikers using them should give absolute right-of-way to those on foot, and ride safely and reasonably, but there is no law against our use of sidewalks that are legally available to us.

    That said, if one is biking on the sidewalk anywhere downtown, or on 14th ST NW or in Adams Morgan or Dupont Circle or Georgetown, they’re definitely inconsiderate morons.

    • Riding a bike in the city is not for the faint of heart, for sure, but it is VASTLY better than it was before the creation of the bike lanes.

  • Logan Mom

    Amen! And for the love of all that’s mobile, if you make the jackassish decision to reject both of those options in favor of joining the 2+ axel traffic during morning rush hour, PLEASE at least obey the applicable traffic laws. I was nearly run down by a biker near 14th and P — IN THE MIDDLE OF A CROSSWALK. He swooped in front of me, cutting me off and we both almost hit the ground. You’d think where a sense of self-preservation might be wanting, common courtesy might kick in.

  • bugagboo

    I don’t mind bikes on the sidewalk if the rider uses some judgement and doesn’t have a sense of entitlement. There other evening I saw a guy riding his bike at a good clip on the sidewalk on the 1400 block of P Street by Whole Foods. It was evening, the sidewalks were full and this guy (and he was older) acted like the seas were supposed to part before him — and people did have to get out of his way. It is this kind of behavior that may eventually get bikes outlawed on sidewalks. That would be a shame, because there are places you have to ride on the sidewalk. But you don’t have to be a jerk.

  • M

    Amen to this article. While I know there are actually some bikers who use good judgment and obey the law, they are BY FAR the minority. I know bikers insist that the “bad” bikers are a minority, this simply is NOT true. Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes walking or driving in DC knows that most bikers flout the law as a matter of routine. If you sit at nearly any intersection downtown, you will see bike after bike after bike go right through red lights, as if the red light really means “go as soon as you think you can make it without getting hit by a car.” I am actually shocked when I see a biker wait for the light to turn green, which is rare. I have nearly been taken out MANY times both on the sidewalk and legally crossing the street in a crosswalk by bikers. I’ve even been yelled at and flipped off by bikers when I was walking on the sidewalk downtown.

    • Don

      Absolutely agreed with M. I have been thinking the same thing for the last months. I walk downhill on Conn Ave from California to DuPont,and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost been knocked over by bikers whizzing by. Get off the sidewalks. They are for walkers, not bikes.

  • crin

    Cycling in DC streets is safe. Cycling in bike lanes in safe. Cycling in sidewalks is not safe (opening doors, bottlenecked widths, unpredictable pedestrians, crossing streets out of view of cars) and rude.

    And keep joggers out of the bike lanes.


Subscribe to our mailing list