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From the Publisher's Desk...

Bicycle Riding on Neighborhood Sidewalks & More: What Can be Done?

When we last visited this issue it was 13 months ago and at that time we noted that both the Dupont Circle and Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) had undertaken to address the issue of pedestrian safety. We applauded this, since up until then it seemed to us that all the civic and press attention had been focused on the –- albeit extremely serious –- issue of bicycles vs. cars, trucks and buses.

Yet, even though there were ANCs speaking out on behalf of pedestrians, as we commented at the time, it did not appear that the City Council shared the same urgency being expressed by neighborhood residents who walk –- just like as our city’s leaders actually encourage! While there may be individual council members who share our concerns about pedestrian safety –- Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans is one who does –- so far we do not discern a collective concern within the Council.

It was John Kelly’s July 7th column in the Washington Post followed the next day by Courtland Milloy’s in the Post that got us to re-focus on this matter.

First, Kelly reminded us that DC law prohibits sidewalk bicycle riding in the Central Business District only –- that expanse of territory south of Massachusetts Avenue from Sheridan Circle and 23rd Street, NW to just east of the Capitol and only as far south of the Mall between 14th Street to D Street, SW.

But why are not at least the more intensely populated residential neighborhoods north of Massachusetts Avenue also covered? We have previously advocated for this, as have those ANCs. And did the City Council ever act on the Logan Circle ANC’s petition of last year? Not that we know.

The petition called for DDOT to be directed to “study and provide a written report to the Council within six months” with recommendations for revising the applicable law, specifically, among other things, “expanding the area in which riding bicycles on sidewalks is prohibited to streets where (i) population density or infrastructure limitations make it unsafe for pedestrians, (ii) bike lanes are already available for bicyclists, [and allow for] . . . limited exemptions for the public’s safety, such as bicyclists 12 years and younger.”

And if the Council has not yet moved on the ANC’s petition, why not, and if there is to be action, when will that be –- or is the Council waiting for pedestrian sidewalk deaths by reckless cyclists?

Jeanne Mallett, a Dupont resident, publishes a blog passing on every month details of reported near-miss (thankfully, mostly) encounters between pedestrians and cyclists. These reports can be found by visiting http://www.dcpedestriandiaries.wordpress.com. She also keeps readers updated on developments in, and encounters with, the DC bureaucracy. One such especially telling encounter she reported back in February is illustrative of the sort of governmental dysfunction that needs to be overcome:

“While it took six months to get my first FOIA request answered and all I got was three versions of a single Traffic Enforcement notice, it took only a couple of weeks to get an answer from the DMV FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] office. The acting FOIA officer there happens to be their General Counsel as well. So he wrote a very lawyerly letter telling me first that ‘Under FOIA the DMV is not required to answer questions.’ Who knew? What is FOIA for? But he went on to say that, ‘without waiving that right’ he could say that the DMW doesn’t keep any of the records I requested, i.e. tickets written for sidewalk bicycling in the Central Business District; records of incidents, warnings, etc. Since it is against the law to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in the CBD, my new Question is why aren’t such records kept? I will be posing that to [Metropolitan Police] Chief Lanier as soon as I get the time to write a decent letter.

“I will also write her about the Traffic Enforcement Notice, which is entitled ‘Traffic Enforcement Notice Involving non-traditional Motor Vehicles.’ It does provide some information as to current law regarding sidewalk bicycling. But it’s hidden and I wouldn’t necessarily look for it in a notice about ‘non-traditional motor vehicles,’ would you? What I do know is that several police I’ve spoken to over the last few months don’t seem to be aware of the borders of the CBD nor do they know that there are restrictions even in other zones about yielding to pedestrians and speed.”

We think this business has a long way to go before anything is resolved. Maybe we can get this matter needed attention by querying the mayoral and council-at-large candidates about where they stand on protecting residents who expect to be safe on their neighborhood sidewalks.