Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why so Hurrious?

As I've pointed out before, one of the main reasons for my move back into the city was because I missed biking. As such, my trips to the grocery store are much easier, and my commute to the office is shorter by bike than by Metro (but only by about 5 minutes).

And now that I've once again become a bike commuter, I really have to wonder: why so hurrious?

I used to bike commute between my apartment in the Home Park neighborhood in Atlanta to my office across from Hurt Park downtown, a distance of 3 miles. My new commute takes me from North Columbia Heights to NoMa, a shade over 4 miles.

And while DC is more bike friendly than Atlanta, it's drivers aren't. I love the fact that DC has a network of bike lanes and trails. The city is also flatter and has a great street network. But the drivers here are very aggressive.

I suppose that traffic seemed tamer in Atlanta because the freeway network was mostly completed. So the suburban traffic doesn't have to race through neighborhoods just to get to the I-75/85 Raceway. Also, because Atlanta was never planned to be a grand capital, many streets are narrow and frequently congested.

But what's the rush anyway? It seems to me that people are in far too much of a hurry these days. They can't wait for me to clear an intersection before turning, they whiz by with mere inches to spare, and they gun their engines as they pass--as if to demonstrate their superiority.

Perhaps these motorists are just insecure. They are ashamed of themselves, perhaps? They race out of traffic lights like horses out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby only to have a bicycle--a bicycle--catch them at the next light. Perhaps they regret the expense of their Ford Enormous and wish they too had the ability to cycle to work.

Perhaps they're just rude or ignorant of the law.

They wouldn't be alone in that, though. According to the WashCycle, recently an MPD (DC) officer followed an injured bicyclist to the hospital to give him a ticket for riding on the sidewalk after being struck by a right-turning vehicle on Independence Avenue. Biking on the sidewalk isn't even illegal in the District (except in the CBD).

If the cops don't even know the rules, why should we expect motorists to? And let's not forget that in DC, bicyclists have to know three sets of laws (DC, MD, VA) regarding bicycles.

But education aside, we'd all be a little better off if drivers (and bicyclists) just calmed down and took it easy. We need to respect our fellow road users and remember that we all have a right to use the transportation infrastructure.

And drivers: before you intimidate a bicyclist, remember that that's one less driver to congest your route. And even if we're slow-moving, we're usually at least as fast as you in an urban area, and we'll be out of your way as soon as possible.


Paul said...

Matt - I really like the blog. I took urban planning classes in college and thought about double majoring ECON and UAP but bailed on the idea when I decided I would never follow a job to Roanoke,VA or Akron,OH to do planning. I was only interested in the planning of great american cities. Maybe I gave up on the dream a little too easy.

That said very few things are more annoying to me than a condescending & preachy biker. I live downtown and usually walk/metro four days a week and drive one day. So I'm not an evil MD commuter. But holy crap am I tired of bikers snarky comments and always playing the victim. Safety is a great goal. But petition DDOT for bike boxes and medianed bike lanes instead of berating drivers on transportation blogs (which through self selecting to read such blogs aren't generally the problem drivers anyway). Also bike more defensively during rush hour. A biker knows they are in a car's blind spot and know that cars in the right lane aren't expecting anything to come shooting by them at 15mph while they are making their right turns. Don't take risks no matter what the laws might say...

Matt' said...

I completely agree. I hope I didn't come off too preachy.

As a rule, I do not run stop signs or red lights. In my time bike commuting in DC, it was not until this morning that I saw another cyclist stopped at a light. This instance occurred a block after I was almost struck (on my bike) by a bicyclist running a red light.

When I come up to a line of traffic stopped at a light, I wait behind the last car, unless there's a bike lane.

The best advice I've heard, and it's advice I wish all bicyclists would take to heart, is that you should bike *as if you were invisible.*

We all have to share the road. Drivers need to understand that bicyclists have a right to the road. Bicyclists need to understand that they don't need to be zipping down the sidewalk at 15 miles an hour and they also need to realize that by running red lights and stop signs, they are antagonizing drivers.

Like I said, we'd all be a little better off, if everyone slowed down a little.

"Can't we all just get along?"