Sometimes a Bike is Just a Bike On the symbolism—and politics—of bicycling in D.C.

Full Article
Photo by Darrow Montgomery

About two years ago, Christopher Jerry says, a bike lane appeared on 25th Street SE.

“It’s a steep hill—not really steep, but steep. One day, I saw some lines painted there, indicating the bike lanes,” says Jerry, who lives on T Street SE in Ward 7. “They were doing it in such a way that was going to eliminate 80 percent of parking on one side of the street. On that particular street, people use both sides of the street to park their cars. Not everyone can park in the alley.”

Jerry, a rail-maintenance-planning technician for Metro and the vice president of the Fairlawn Civic Association, alerted his neighbors—who, he says, hadn’t been told the bike lane was coming. “I got in contact with all the residents on that street and said, ‘They’re taking your parking away and putting in a bike lane.’”

Unsurprisingly, those living on the block were not pleased. A compromise was struck: The bike lane was redesigned to let cars keep parking on both sides of the street. And according to Jerry, the bike lane has been beneficial; it now forces people to park their cars less haphazardly.

Jerry makes it clear that he’s not personally opposed to bike lanes. “My position is, I’m for bike lanes where bike lanes are wanted and where they work, and I’m not for bike lanes where they’re not wanted and where they don’t work,” he explains. But that inclusive view may not be shared by his neighbors. “For a lot of people, it crystallized....The Fenty folk—why are the gentrifiers pushing bikes? ‘We don’t use bikes, we don’t like bikes,’” he says.

advertisement

For getting around the District quickly and cheaply, it’s tough to beat a bicycle. Even a leisurely-paced ride will take you from, say, Columbia Heights to the National Mall in less time than a trip on the S2 bus—especially since you won’t be waiting for the bus to show up. There’s no pollution, and you get some exercise while you’re on the way to wherever you’re going.

Then there’s the astounding difference in cost. Car ownership can rack up, on average, more than $9,000 in insurance, payments, and gas per year; that’s not accounting for emergency repairs. The average cost of a new car sold in America is just over $29,000. The Colnago EPS racing bike given to former Mayor Adrian Fenty by the Italian cycling company in 2010 retails for around $12,000. Which means a new car could cost more than double what’s essentially the Maserati of bikes—and at least 30 times as much as more plebeian rides, which generally retail from $400 to $1,000. Still aren’t convinced bikes are affordable? Get on Craigslist, where used bikes regularly run as low as $150—if not lower. Buy a car for $150, and you may have to pedal it, too. Even riding Metro can get expensive fast, with one-way fares beginning at $1.50 (for buses) and $1.70 (for the subway).

So how did this most egalitarian mode of transportation come to signify for so many D.C. residents a very specific caricature: the rich, white, gentrifying newcomer?


There are a few easy signs that developers, real-estate brokers, new residents, city planners, and other agents of gentrification have their eyes on a particular neighborhood. A new condo building pops up, for instance. A bar suddenly seeks a change in its liquor license to set up a sidewalk patio. Or, out of nowhere one day, a bike lane gets painted on the street, like on 25th Street SE. (And, thanks to the incremental nature of the District’s bike-infrastructure projects, it not only appears out of nowhere, but it seems to lead to nowhere, ending mysteriously a few blocks down the road.)

Bike lanes in D.C. seem to come with an extra emotional charge, a legacy of the way they were installed—rapidly, and without much notice to or input from the people nearby—under Fenty and his transportation czar, Gabe Klein. Fenty and Klein were largely well-loved by people who didn’t, for the most part, look or act like those who’ve lived in D.C. longer. The white-striped lanes became a powerful visual implication that change was coming; they looked like a welcome mat for newcomers.

Polls during last year’s contentious mayoral race found that D.C.’s longer-term residents overwhelmingly supported Gray, while newer arrivals favored Fenty. And opinions on bikes and transportation followed that split.

You don’t have to be a cultural-studies professor to see why the dichotomy appealed to pundits. The political significance of bikes can’t be fully understood without a nod to their supposed opposite: cars. Anyone with access to a Bruce Springsteen album knows there are deep veins of American culture where four wheels signify freedom, adulthood, and maybe even America itself. Those who shun automobiles, by extension, shun all of those things. Like grown-ups playing kickball or attending Twitter-fed snowball fights, such a rejection of traditional adulthood seems like the realm of the privileged.


But the idea that bike lanes are the exclusive domain of the city’s younger, whiter class is too simple a story. Like any stereotype, it has holes when you examine it closely; head out onto Beach Drive when it’s closed to cars on the weekends, for instance, and you won’t come back thinking the only people who are serious about bikes in the District are white. David Alpert, editor of the blog Greater Greater Washington, suggests the brouhaha was propped up by media outlets looking for a quick way to frame last year’s mayor’s race. “I think to some extent it became an easy shorthand for people writing about race relations and about divisions in D.C.,” he says.

