As our nation’s capital, Washington DC is always bustling, whether it be tourists eager to explore the city’s rich history or people on their way for some government-related business. As such, the roads are often full of traffic, making it difficult to get around quickly. However, there is a 19th century solution to the city’s 21st century problem – the bicycle.
Both as a recreational activity and increasingly as a method of day-to-day transportation, bicycling has been on the rise. According to statistics, the number of bicyclists rose almost 25% between 2006 to 2019, from just under 40 million to nearly 49 million. That is still down from the 64 million self-professed cyclists who were active during the big bicycle boom of the early 1970s in the United States, but it is certainly not a rate of growth to dismiss out of hand. The rise in bicycle use has had numerous benefits for the city. By giving resident commuters and out-of-town visitors an additional option for their traveling through the city, auto traffic decreases somewhat. And in situations where there is auto gridlock, bicycles have the ability to bypass those jams for quicker commutes. With a decrease in auto traffic will come an attendant decrease in pollution.
Since 2010, Washington DC has made significant progress toward becoming more friendly to bike riders. The city has spearheaded a number of initiatives that not only make it safer for bicyclists to get about town, but to encourage more people to take up cycling. These programs have included bicycle education programs in the local schools, incentives for local businesses and the implementation of the Capital Rideshare program. In 2015, the D.C. Council reviewed data on the fourteen most dangerous intersections in the downtown area and set in place fixes to improve their safety.
As a result of that work, over 18,000 people, or 5% of Washington DC residents, now bike to work on a daily basis. That is a participation rate that places DC at the top of the list when ranking bike commuting by state. Additionally, Washington DC has consistently placed high in Bicycling magazine’s annual rankings of cities friendly to biking. In spite of the progress that has been made, city streets can be a dangerous place for bicyclists sharing the road with cars, buses, and other large vehicles.
The Dangers Of Cycling: By the Numbers
No matter whether a bicyclist is in a marked bike lane, sharing the road with motorists or the sidewalk with pedestrians. According to the District Department of Transportation, between 2005 and 2010, there has been an average of 653 crashes involving pedestrians and 334 crashes involving bicyclists each year. Over time that number has risen. In just the six month stretch between March and August of 2019, there were a total of 404 bicyclist-related accidents. (The accident numbers for 2020 are understandably much lower, but that is attributable to a sharp decrease of people bicycling due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
Fortunately, though, Washington DC has managed to keep the number of biking-related fatalities to an extreme minimum, averaging just 1.5 deaths per year, according to information available from the District’s Vision Zero website.
In April 2019, Andrew Beaujon of The Washingtonian took a deep dive into the statistics for reported accidents that involved bicyclists and pedestrians. He found that between 2012 and the first quarter of 2019, there had been only 40 incidents of crashes involving a bicyclist that led to minor pedestrian injuries. That is an average of just 6.5 incidents per year. Additionally, in that same time frame there were only seven cases of accidents which resulted in major pedestrian injuries.
Where Can Bikers Bike Safely?
Bicyclists are free to share the road with cars throughout Washington DC, with only a few exceptions. The district does have over 100 miles of dedicated bike lanes. That is just a small fraction of the estimated 1200 miles of road within the District. Bicyclists are also free to use the regular street lanes, even on streets where bike lanes have been staked out.
While riding on streets, bicyclists need to remember that they are still required to observe all the same rules of the road that cars do. That includes obeying traffic signals and all right-of-way laws. Conversely, of course, automobile operators must also observe all of those rules in regard to the bicyclists they share the road with.
Of course, there are a few rules for bicyclists alone. Most importantly, it is against the law for anyone under the age of 16 to ride a bike without a helmet. Those over 16 are not required to wear helmets, but it is strongly suggested for their own safety. Additionally, when being ridden at night, bicycles should have a light that is visible up to a minimum of 500 feet.
A complete list of the rules and regulations governing bicyclists within the Washington DC metro area can be found at the District Department of transportation website. Additionally, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) publishes their Pocket Guide to DC Bike Laws, which is available to download as a PDF to keep on your mobile device for easy reference.
Can Bicyclists Ride On Sidewalks?
Even with the extensive bike lane system the city has, cyclists in Washington DC also have the option to ride on sidewalks in nearly all parts of the city. The only place where it is not legal to ride on the sidewalks would be DC’s Central Business District. The Central Business District extends from Constitution Avenue NW and 23rd Street NW, north to Massachusetts Avenue NW, east to 2nd Street NE, south to D Street SE, west to 14th Street NW and back up to Constitution Avenue.
But it should be noted that just because cyclists are allowed to use sidewalks, they still must yield the right of way to pedestrians.
What Is Bike Share?
Capital Bikeshare is a public service that allows people to rent bicycles for short or long periods of time from a number of kiosk located around the city. Bikeshare boasts some 4,500 bikes accessible at over 500 stations spread across seven jurisdictions – Washington, DC., Arlington, VA, Alexandria, VA, Montgomery, MD, Prince George’s County, MD, Fairfax County, VA and the City of Falls Church, VA.
