Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Share Stories  |  Traffic  |  Columns  |  Q&A     |  Get Gridlock:    Twitter |    Facebook  |     RSS   |  phone Alerts

Can bikes & cars share the road?

Traffic-choked streets are a part of daily life in the Washington region. In recent years, bicycles have become an ever-more present part of life on those streets too, as more adults turn to bikes for transportation, fitness and pleasure.

In fact, May is National Bike Month and May 21 is Bike-to-Work Day. And in about a week, new bike lanes are expected to open on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It all makes us wonder how well are cyclists and drivers sharing the road? Send us your thoughts and observations. E-mail

By Michael Bolden  |  May 4, 2010; 8:45 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Snow clings on at BWI
Next: NTSB: River landing right choice


Why don't you just ask Lon Anderson, like you always do?

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | May 4, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Most downtown streets should be closed to cars, many of the commuters are fat slobs that should be on bicycles anyways.

Posted by: kenk3 | May 4, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

I think drivers need to be more more considerate and open to cyclists. They deserve the same amount of respect and treatment that we give to subcompacts (smart four two, honda fit, etc.) and motorcycles.

At the same time, if cyclists choose to take to the streets, they need to obey the simple rules of stopping at a red light and staying in the far right lane (in the absence of a dedicated bike lane). They also need to understand, right or wrong, many drivers consider them obstacles that travel considerably below the speed limit and create congestion.

I really think the city needs to invest more in dedicated bike lanes downtown and in high density neighborhoods.

Posted by: mmurphy6 | May 4, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I hope the restipe all the lanes....but until then, bikers (I know not proper term) should have a little more respect when they choose to take to the streets.....Going 5-10 miles an hour and taking up one whole lane for one biker is not cool at all......

Posted by: 4thFloor | May 4, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

No, they can’t share the road, try riding a bike on rt. 5, 210, 4, or any other major way into the city and watch the results.


Posted by: pink1 | May 4, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I'm all for more bike lanes, and less cars in the city. It would be nice to have more areas completely blocked off from car traffic.

In terms of sharing, I've noticed that cars are often disrespectful towards bicycles, in spite of the fact that bicycles have an equal right to use the road.

Posted by: postfan1 | May 4, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Last year I started biking for exercise after not having ridden a bike for many years. I used to drive to work downtown at a prior job and I still drive in regularly for Capitals or Nationals games. So I come at this discussion from both sides of the issue.

The number one point that strikes me on both sides of the debate is that what many of us might consider "common sense" isn't so common any more. Put differently--just because the law may give you the RIGHT to do something doesn't mean you SHOULD do something. Another way to view that is that even though you "can" do something it might not be a good idea to do it. As a cyclist, the law may allow you to ride your bike on, say, Arlington Boulevard in Virginia, but most people who know the area would agree that doing so is a Bad Idea due to the speed of traffic (speed limit may be 45, but many cars will be doing 55 to 60). I figure that even though I might have the "right" to be there as a cyclist, I'd almost certainly lose badly in any crash, regardless of who might be at fault. If you get killed in a crash, it's not much consolation that the other person was at fault.

(I'll continue in a minute in a follow-up)

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 4, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I also understand the argument that some cyclists make for reform of some of the traffic laws as they apply to cyclists. For example, the State of Idaho amended their laws regarding stop signs and red lights to allow for cyclists to make "rolling stops" when it's safe to do so. I'm not entirely convinced that the argument is any different than that which applies to unnecessary stop signs that force cars to stop when the way is clear, though. But I understand why a cyclist, who usually has more momentum than, say, a pedestrian, would be irked by a sign requiring him to come to a full stop when there are no cars anywhere around.

With that said, though, the driver in me despises the cyclists who blatantly ignore the laws. If you want people to give you respect, you have to give them respect in turn, and part of that respect includes obeying the laws as they are now written. Flying through stop signs or red lights on a bike just because the way is clear is tantamount to giving the finger to everyone else on the road. But by the same token, the driver has to recognize that road hazards that are minor annoyances in a car--noisy sewer grates, bumps, holes--can be major hazards to a cyclist. It's not reasonable just to say "cyclists should stay to the right at all times" if doing so would mean that the cyclist might get "doored" (hit by a parked car's opening door) or might have to ride through a pothole. The fact that a cyclist might move out into the lane doesn't automatically mean that he's trying to be obnoxious. It's the same principle that applies to a motorcycle or a tractor-trailer: While the law might TREAT the vehicles as equivalents, they're not the same, and they require different operating techniques.

(still more in a minute)

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 4, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Dear Cyclists:

I have no problem whatsoever with sharing the road with you when you follow the rules.

Red lights, stop signs and the like *do* in fact apply to you. (I have lost count of how many cyclists I have seen run these and wonder why cross traffic slams on its brakes and lays on the horn about it. To be fair I have seen some who do in fact recognize this and act accordingly, but you don't get a pass just because you're on two wheels.)

If there is a dedicated bike lane, please use it instead of the car lanes where practical (those of you who bike near Glen Echo -- yes I am talking to you, there's a bike trail right next to the road and it's even protected by a guard rail). Learn the hand signals for turning, and use them.

I am happy to share the road when you pay me the same courtesy. We can share the road, but it involves both sides thinking about the others on the road (I know, for this area's residents it will be a challenge, but one we could surely conquer if we actually tried).