“There’s a tendency of people writing or commenting on politics to make it about one thing versus another,” Alpert continues. “It’s easier to talk about politics if half the people are one side and half are on the other. Bike lanes got stuck in this place that got fit into that mold, got portrayed into fitting into that mold. People said, ‘Oh, I understand politics now—it’s about young yuppie bikers and longtime black residents.’ I haven’t ever seen that anyone give any evidence that that was the dichotomy so much as that it sounded good.”

Of course, this is D.C., where the fact that local demographics settle along color lines—many of the city’s poor residents are black, and many of its rich residents are white—only adds to the underlying tension. But even here, not every hot-button issue needs to be so starkly divisive. Not even bike lanes.

Any city moving forward with bicycle infrastructure faces a battle, according to Andy Clarke, the president of the League of American Bicyclists. Look at New York, where transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has been vilified in Park Slope (where brownstones sell for nearly $2 million) and Staten Island (a stronghold of the white ethnic middle class) alike for installing lanes. There will always be opposition to bike lanes, and Clark says it’s nearly impossible to characterize or typify those who don’t want them—save for one kind of mind-set.

“I think it’s probably fairly predictable in being that whoever feels threatened, you’re taking stuff away from. If you’re taking away parking, or a travel lane, or a street corner, or an old rail corridor, whoever feels they’re losing something is going to get bent out of shape,” he says. “You’ve got high-class opponents and areas where people have complained about bike lanes going through poor neighborhoods. I don’t think race or class or income is the issue. I think it’s fear of the unknown and fearing losing something that you’ve had is the most common denominator.”

Greg Billing, of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, suggests there might be a strong generational divide. “There are a lot of Latino and a lot of black riders out there, and to make it sound that it’s just a white interest isn’t true. I think it’s definitely more of a generational thing—though you do see a lot of old black guys riding bikes. I think it’s more cultural,” he says. There’s a certain rational logic to this: The average 25-year-old will have an easier time than the average 65-year-old when it comes to riding from the Mall to Columbia Heights—no matter what their age, income, or taste in microbrews.

But the nature of urban politics means bikes can’t just be written off as a matter of different strokes for different folks. For neighborhoods that have gone years without much disruption, bike lanes are an affront—and an emphatically visible one, at that. They might cost very little to put down—the approximately 1.5-mile 15th Street NW cycle track, currently the District’s fanciest, cost around $300,000—but bike lanes starkly delineate that a different way of life is creeping in.

Consider Tom Smith, a commissioner in ANC 3D, in Upper Northwest. “This is the city, but it’s not the inner city. We’re more of a suburban environment. The irony is, you’ve seen bike use expand pretty dramatically in the community. I can’t speak for the entire ward, but, yes, bike use has expanded rapidly,” he says. “I think one of the problems is that there hasn’t been a whole lot of outreach by [the District Department of Transportation] on bike issues. Mostly you find out things after the fact, and people start scratching their heads and asking, ‘Why is this being done here?’”

Smith’s ANC covers neighborhoods like Spring Valley, Tenleytown, and Wesley Heights; he and Christopher Jerry live on diametrically opposite sides of the city. But their skepticism of bike lanes is almost identical. Both say DDOT laid down lanes without giving the usual chance for locals to weigh in, which typically manifests itself in community meeting upon community meeting. Both believe that bike lanes will encroach on parking, a near-existential threat in their neighborhoods’ suburblike settings. Both ask why anyone needs the lanes, because they rarely see people riding in them, anyway. If anti-bike-lane sentiment were really about race or class, it’s unlikely that a white guy from Ward 3 and a black guy from Ward 7 would sound nearly exactly the same when they talk about the topic.


Life in the District used to be marked, in part, by the ability to reside in a suburbanesque neighborhood near the denser areas—but not so near that it felt like really living in a city. Part of that meant being able to drive downtown for work—or to shop or go to dinner—and not having to worry about where to park when you got home again. The newcomers who want bike lanes aren’t moving to the same D.C. For a lot of younger Washingtonians, bike lanes are attractive in the way that a condo in Logan Circle is attractive: Both draw in young professionals who want to live in dense, connected, and active neighborhoods with plenty of stuff to do nearby. They appeal not just to the adventurous, but also to those who find biking an easy, fun way to get around, from work to home to the bar and back again—as well as to those who want to reduce their cost of living by giving up their cars.

Bike lanes are a rejection of D.C.’s tightly held status quo. No wonder they’ve pissed people off.


Anti-bike sentiment continues to rear its head across the city, refusing to be confined by geography or demographics. Residents in Eckington, Bloomingdale, and Truxton Circle have been haggling over whether sharrows—the ubiquitous lanes with a painted symbol of a bike rider—and a protected bike lane that runs against traffic should be installed on R Street NE. The street, a direct shot to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, is currently unnavigable by bike due to a one-way block. Opponents, including some ANC 5C commissioners, claim that, between cars and delivery trucks, R Street NE is already too heavy with traffic. (That’s a frequent objection to the lanes, though studies show they actually calm down speeding and reduce traffic—as one has in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.)