Users have the option of becoming a member, where they will be billed a monthly fee for unlimited bicycle access, or pay for one-time, short term usage either through a downloadable app or at one of the numerous Rideshare kiosks. With fees ranging from just $2 for access to a bike for thirty minutes to $8 for 24-hours, Bike share is a great option for visitors and tourists who want to travel around the city on two wheels. The monthly fees are also very reasonable for residents who wish to use the program as well.
Once a user becomes a member or pays for a certain amount of access, they are able to use the Rideshare app to access a bike at any of the docks they wish, ride where they need to go and then return the bike to a dock close to their destination. In keeping with the environmentally-friendly aspect of the program, Rideshare docks are solar powered.
The program was launched a decade ago under then-mayor Adrian Fenty, himself an avid bicyclist. Over time it has proven very popular based on its current expansion from its original 400 bicycles available at 49 stations when the program first launched. After a brief trial period, Rideshare began offering e-bikes, or electronic bikes, which utilize an electronic motor. On the tenth anniversary of the program, the Department of Transportation stated that the service now boasted 26,585 active members and that riders had taken more than 27 million trips, totaling 150 million miles.
And while most would consider Rideshare an unqualified success, a 2019 study of the program by the Urban Institute found some issues. Analyzing the deployment of Rideshare docking stations against other demographic and geographic data, the Urban Institute found that “Areas with higher shares of white residents, lower poverty rates, higher income, and higher college attainment tend to have more stations available.” This came in contrast to Rideshare’s stated goals to make the service equally available for all. The report went on to note that biking infrastructure, such as designated bikini lanes, is not as developed in the neighborhoods where there is less Rideshare access and use. It recommended that the city look at being more equitable with its infrastructure, or else “Capital Bikeshare will likely only reinforce the existing divides of poverty and economic opportunity.”
The Safe Routes To School Program
Another way that the District has encouraged bicycle use is through the Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program, founded in 2005. According to the Department of Transportation’s website, the program has three basic aims – To improve safety for students who walk and bicycle to school, to encourage students and their parents to walk and bicycle to school, and to boost student physical activity, reduce parents’ fuel consumption, and reduce pollution and traffic congestion near schools.
The GoDCGo Program
The GoDCGo Program is another program from the District Department of Transportation that encompasses promoting safe bicycle use. The overall mission of the GoDCGo program is to encourage the use of more sustainable transportation, including not just bicycles, but also through walking, carpooling and using public transportation.
In 2014, the District passed the DC Commuter Benefits Ordinance as part of the Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014. Within the Commuter Benefits Ordinance is the requirement that all DC employers with 20 or more employees must offer some sort of transit benefits. One of those benefits options – Offering a tax-free subsidy for transit – can be applied for by employees who bicycle to work. As per the rule, employees would be eligible for reimbursement of up to $20 per month for reasonable biking expenses incurred including the purchase of a bicycle, repair, improvements and storage.
The program has certainly made an impact in the District. In a press release issued in 2020 to celebrate GoDCGo’s 10th anniversary, the Department of Transportation noted that in the decade of the program’s existence it has helped 313,000 people shift to a clean commute, decreased traffic by cutting 120 million single-occupancy vehicle trips, eliminated 357,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air and saved 82 million gallons of gasoline.
What To Do If You Are In An Accident
And while it does seem as if those accident rates are low, that still doesn’t mean that one is entirely free from the possibility of becoming a statistic themselves no matter how careful they are. If that unfortunately becomes the case for any cyclist, there are a few simple steps they should take if they do happen to be in an accident.
First off, check yourself over for any injuries. And then, even if you feel like you have sustained none, strongly consider going to an emergency room for an expert opinion. Oftentimes injuries may not manifest themselves immediately, so it is always good to get a doctor’s examination.
If you have determined that you have not not received any injuries that require immediate attention, you will need to call the police to file a report. Even if it seems like the injuries and/or damage to all the involved vehicles seems either minimal or even nonexistent, it is always a good idea to have an official record of what happened in case it is needed later.
Make sure you document the accident as best you can. Use your phone to take pictures of the accident, any damage done to any vehicle involved as well as a general picture of the area in which it happened. If you are biking in a group, see if anyone was wearing a helmet cam, Go-Pro video camera or similar device that may have captured footage of what happened. If there are any witnesses, be sure to get their contact information.
Also, do not forget to exchange contact information with the other people involved in the accident, including any insurance information if applicable. But make sure that you don’t discuss the details of what happened with them too much.
Finally, reach out to a personal injury lawyer. If there are costs you might incur from an accident, whether they be medical or to repair damage to your bicycle, and the accident was not your fault, you may be entitled to compensation.
You can contact me at https://www.rhllaw.com/.