Posted by: | May 4, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Bike lanes can be useful, but the thing that makes me wary of them is that people start to feel that bikes "belong" in the bike lanes. It's sort of like the "comfort room" in many churches. That room is designed so that when a baby starts crying during Mass, the parent can take the baby there to calm it down, then return to his seat. But at many parishes, people give families with little kids dirty looks as though they're supposed to go directly to the "cry room," do not pass "Go," do not collect $200.... When bike lanes exist, many people assume that bikers must use them, even though that's not the law and even though there may be a good reason for not using one (broken glass, downed tree branch, illegally-parked delivery truck, etc.). Also, many cyclists mistakenly think that the bike lane offers more protection than it really does. You still have to be aware of drivers who are yapping on their silly cell phones and who might turn in front of you, or people who might door you, etc.

I think a major part of the problem is that for so many people it's an "either/or" kind of thing: "I'm a driver and I do not ride a bike." "I'm a cyclist and all those fatties need to get out of their cars." (Where is the notorious BIKE_OR_DIE who used to plague Washington Post traffic discussions?) A driver who hasn't ridden a bike since he was a kid will have a harder time understanding some of the things cyclist do, much like the way drivers who have never driven trucks often do not understand why truck drivers sometimes do things differently from car drivers.

There's no easy solution to that problem, unfortunately, short of applying the common sense that seems to be lacking these days. The proverbial bottom line is that any time you're in a crash (driver or cyclist) you're going to be delayed and you'll probably suffer some sort of damages. From my point of view, that's reason enough to try to cooperate out there.

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 4, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

How about bikes and pedestrians? Every single morning I see bicycle riders run red lights on Connecticut between the Zoo and Dupont Circle, often coming right at me while I'm in the cross walk. Sometimes on the sidewalk. Just as a car can do more damage to a bike in a collision, a bike will do more damage to a pedestrian. You'd think a population that feels threatened/abused/disrespected by those bigger and faster on the roads would have more consideration for those smaller and slower (and softer) than they are on a bike.

Posted by: busgirl1 | May 4, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

busgirl1 beat me to it -- why aren't pedestrians the subject of this inquiry, too? I've been knocked off my feet twice by cyclists running red lights and hitting me in the crosswalk. Neither time did the cyclist even stop and see if I was OK. Believe me, I remember that every time I'm in my car and I see a cyclist.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | May 4, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame, walk softly and carry a big stick.

Posted by: jiji1 | May 4, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I regularly bike to work. Currently it's from Greenbelt to College
Park (5.5 mi), but in the recent past I also commuted from Greenbelt
to the Convention Center (14 mi).

I've never had a problem with cars on my CP commute. Although most of
the route has bike lanes, on the roads that don't the driers are
courteous and safe, waiting to pass until they have clear sight lines
and giving me plenty of room.

On my DC commute (10 miles of it down Rt 1), drivers were generally
courteous and safe. I can remember a mere two incidents where
drivers behaved aggressive towards me, and neither really put me in
danger. Honestly, I see more bad driving going once around the
Beltway than I did during my entire time bike commuting to DC.

Outside of my commuting route I've found roads where drivers are oddly
hostile to cyclists. Route 1 by College Park is always a traffic
mess, and this probably makes the drivers less tolerant of waiting for
me, even though they gain only a few seconds and a longer wait at the
stoplight by passing me. Paint Branch Parkway in the same area
suffers the opposite problem. The speed limit is 35mph, but it's
built like a freeway. I've only had one bad experience on each of
these roads, but then I've also only ridden them once. CPABC concurs
that these roads are un-fun! [1]

On the flip side, I regularly drive out to my relatives in the
country. On a recent particularly beautiful spring day, I must have
passed or seen at least fifty cyclists. I probably arrived at my
destination about a minute later than I normally would have.

The longest I've ever been stuck behind cyclists lasted maybe a whole
two minutes. It was up a steep narrow road with no sight lines and
one of the cyclists bonked out and had to walk. The other two
cyclists turned off the road at the top to let cars pass and wait for
their buddy.

The second longest wait was behind a peloton around a long bend in the
road. The cyclists politely moved over to the right (it is legal to
ride double when not impeding traffic), but it took about a minute for
me to reach a safe passing spot.

All in all, I've spent more minutes waiting for tractors than
cyclists, and probably several days of my life waiting behind other
cars. I refuse to get upset about a few minutes of slow driving!


Posted by: ronwalf | May 4, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I bike to work everyday downtown. In traffic, bicycles go the same speed as cars, if not faster. Sure, bicyclists run red lights, I do it all the time, but its true that just as many cars do the same. Maybe drivers should learn how to drive better rather than griping about bicyclists.

Posted by: amyt1 | May 4, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

I don't see what the problem is: share the road. Cars just hop from light to light anyway. I constantly catch with you, feeling a little smug though, as the driver in the car is wasting his gas and I'm getting my exercise and IT IS A LOT CHEAPER.

Posted by: jeanlucca | May 4, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

That drivers are complaining about bikes not stoping for red lights and stop signs when far too many drivers are doing the exact same thing (I see it every day on my own drive) seems to me a case of the pot calling the kettle black...

Posted by: ajfroggie | May 6, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company