“Why waste money on bike lanes? They ride bikes wherever they want to ride bikes,” says Anthony Muhammed, a commissioner on ANC 8A in historic Anacostia, referring to just about anyone—kids, adults, commuters, spandex-clad racers—who might dare to ride on two wheels. “No one enforces any bike lanes anywhere in the city.” Enforcing bike lanes, though, would actually mean keeping cars out of them, not bikes in them; cyclists are legally allowed to ride in the street all over the District.

Despite all this, cycling in D.C. has a higher profile than ever. There are more people on bikes than ever, a spike that can be attributed in part to Capital Bikeshare. The system, with its nearly indestructible bright red bikes, has made it possible for even the most inexperienced and unprepared rider to get on two wheels and go. And it’s grown rapidly. Bikeshare started in September 2010 with 49 stations; demand has since swelled that number to 110. Twenty-five more stations will be added in the next few months. Logic says that as more Bikeshare users become comfortable with riding in D.C.—and become frustrated with the system’s downsides, such as frequently empty docks—they’ll buy bikes of their own.

The actual policy battle, in fact, has mostly been won—by the folks on two wheels, not four. During Bike to Work Day festivities on May 20, Mayor Vince Gray proclaimed that he’d like D.C. to ascend to a platinum-level bike-friendliness ranking as determined by the League of American Bicyclists. (Its ranking is currently silver.) That would put D.C. on the same level as Portland, Ore., or Boulder, Colo., cities that possess substantial bicycling infrastructure—bike lanes physically separated from traffic, bike boulevards that prohibit cars, good signage for routes and trails, and ample bike parking—and consider bikes a primary mode of transit.

The city isn’t installing bike lanes as fast as it did in the paint-first, ask-questions-later Fenty days, but DDOT hasn’t shut down its bike-centric operations by any stretch. The much-ballyhooed crosstown cycle tracks on L and M Streets downtown, a cornerstone of the 2005 Bicycle Master Plan, should be in place by next spring. They’ll be physically separated facilities, like the 15th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. Those lanes are critical to capturing and retaining riders who want to use a bike to commute to work—people who want an expedient way to travel to their offices but don’t want to weave through gridlocked streets.


Those casual cyclists, who might also ride their bikes to shops and restaurants, really do exist: “Our BID is only 43 blocks, and we have 350 bike racks. A lot of them are full every day. Bicycling’s really exploded here,” says David Suls, of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, near Farragut North and Dupont Circle. Ensuring that less-hard-core riders feel safe will encourage them to use their bikes more frequently.

WABA, in partnership with DDOT, has begun education outreach east of the Anacostia River to teach riding, repair, and rules of the road. The organization will hold a total of nine clinics in an area that’s home to some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods—neighborhoods that could stand to benefit the most from access to and knowledge of a cheaper mode of transportation. The clinics regularly see about 30 people, and the series wraps up next Sunday.

“It’s been very successful,” says Billing. “Most of the responses we’ve gotten have been, ‘Wow, thank you so much; this is a blessing. We want to bike to school; we want to bike to work. I couldn’t afford to do this without you here.’ It’s just been incredible, the support we’ve received.” Many areas, especially east of the river, don’t have easy access to bike shops, and the clinics help make cycling seem more within reach. “Taking a step back a little bit, the fact that bike lanes became such a heated issue during the election meant that it’s an actual issue now,” Billing says. “Before, bikes used to be a very fringe discussion.”

Perhaps the strongest attempt to harness the bicycle’s democratic qualities is being made by Black Women Bike, a group whose mission is simply to make the reality described by its name more commonplace. “It’s a community that’s really been hidden. It’s not just there are more black women riding, but there are more people riding,” says Allyson Criner, a member who uses her bike for commuting and exercise. “As far as what our group is doing...I think a lot of us joined because it was refreshing to see, ‘No, we’re not the only ones.’” Criner, who says many of the group’s conversations revolve around sharing safety tips, is adamant that the city should increase the number of bike lanes.

All signs point to cycling’s becoming a viable way to get around D.C. for all kinds of people. And a burgeoning corps of bike riders will need more infrastructure, whether it’s racks to lock up to, or stripes on the road, or lanes physically separated from traffic by bollards. Strip away the cultural codes that we’ve attached to bicycling, and it’s revealed as a fast, efficient, and affordable way to move about a city. Maybe all the acrimony is just a growing pain.

The question is, how tenaciously will those cultural codes hold on to our imaginations?

“There’s still a perception out there that bikes don’t belong on the road, shouldn’t be using road space, that bikes are for kids. It’s kind of all false. We’ve got people who can’t afford cars...the amount of money people spend to have a car is expensive, and Metro is expensive,” says Billing. “It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s pretty darn close to it. It solves a lot of issues. It’s a painful process and it takes a lot of political will to get there. To change the culture takes time.”

Indeed, time has proved itself the most effective balm in healing bike lane-related angst. Look at the 15th Street NW cycle track: Over a year after its completion, it’s not only packed with riders, but the clamor about the parking spaces that had to be removed to put it in has entirely died down. The 15th Street lane is successful because it’s physically separated from traffic by bollards and a line of parked cars. It runs between several areas of high activity. Riders can connect to various other lanes from it. It’s the same story with the Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track. And the next lanes to be laid down by DDOT, the crosstown L and M Street routes, will look similar. The vitriol surrounding biking in D.C. may have damaged its reputation, but has done nearly nothing to stop its expansion.

