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Posted at 6:29 PM ET, 11/30/2010

More bikes? OK, then more rules

By Charles Yulish, Washington

Regarding the Nov. 27 Metro story “Biking getting bigger in D.C.”:

Yes, bikes are a good development in the District, but many of us who live in the city recognize the problems that are also growing from this blossoming of pedals fostered by the D.C. government. The results are increasing bike thefts, operator indifference and accidents. Too many riders ignore traffic lights and one-way street signs, ride on sidewalks, scare and occasionally injure pedestrians, and cause accidents. Bike riders appear to be unaccountable.

It’s time for the D.C. Council and the city government to make and enforce some rules that implement at least five safety actions:

1. All bikes should be registered and bear license plates and serial numbers for identification.

2. All bikes must have bells or horns to alert pedestrians to their presence.

3. Bikes should be banned from all pedestrian sidewalks.

4. Bike operators must obey all traffic regulations.

5. Police, especially the District’s bike police, should give tickets for failure to observe these regulations.

Bicycles are vehicles. Let’s be fair to the pedestrians on D.C. streets and roads.

By Charles Yulish, Washington  | November 30, 2010; 6:29 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, traffic, transportation  
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Comments

3 out of the 5 you mentioned already exist on the books. Bikes must have bells, bikes are considered vehicles and must obey the same rules as motorized vehicles (though the question of should they is open for debate. Look up the laws regarding whats known as an "Idaho Stop") and DC police do have the obligation to enforce the law even to people on bikes.

As far as the sidewalk, it is illegal to ride in the downtown area on the sidewalk. However there are plenty of situations where riding on the sidewalk may be preferable. The real solution is to add more quality bike infrastructure so the decision of whether to ride on the sidewalk or street is rendered moot.
Police should also be enforcing the law on drivers and pedestrians who break the law and endanger others and people in all modes of transport should remain aware of both the law and the conditions around them.

Re: bike registration, besides the added bureaucratic hassle, should we also impose an age limit to cyclists? Should a 10 year old kid ride in the street even if he lives on a quiet block? What about immigrants who may not always have ID on them but still need some way to get to work? I find the view that a right to cycle is a human rights issue and generally balk at any attempt to institute a liscensing system that may exclude a class of people from cycling. If hunting can be considered a right in Va. then cycling can certainly be considered a right in DC

Posted by: cmerchan | December 1, 2010 12:03 AM | Report abuse

>>>Yes, bikes are a good development in the District, but many of us who live in the city recognize the problems that are also growing from this blossoming of pedals fostered by the D.C. government. The results are increasing bike thefts,

While increased bike theft is a problem, it hardly calls for more rules.

>>>operator indifference

I'm not sure operator indifference is on the rise. If anything, I think increased cycling is attracting a more law-abiding class of cyclists to the mix (probably because more women are biking).

>>>and accidents.

Maybe more accidents on a pure numbers basis, but probably not per-capita. If anything, I think it's going down.

>>>1. All bikes should be registered and bear license plates and serial numbers for identification.

All bikes do have serial numbers. We just got done getting rid of registration, it didn't do anything to thwart theft and neither of these suggestions do anything for safety. As for license plates, how would that work? How big would they be? Where would they attach? From the bottom of the seat? What about the front one? How would you keep a bag or coat from obscuring it? Would a cyclist who had just hit a pedestrian be able to cover it with their hand as they rode away? What is the purpose? I just don't see it as workable.

2. All bikes must have bells or horns to alert pedestrians to their presence.

Already the law. And entirely useless. I use my bell to be polite, but when things are bad, I want my hands on my handles and I'll call out with my voice.

3. Bikes should be banned from all pedestrian sidewalks.

First of all, there are times when the sidewalk is a good place for a bike (going up a steep hill, going opposite on a one way street, on fast or busy streets, etc...). Many sidewalks in DC are signed as bike routes. What about kids? Do you want to force kids out onto Michigan Avenue, or would you rather have them on the sidewalk? Cyclists and pedestrians share space on MUPs, they can do it on sidewalks.

