Housing Complex

It Wasn’t Easy Biking in D.C. in 1982

1982 biking

Think it's hard biking in D.C. these days? Try 1982. The District Department of Transportation has just posted a guide to cycling in the District that it initially put out in 1982, when conditions and rules were a bit different.

First, the infrastructure: There was hardly any. The guide opens with a list of "D.C. Bikeways," but they're mostly just signed bike routes, which, as cyclists today know, generally appear arbitrary and all but useless. The Northwest quadrant, where new bike lanes proliferate each year these days, had no bike lanes at the time. Nor did Southwest or Northeast. The only two striped bike lanes were on Capitol Hill.

But maybe cyclists could take their bikes on the Metro to avoid the vast areas without safe biking facilities? No such luck, at least not five days a week or without a special permit. "Bicyclists are now allowed to take their bicycles on Metrorail on weekends if they have a permit," the guide states.

Nor could you ride unrestricted on the quiet streets of Georgetown. Bicycles were banned from O and P streets NW in Georgetown due to "hazardous trolley tracks."

In fact, you couldn't bike anywhere without first registering your bike. "All bicycles ridden in the District must be registered within 14 days of acquisition," the guide advises. "Registration costs $1.00 and is good for five years. Proof of ownership and identification are required of all persons registering bicycles. Bicycles may be registered at any District police station or fire station between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. daily."

And then there's this line that Courtland Milloy would love: "The majority of bicyclist/motor vehicle accidents in the District are caused by bicyclists."

But on the plus side, there was a handy call line for a list of upcoming cycling-related events: (202) HEY-BIKE.

The full guide is below:

Illustration from the 1982 guide

  • washcycle

    I think biking is still banned on O and P in Georgetown.

  • Cap’n Obvious

    I remember getting that special Metro permit in the 80s--think it was five dollars and they took your pic. Back then you were permitted to use the end doors of first and last cars ONLY. And if there were already two bikes aboard, you had to wait for the next one.

  • Jacob

    Wow! We've come a long long way. But this is not to say that we don't have a long way to go for most people to feel comfortable biking in DC. Thanks for finding and posting this.

  • EPMD

    I went to the WABA annual dinner a few years back. An old timer got up and spoke and said that everyone ask him what the good old days were like. He said NOW is the good old days and then went through a long, long list of what has changed. The old days sucked.

  • Beatrice

    and yet in the 80s, I didn't register my bike, no one honked at me on the road, and I had no near misses. There was no "infrastructure" but it was ... ok. Seriously. I loved it. It's still good, but back then, it wasn't bad. There was no driver anger like there is now. Also, the bikes were MUCH better made - especially starting in the 90s. My bike now sucks compared to the one I bought in the early 90s.

    In the early 2000s, I used metro's bike locker. It was wonderful and very handy. I doubt they still have them at that location. I thought you still had to put your bike in the last car. Guess not.

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