“We’ve got to that point in those cities where we want to be proactive about people cycling and that public space is more valuable than giving you a parking space for perpetuity. I think that’s good,” Clarke says. “It’s uncomfortable to go through it, but it’s part of the evolution and process that shows communities are serious about increasing cycling....It will be uncomfortable for a little while, but people will be look back on that and say, ‘What were we so worked up about? How can I get bike lanes on my street?’”

Photo Slideshow: Sometimes a Bike is Just a Bike

Our Readers Say

YO AL B SHOWAH WHATEVA HAPPENED TO THE $12K COLNAGO?


I SQUARELY PUT THE BLAME ON FENTY, KLEIN AND WELLS FOR NOT EDUCATING PUBLIC OR PUTTING FORTH AN AWARENESS CAMPAIGN BEFORE PUSHING AND UNLEASHING FOLK TO SLEEPRIDING ON THEIR OVERPRICED FIXIES DECORATED WITH THEIR CRAFTY BASTARD MANPURSES/SATCHELS THROUGHOUT THE CITY.

FOLK WERE RIDING BIKES IN THIS CITY WELL BEFORE THE NEW WAVE OF MYOPIC LIL TWITS ARRIVED THINKING THEY STARTED A NEW TREND. RUNNERS HAVE LAPPED HAINS POINT ON THE WEEKEND FOR YEARS. JUST AS CYCLING IN ROCK CREEK AND SLIGO CREEK, ON BEACH DRIVE AND THE TREK FROM THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT PASS NATIONAL AIRPORT TO MT VERNON HAVE PASSED ON GENERATIONALLY FROM THREE SPEED RIDERS TO YOUR $12K COLNAGO RIDERS.

HOWEVA THIS WIDESPREAD BULLSHIT OF RIDERS BEING HIT BY CARS OR PEDESTRIANS GETTING CLIPPED CAN ONLY BE ATTRIBUTED TO FOLK COMING HERE THINKING THEY ARE STILL ON A CAMPUS, IN THEIR LAZY, LAID BACK TOWNSHIPS OR JUST PLAIN NON-RIDERS THAT SHOULD HAVE THEIR SPEEDS GOVERNED BY A DEVICE FOR NOT KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIDING A BIKE AND GOING FOR A BIKE RIDE.

NOW WE HAD OUR SHARE OF ACCIDENTS AND BRUSHBACKS BUT THEY WERE ONLY RELEGATED TO THE K ST CORRIDOR AND DOWNTOWN DUE TO BIKE MESSENGERS AND UNTRAINED DC WALKERS IN THOSE AREAS. BIG UPPS TO W.A.B.A. FOR THE OUTREACH ESPECIALLY CROSS THE BRIDGE!!! THEY NEED MORE INK THAN THE BLURB AL B. SHOWAH GRANTED THEM. I’VE BEEN SPEAKING ON THIS SUJECT FOR MORE THAN A YEAR AND I’M GLAD TO SEE IT’S GETTING SOME ATTENTION!

THE POWERS TO BE ARE SO BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL ON THIS! FROM DDOT PASSING OUT HELMETS AS A PROXY FOR CAPBIKESHARE AFTER A MULTITUDE OF BIKE ACCIDENTS INSTEAD OF BEFOREHAND OR TO BIKE LANES BEING LAYED AND SPRAYED QUICKLY WITHOUT FURTHER STUDY. TO GETTING YOUNG FOLK TRAINED IN BASIC BIKE MECHANICS OR LEARNING ABOUT THE NUANCES OF A PELETON. YOU SAID A BIKE IS JUST A BIKE BUT IT’S ALSO A VEHICLE OF TRANSPORTATION AND SHOULD BE LEARNED ABOUT AND TREATED AS SUCH BY EVERYONE.

METRO DESERVES SOME CREDIT FOR ALLOWING ACCESS ON TRAINS DURING THE WEEK. WISH THEY WOULD RELAX RUSH HOUR RESTRICTIONS TO LAST CARS. IT MAY DECREASE BIKE ACCIDENTS AND THEFTS BY ALLOWING FOLK TO TAKE BIKES CLOSER TO DESTINATION THAN LEAVING THEM UNATTENDED AT CROWDED AND FULL BIKE RACKS AT METRO STATIONS THAT RECEIVE NO METRO POLICE SUPPORT.

YO MR SMITH I KNOW YOU ABUT MOCO HOWEVA TENLEY IS NO LESS INNER CITY THAN ANY OTHER PART OF THE CITY. I WOULD THINK YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD STREETS GET JUST AS MUCH VEHICLE TRAFFIC NOW AS ANY AREA IN THE CITY.

NICE STORY.
I stopped "biking" nearly ten years ago when I had two bikes stolen in less than a month -- both had NYC kryptonite locks. (The second donated by a guy who felt empathy for me as a teenager having mafaghus steal my Trek bike.)