4. Bike operators must obey all traffic regulations.

Already the law for regulations that apply to cyclists. While we're at it, drivers and cyclists should obey all traffic regulations too.

5. Police, especially the District’s bike police, should give tickets for failure to observe these regulations.

They do. And probably in proportion to how many tickets MPD give to drivers and pedestrians (not counting camera tickets).

So really, from top to bottom a complete whiff. You'd think with five suggestions you could get one right - like requiring commercial trucks to have cameras that remove their blind spots. That would make things safer.

Posted by: cranor | December 1, 2010 12:52 AM | Report abuse

1. All bikes should be registered and bear license plates and serial numbers for identification.

This has been impossible to enforce anywhere in the world, ever, and gov't s always give up. This idea was originated in Nazi Germany, but even then it was impossible to enforcement proved too difficult.

2. All bikes must have bells or horns to alert pedestrians to their presence.

Already the law. Difficult to enforce. Perhaps a bell should be required on all new bikes sold at stores. Educated people to use them more.

3. Bikes should be banned from all pedestrian sidewalks.

In the CBD they already are. But it's very difficult to enforce. Anyway the reason bicycles are on the sidewalk is because the bicycle infrastructure in the street is inadequate. The issue here is inadequate infrastructure and spending on protected bicycle facilities on-street. Thus you should support such facilities or quit complaining.

4. Bike operators must obey all traffic regulations.

Impossible to enforce. And many of the regulations for bikes don't make any sense. Such as requiring bicycle riding as far to the right as "practicable", when it's far safer to ride where you are visible and won't get doored.

5. Police, especially the District’s bike police, should give tickets for failure to observe these regulations.

Difficult to do. How about writing tickets to people who illegally block bike lanes. That would be much easier to do.

Bicycles are vehicles. Let’s be fair to the pedestrians on D.C. streets and roads.

If you want to get bikes off the sidewalk, build protected bike facilites on-street, and inrease funding for such facilities. It's the only thing that works.

Posted by: lwatkins4 | December 1, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

What nice litany of excuses from the cyclists as to why they don't have to obey the laws and why they shouldn't be regulated. And just for kicks, throw in the oldest excuse in the book, "this is what the Nazis did, so if YOU want it, you must be a Nazi, too!"
Sorry, that one is just too old.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | December 1, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

"What nice litany of excuses"--
I don't see excuses; I see people pointing out that the list Mr. Yulish posted is redundant and outdated. As pointed out, bikes do have serial numbers and were previously registered. Does Mr. Yulish have any proof that registering bikes deters theft? If so, he should provide it.
For #2, it's already the rule. For number #3, I agree that some roads are dangerous to ride on and that the sidewalk is much safer, to cyclists and drivers, while not being more dangerous to pedestrians (as there aren't that many). Michigan Avenue is a perfect example, but so too are long stretches of North Capitol and Massachusetts, for starters. #4 is already the rule. No new rule is needed. #5 is already a rule. So, really the title of Mr. Yulish's post should have been aimed at the police, not at bikers, for not doing a better job of overseeing misbehavior.

Posted by: nloewen | December 1, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

If the bike is like a car. The bike should have a license plates and have insurance in case the biker hit someone or damage a person car. If you want the respect of a car motors then have the same responsibility of a motors and stop crying.

Posted by: lawrence5 | December 1, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Pay the Dame no mind - she hates all cyclists. she was hit once (which must have been awful) and now, all cyclists are evil. Her hatred is pure and never ending.

It's the same mentality that a person may have if they are raped by a man. Must then hate all men, right? Or, the same as a being hit by a car - then all car drivers must be evil and hatred of the entirety is ok.

I've been mugged twice in DC, both by black males in their 20's. I guess I can hate all black men in their 20's.

Nah, I'll just hate those 3 muggers.

I'll agree with one pooint of the letter writer: police enforcement of law breakers is lax. Cars run lights, turn on red, and ignire pedestrians. I've seen few tickets for moving violations on K st. You could make bank ticketin cars and bikes for violations on K st alone. Then there are the peds... jaywalking is also against the law. In my life, I have seen only 1 ticket - and that was on a day dedicated to bringing attention to jaywalkers.