Good luck to the newcomers and their lanes -- nothing but respect for you all.

I'll continue to use my feet, the bus, and the train.

The problem with all of this is that the 'hood has relied on bikes, Alabama Ave SE for example, for a while now but we never had lanes. We just managed to make due -- now with the pink people moving in we see bike lanes. That's what I hear.

Why can't the bike lanes go on the side streets that parallel the thoroughfares rather than the thoroughfares?
Great story. I wish I could bike more but mine disappeared about a year ago. I haven't replaced it and haven't jumped on the Bikeshare bandwagon yet.

On the subject of stolen bikes, an interesting follow up story may be: where do all the stolen bikes go? Shouldn't there eventually be a surplus of stolen bikes circulating around town by now? The supply of bikes has to eventually exceed demand right? It's not like they're getting stripped down for parts.
I used to ride my Trek up and down Conn Ave NW in the early morning hours to get to my job and I got stopped repeatedly by MPD cruiser 203, 206, etc. After the fifth time they basically said if I didn't get my bike registered (engraved with a code) and a light and some sort of sound mechanism they would go beyond a warning/citation and lock me up. I told 'em bullshit and the office said, "Try me, but if next time I stop you you dont have it registered I'm taking it from you."

I took this serious enough (after having a cop take a dub from me and my friend and then seeing a cop search a dude on the street and take his money and onion) that I went over to 3D and got the thing registered. They took my name and made an engraving on the bike. It was put into some database.

No more than two weeks later the bike was clipped from outside the Van Ness metro. Bikes are sold on the street all the time -- from 14 to the southside. A couple times I have seen someone on a Trek or a similar mountain bike -- dual shocks, aluminium and I say "nice bike, man" they usually follow-up with "It's yours for fity(sic)."

I have left the offers on the table.

The city is walkable and I walk it.
I bike to work regularly, to save money (and time, given what a cluster&*#$ the Metro has become) and get exercise into my limited schedule. I've biked all over the city and on many of the rec trails, but would be considered a casual biker. And in truth I am - I actually do not enjoy hanging out with "serious" bikers, who often do their own part to foster community enmity through smug self-righteousness.

But in my several years of biking in DC, I have to say that the single most negative impact on biking comes from the MPD. I have literally never witnessed a DC police officer cite a car for endangering a bike even though it happens to me six times a day and I've watched it happen dozens of times in front of manned police vehicles. DC laws vary from vaguely protective to essentially hostile (God help you if a stop-sign-running, cell-phone-using driver runs you over when you are two inches outside the bike lane), but the laws we have are very effectively neutralized by the MPD.

Panhalndler's story above is one of the lesser complaints I've heard, but common enough. Really, though, the important thing is to focus on what the police are *not* doing to *help* bikers, rather than only what they are doing to harm them. From my seat on my bike, the only way to survive is to take a guerilla mentality to the road - use the bike lanes when I can, but dodge ingorant or hostile drivers when I have to, even if that means hitting the sidewalk where I shouldn't, or not coming to a complete stop where I should. I know the MPD won't help me out, so I have to help myself stay alive.

Biking benefits everyone, even if that's not appreciated by everyone - road use (and therefore taxes used to repair roads) goes down, traffic (worst in the US) gets better, civic health improves (hard enough to find a doctor with time in DC), noise levels, etc. etc. But honestly, why risk your life unless you have to? The city simply is not stepping up to the plate to protect bikers, and until it does biking in DC will remain dangerous, and hostility will continue to grow between the different parties on this subject.
That's a lot of typing to make the case that bike lanes generate a negative is response that is unique to DC, and somehow relates to race, the DC status quo and community meetings.

Last night I was chatting with a neighbor who'd just been to her rural small town in Georgia for a visit. Imagine a stereotypical southern town, county courthouse square in the middle, no traffic to speak of...and now, bike lanes! around the town square.

Paid with stimulus funds.

Locals up in arms. "Why waste money on these bike lanes? Spend the same amount to jumpstart a business that would employ all us unemployed people here." That kind of ungrateful BS.

Questioning the priority on developing bike lanes is not a uniquely DC reaction.
The Bike House is a community-based bicycle repair co-op in Washington, DC. Our mission is to build a place where all people can learn about, work on, and enjoy bikes.

We do this by providing free bicycle maintenance services and education through our weekend clinics, mobile bike clinic, and beginner and advanced mechanics classes.

I love this article! In reference to this quote: "I think it’s fear of the unknown and fearing losing something that you’ve had is the most common denominator.” As a 30 yr old black native Washingtonian, this is not the primary issue. It's the fact that this city always caters to the upper class in 98% of its decisions, coupled with the fact that THEY NEVER ASK FOR OUR INPUT ON ANYTHING that directly affects/effects us!!!

If you live anywhere near a Bikeshare station, especially outside of the "core" in U-Street/Logan, that's the way to bike. No one can steal your bike, the stations are getting closer and closer to each other, and you never get trapped under ground or stuck with loud cellphone users or food tossers on the bus.

I'll probably get my own bike at some point, for really long rides and trail rides along the Anacostia trail, Capital Crescent, and such. In the mean time, I've saved more than $200 by bikesharing instead of riding the Metro to work. And that's after accounting for the nearly $100 I spent on a helmet and the membership.
OK, so the bikes are here to stay, and may ever grow. I rarely drive, usually Metro and walk. But have had a car for a week and here are my observations for bikers: the rules of the road still apply to you, perhaps even more now that there are bike lanes and the culture's moving from those incredibly sexy and dangerous bike messengers to everyday grown folks on bicycles.

I get evasive action in case of danger, so do what you need to do to stay alive. However, I've observed none of that over the week, and am significantly less charmed by "oh, this red light or stop sign doesn't apply to me, because my bike is more nimble than your stodgy old car, so I'll just dart in front of you, OK?" Four-way stop: you stop. Red light: you stop and wait for it to turn green. You're not a pedestrian on two wheels, you're a road vehicle and we have changed the roads to accommodate you. So please step up your observation of the rules of the road.

Finally, please ask a friend to check your wardrobe. No one except maybe your mom really wants to see your butt-crack as you lean forward on your bike.
I bike between Upper Northwest and Capitol Hill every morning and evening on my way to/from work, and I can attest to the fact that not everyone on a bike is an upper-class yuppie. Not by a long shot. I see a lot of working-class types on their way to work or running errands or just for the love of it, on their bikes. Biking is everyman/woman's transportation form. To get classist about it is just plain uninformed.
I noted the comment about how frequently the existing bike racks are full. It seems I can never find a place to lock up- we need more than just signs and fence posts!

Anyone else find it ironic that our well-loved bikes repeatedly get stolen from outdoor racks, yet some people abandon their bikes taking up precious space on the racks and their bikes rust in place for months without being stolen?
I've been an avid cyclist for many years now, both for commuting and exercise, fun and recreation. I realize that there are cyclists who run red lights and stop signs. But there are a lot of drivers who do that too. I probably see at least one car run a red light every time I'm out on the roads. I see many cars that see stop signs as a mere suggestion to pause. I'm a safe driver AND a safe cyclist. I'm thinking the people driving cars like crazy people are the same ones riding bikes that way.
Folks: As I'm sure you know, anytime the discussion turns to bike and car etiquette, tensions run high. This is not a good forum for that. The general debate about bikes running stop signs vs cars endangering cyclists has been going on for years, and rehashing it again isn't going to add much to the discussion about this story.

Thanks for keeping your comments civil and on-topic. Please feel free to contact the writer or editors if you want to see a story about road etiquette:

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/pages/contact
@ Liz G - Agreed, I think people who play by the rules do it no matter how they get from one place to another, and those who don't... don't. I also try to follow traffic laws carefully, regardless of whether I'm in my car or on my bike (though it's easier in my car, because people usually see me and respect my road rights - unlike when I'm on my bike!).

That said, I think the rules get broken a lot in DC, in part because a lot of people ride bikes like they're pedestrians - if they see a gap, they go for it, even if the light's red. There's a mismatch between how people think of themselves and how they're perceived. From the driver's seat, people expect those on bikes to get out of the way - even if there's nowhere to go.

I'd love it if there was a large-scale education effort made to educate drivers and bikers on what the expectations are for the interactions between them - I think this would help a lot. A lot of times the education is only aimed at bikers - which helps those people ride more safely, but doesn't help when someone in a big 4x4 decides that "might is right" and runs you off the road.
According to the AAA, the average person spends $9,641 per year for the privilege of driving. Keep in mind that these estimated costs are based on an average gasoline cost of $2.256 per gallon. The numbers also don't include the cost of parking.

Read more: http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/cost-car-ownership.asp#ixzz1VQ2slhvN

I'm pretty sure the cost of biking, walking, bus and metro don't come near those costs. Is it really the carpetbaggers that are bring in bikes? Or is it the cost of owning a car in DC?
Cap City Records Panhandler, as a dedicated cyclist (and pedestrian and transit rider), I think it's terrible that bike lanes have only started to get popular since more upper-class people started riding. Because you and the article are completely right - biking is not limited to the rich. In fact, 31% of all bike trips nationwide are made by people in the poorest quartile (http://www.grist.org/biking/2011-04-06-race-class-and-the-demographics-of-cycling). Only 23% of bike trips are made by the richest quartile. The fact is that lower-income people are used to having to fend for their lives biking on very unfriendly streets and that's just wrong. Everyone deserves to be able to get themselves around in a healthy, safe, efficient, affordable manner. Making bicycling a valid choice for everyone of all ages, everywhere, is one of my key goals as a cycling activist.
Also, in terms of the cost of cycling infrastructure compared to cars, I actually wrote a blog post with a lot of good statistics a while back: http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/138/
I biked in DC before there were lanes. I never understood the people opposed to bike lanes. Why shouldn't my tax dollars also provide me some infrastructure. If painting a line on the road protects my life (and many, many studies show that it does) then why shouldn't we do it? When I lived in DC, drivers told me to get on the sidewalk on a daily basis! Seriously, these lanes are needed and wonderful. And, frankly, white (or pink or whatever color you choose to call me) doesn't mean rich and it doesn't give me less rights. The city has had people of all colors for a very long time and we are all equal citizens.