Posted by: Greent | December 1, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

As someone who walks to work everyday cyclists are definitely on the rise. I just don't understand why cyclists tend to completely ignore red lights? I know this will draw the ire of cyclists and they will start saying cars are worse and state other reactionary comments. I have no gripe with people riding bikes responsibly but everyday I see cyclists blow through red lights. Almost every cyclist I see doesn't stop at reds. I don't get it. I have almost been hit by more bikes than cars and its not even close.

Posted by: wvumurray | December 1, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

As someone who walks to work everyday cyclists are definitely on the rise. I just don't understand why cyclists tend to completely ignore red lights? I know this will draw the ire of cyclists and they will start saying cars are worse and state other reactionary comments. I have no gripe with people riding bikes responsibly but everyday I see cyclists blow through red lights. Almost every cyclist I see doesn't stop at reds. I don't get it. I have almost been hit by more bikes than cars and its not even close.

Posted by: wvumurray | December 1, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

They are incorrectly performing an "Idaho Stop" wvumurray. This idaho law allows bicycles (or other human powered vehicles) to do rolling stops thru intersections - and if no traffic (pedestrian, motor or other) is oncoming, to proceed thru the intersection. It also allows for cyclists to treat red lights like stop signs.

I see alot of bikes stopped properly at lights - and I see alot blow thru them. My disgust for bike messengers is high... almost as high as the pedestrians I see at 14th & k and 15th & K everyday who blatently ignore the left turn arrow, and just proceed across the street, makin all the cars miss their turn. Or the cars at 16th/U/NH, who think that they can cross U and blow onto NH, even though there is a pedestrian cross walk (with no walk/don't walk sign) - the cars do not stop, ever. As the pedestrian, your best bet is to wait... or carry a dent inducing bat, swingin as you jump outta their way.

I wonder what the news comments were like when there were horses? Must have been alot like today. Sharing the roads is hard. And most nowadays think roads are only for cars/buses - yet roads were originally made for pedestrians, carts and animals. Harumph.

Posted by: Greent | December 1, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Of course all cyclists should obey the laws. I do, and I've nearly gotten in fights with other cyclists who pretend there is another set of rules just for them. Not true, and plain obnoxious.

The answer is enforcement of laws on the books, not creating new ones that won't work and are unnecessary froma safety perspective. A single driver in 2008 killed more people than all deaths from cyclists in the DC area in the last decade, if not the last half-century. Safety regulations should be limited to measures that actually improve safety, not just create additional hassles. That wouldn't be your goal, would it?

Posted by: krickey7 | December 1, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

As for riding on sidewalks, I've been yelled at, honked at and nearly run off the road by cars on Mass. Ave, 16th Street and 4th Street for riding on the road as the law permits.

Posted by: krickey7 | December 1, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

There is a recent, excellent, very lengthy, discussion on the NYT web pages about exactly this subject. I'm a biased cyclist, I should add, but it's clear that the time of the bicycle is coming and many are upset about the change. I have little doubt that further restrictions and charges on auto traffic are coming that will make us happier and healthier.

Posted by: brewryhouse | December 1, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

Not to justify reckless bikers for it, but the reason many safe bikers run red lights/roll through stop signs is momentum and safety.

First off, starting and stopping is harder on a bike. You don't have a seat belt so you can't stop short without going over your handlebars. Getting up to speed from a stopped position is also harder for pretty obvious reasons (and doing so in traffic is one of the more dangerous parts of biking).

In terms of safety, most bikers run red lights to get in front of traffic. For instance if you're stopped on K st and no cars are coming, you'll start to see pedestrians crossing. Why shouldn't a bike cross and get ahead of the light cycle so they aren't in traffic (this problem could be solved by better bike infrastructure).

Though bikes are vehicles, its foolish to treat them exactly like cars. They are smaller and move at slower speeds (therefore much more dangerous to the rider than to others) and have completely different concerns when starting and stopping. This isn't meant to excuse those few bikers who are absolutely reckless but I think its important to realize that bikes and cars are different and should be treated differently.