By the way, when my bike was stolen in DC the cops told me kids steal them all the time and just throw them in the river. You could probably find hundreds down there.
Simply put, this is a way-of-life issue.

With parking being a premium not just in the District, but in the entire Metro area, I understand the concerns of District residents who have seen their parking areas affected by the addition of bike lanes. But the premise of a bike lane being some ominous tag of impending gentrification is false. The rhetoric peaked during the heated, coded mayoral election and the media are not to blame.

You need only look at the diversity of metro DC to notice the cultural significance of bicycling as modal transportation for Africans, Asians, Latinos and some Europeans with cycling-rich traditions (Belgium, France, Scandinavian countries, etc.). What's the common denominator here? Economics!

As an African American cyclist, I've seen the interest in and stature of cycling in the African American community diminish between adolescence and high school, when most teens start driving. Cars aren't only viewed as a necessity, but also as a status symbol. For adults in the African American community, cycling is most often a fitness choice. It is not viewed as an economic necessity.

In this tough economy, if cycling to work, school or play allows for substantial savings over owning/maintaining a car, or the increasing, sliding scale of Metro ridership, it's an easy choice. Smart cities with massive, choked transportation gridlock are relieving some volume by adding bike lanes to a network of roads allowing two-wheeled transportation all over the city. With benefits that outweigh risks, it makes sense to retroactively create such a network that reaches all areas of the District.

Resentment over bike lane additions will continue. I and many other cyclists have tales of parked cars in bike lanes, or of being intentionally "pinched-in" toward curbs by pissed-off resident/motorists even more pissed off because bike commuters zip by while they remain stuck in traffic gridlock. As gas prices increase, I've found it gets worse. Only through outreach efforts to ALL of the District's wards, can the social, environmental, fitness and economic benefits of bike lanes and commuter cycling garner more community support.
In my time cycling around most wards here in DC on a daily basis, I don't see the motorist vs. cyclist dynamic as a "black vs. white" "native vs. newcomer" thing at all. Rather, if anything, I see a clash of urban vs. suburban lifestyle choices.

I see a class struggle between cyclists who drive bikes and choose to live with less-space-per-dollar in the more dense urban sphere, and usually without the millstone of -owning- and storing a car, and motorists who, in almost all cases, make an ongoing choice to live in a larger home in a less urban place where they enjoy subsidized storage of their large, heavy vehicles, to which they have become addicted. These are places planned and built during a bygone era of plentiful, cheap oil.

A small slice of these motorists, most of whom seem to have out-of-state license plates (VA, MD, and beyond) seem entitled to bring their private vehicles into the city center on the cheap and bully other street users (cyclists and pedestrians) with the mass and horsepower of their multi-ton machines.

Political, economic, and cultural movements toward rejecting that unsustainable way of life, and toward embracing "Complete Streets," (yes, that sometimes means crosswalks and bike lanes in many places where motorists grew addicted to cheaply storing their vehicles in the public right-of-way) should come as no surprise then. Why should this broad shift in our society be seen through the lens of race?
Stop the presses, is it true that the M & L St cycletracks are coming in the spring for sure??!! Last I heard they were "on hold." I think we'll see a huge boom in bike commuting once that happens, because L and M will form the crucial links to downtown between the cycletracks at 15th St & Penn Ave.
Both my husband and I biked to work long before it was popular in this city, it was dangerous and fun. I think parking lanes should be removed and turn them into bike lanes, but do not take away roads for bike lanes. Then everyone can choose their own mode of transportation that suits their life style and needs. FREE CHOICE! Bikers don't tell us your way is best, it is best for you. Drivers enjoy and need to drive, go forth! And one of these days the spoiled kids will realize that bikeshare is a rip off and go out and purchase a used bike at a modest price and ride on down the trail.
I've probably commented about this several times on articles here or on other news cites. I have mixed feelings about bike lanes whether they are just a painted line or separated from the rest of the traffic by some type of barrier. On the one hand, it can't be denied that they increase the number of people using bicycles because they make people feel safer on their bicycles.

However that feeling is just that, only a feeling. Often they put cyclists in the door zone, and cyclists are much more likely to be doored than to be hit from behind. Bike lanes often just become double parking lanes. The separation on 15th street is nice, however, I still regularly see cars run that red left turn arrow. Further, when riding north on 15th, it's ridiculous be to be riding way on the left side of the street when I intend to make a right turn, and some drivers assume that since there is a bike lane there that I am required to use it. To any ignorant drivers reading, we are not.

I'd simply prefer more driver education and enforcement of the laws that are already on the books. Passing to close to a cyclist who is riding lawfully in the regular lane is aggressive and reckless driving. Start ticketing the drivers who do that. And maybe add some sharrows to the road to remind car drivers that bike riders have a right to use the road. In my opinion, that's all that's needed.

That said, many people prefer these facilities as evidenced by the increase in biking when they appear. And the fact that some oppose them because they are for "those" people bothers me. More cyclists are a good thing for the many reasons mentioned by other commenters. Cycling is good for everyone, even black people like me. I agree with the commenters that say this is not necessarily a class conflict or a black vs. white conflict. However, might I suggest to my fellow lower class citizens who are also striving for a better life that the destructive car culture is not something to be envied.
Nicely done article. I think the one missing element is the fact that a lot of the "white striping" mentioned actually happened during the Williams administration. I'm not sure of the actual mileage but it would be interesting to look at this. There may have been just as much or even more striping during Williams administration than Fenty's. The bike master plan I think was also put in place during Williams time.
Check that Norb. I'm not sure you're correct.
norb is right, the bicycle master plan that DDOT is working off of was published in 2005, and a lot of the existing bike lanes are marked in that plan. It was an extensive amount of mileage.

Alex, you also say that CaBi was expanded from 49 stations to 110 due to demand. This is not true, the original grant was for 100 DC stations, and 10 Arlington stations, in putting them out as fast as possible, DDOT was able to lay down 49 in September, and add others shortly thereafter, not due to demand, but just by following the original plan. The expansion that was announced recently can be attributed to demand.

I guess my larger question for long term residents in both SE and NW, why is it that if the city adds something like a circulator route, bikeshare, or bike lanes, the immediate response is "this isn't for us, it's for those new people"? Just because it hasn't existed in your neighborhoods before doesn't mean the city is trying to push you out by adding some new amenity. In cities across the country, bike and ped improvements are "state of the practice" for planners and DOTs, so to a certain extent, it's what's in vogue, but the approach has also been proven to reduce traffic crashes and injuries, which everyone agrees is a good idea.

Maybe its just a "haters gonna hate" situation, but for crying out loud, it's just some painted lines, give them a chance, if you hate it after a year or two, ask that they be removed.
Which bike lanes did Williams put in? Can someone please give an address? I don't doubt necessarily that the plan came from 2005.
How is it that the entire conversation here is about cars vs. bikes? Do pedestrians get any say in this ever?

I live in an area with bikes and bike lanes everywhere and it would be a joy to see the bikes get ticketed for breaking the laws. Being on a bike does not give you the right to run over or clip pedestrians who are crossing legally. Cars can't do it and you can't do it.

It's a bit funny to hear all of the talk about enforcing the laws on cars when those on bikes seem to have no concern for the safety of those around them on foot (or in cars for that matter) and lack even the basic desire to follow any kind of law intended to keep order on the streets.
"I live in an area with bikes and bike lanes everywhere and it would be a joy to see the bikes get ticketed for breaking the laws."

Right, just like pedestrians should get tickets for jaywalking. (Sarcasm)

The fact is bike laws in DC aren't enforced for good or ill. Yes I run red lights and stop signs when its clear, in front of cops even, and they don't say anything. They also don't say anything when people idle in the bike lanes (illegal), open doors next to bike lanes without looking (illegal), or pass me with a safe distance and speed. I'm okay with this. Why?

The fact is that there IS an informal understanding between experienced cyclists and experienced drivers in the city. They generally know what to expect from each other. MD/VA and other out of state drivers used to wide, car-centered roads generally DO NOT have a feel for this understanding, and accordingly, I stay the hell away from them because 9 times out of 10 they would rather cripple me than miss the first 5 minutes of Jersey Shore.
I have biked daily in DC for the past year or more, and the last time I had regularly done so in DC was back in the late 70's, and the difference is night and day-- and it isn't until you are on a bike that you realize just how many other people in the city are getting around by bike. But here is my low-key rant, directed to by fellow DC bikers-

Nobody (very few bikers anyway) are really going to be scrupulous about stopping at every stop sign, or waiting regardless of no traffic for that light to change. But far too many people on bikes have gotten way too brazen about flouting any semblance of obeying traffic rules... especially at 4 way stops. I see an endless stream of morning bikers on 11th St NW *blow* through 4 way stops at W and V, even when cars have pulled up and stopped on the cross street. How about taking the more reasonable middle of the road "live and let live" path I take, and suggest you try out--- if a car gets to the 4 way stop first, he/she should have the right to expect I will stop/slow down on my bike and let him go first--- just the same as if you were driving a car, and stopped at the intersection first, you have the right to expect that the car approaching on the cross street will stop, and you can in fact proceed through the intersection, so you will in fact be through it by the time he stops. First to arrive/stop, first to go. I find that I have to wave drivers through, because they are always wondering whether I'm one of the many super aggresive bikers that expect all traffic to continue to wait for them to barrel through the intersection without even changing gears. Such aggresive no-manners style is giving bikers a bad image and creating ill-will, so I respectfully suggest you consider taking it down a few notches. For sure, if there is absolutely nobody approaching or at the intersection, you will find me right behind you cruising through the stop sign --unless MPD is around!
-1'
1
1
1

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.
...