And on the registration front, that's just never going to work. There are too many bikes, too many bikers and its too easy to bring a bike in across state lines. We'd spend millions on enforcement and you'd still be able to walk into a Wallmart in VA and walk out with a new bike.

Posted by: ELA5 | December 2, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I walk 3 miles every day between U and Constitution, via some combination of 10th-15th streets. Depending on weather I see somewhere between 30 and maybe 150 bike commuters each day. Maybe once a week I see one or two stopped at a light they could "blow" through. I am always surprised and if close enough I thank them. Like wvumurray, I have way more close calls with bikes almost hitting me than with cars, and in both cases it's because I get out of the way despite having the right of way by being on a sidewalk, crossing on a green light or being in a designated crosswalk. So far I've resisted forcing the guilty cyclist to react in a way dangerous to them - but I am always tempted. The idiots who actually swear at me as they swerve around me (while I am crossing legally) because they are trying to blow through a red light make cycling just a bit more dangerous for the next cyclist I encounter.
Lots of streets have bike lanes and still cyclists use sidewalks, going in the same direction as the bike lane! I understand that cyclists FEEL safer on sidewalks. That doesn't make it my problem; I don't feel safe with them on the sidewalk. Why do they think they have the right to transfer the risk to pedestrians? Maybe 1 in 30 cyclists who passes me on the sidewalk actually uses a bell or calls out. It's illegal to cycle on sidewalks in almost all of downtown but idiot commuter cyclists weave at high speed (these are not all messengers; they include people in suits) among pedestrians. I won't accept it, so beware - you may not be as safe as you think.
Yes, in these responses there is a litany of excuses for cyclists breaking the law. Kid safety, nazis, we already have the rules, rules don't work, "other people break the law tooooo" - what a bunch of childish horse-hockey! I don't really care if cyclists break the law as long as it doesn't endanger people and the police enforce the law on them, pedestrians, cars and especially buses and everyone accepts their guilt without whining that they are being picked on more than others. What I care about is when their law-breaking endangers me, which it does daily. Kids on bikes have nothing to do with this; they have lower mass, tend to go slower, make lots of noise, and have a good excuse for being on sidewalks. The problem is with adults who behave like unintelligent spoiled brats and then whine when they are called on it.
Oh, and don't get me started on the tourist-bike companies that actually direct completely incompetent hordes of cyclists onto downtown sidewalks.

Posted by: citizen2u | December 2, 2010 10:43 PM | Report abuse

My primary way of getting around town is walking. I applaud the increase in use of bikes in DC and, for them, we clearly need more dedicated bike lanes.

I also appreciate the long established role of bikes in other urban settings, particularly in Scandinavia. Unfortunately, that is where our cyclists differ in behavior from those. Too many of our cyclists do not obey the traffic rules; is it because they simply have not yet developed the sophistication that comes from established use? It’s clear they know they are in the wrong, since if you comment, they are very quick to start swearing.

And far too many bikes are on the sidewalks. Yes, I know they are legal on sidewalks north of Mass Ave. but the law no longer reflects the current numbers of bicycles in use in DC. Most sidewalks are simply too narrow for both pedestrians and bikes, and pedestrians are at the disadvantage. It is just common sense.

I agree the solution to keeping bikes in the street is to have more bike infrastructure, and I fully support spending our tax dollars on it. However, that does not explain the daily presence of fully equipped cyclists on sidewalks where there already is a bike lane either on the same block or within one block away. If you are afraid to ride in a bike lane, then walk. Please do not impose a more dangerous circumstance on the pedestrians.

As to enforcement, in DC, it hardly exists for scofflaws who travel in any mode.

Posted by: dcwalker | December 3, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

>>If the bike is like a car.>Yes, in these responses there is a litany of excuses for cyclists breaking the law.<<

1 & 3 aren't currently illegal. 5 does not apply to cyclists. 2 and 4 are the law, but there are no excuses given for why some cyclists don't follow them.

Posted by: cranor | December 4, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

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