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From the Publisher's Desk...

Bicycles, Scooters, and Us Walkers on Sidewalks

In an otherwise positive commentary in the June 20, 2018 Washington Post on the rapid proliferation of dockless bicycle options and the sudden motorized scooter craze, the writer noted, “Walk down any street in downtown D.C. and you will see them: electric scooters and dockless bikes — parked everywhere and nowhere in particular.”

More recently, on July 3rd, the Post ran an editorial commenting on a number of problems that have emerged during this dockless bicycle spring-summer trial period ordered by DDOT needing to be tweaked, as they characterized things.

Among problems noted in that editorial was that “many District residents are frustrated by the fact that dockless bikes are often left to clutter sidewalks  and other public spaces. This may seem like a frivolous issue, but bikes can create safety risks if left in front of building exits or on the edges of crosswalks.” In concluding, the Post quite reasonably stated, “Customers, meanwhile, should remember that sidewalks . . . are not their personal bike racks.”

All this discussion about bicycles brings to mind that there is even a bigger craze that may soon overwhelm the sidewalks: motorized scooters. As noted in a May 17th Post report, “it’s one more thing to dodge as a pedestrian. . . .”

We also noted these reader comments posted on the 18th with the electronic version:

“I don’t really care if people want to ride a scooter, but any motorized transportation should not be allowed on pedestrian sidewalks.. they should be on the streets.. good luck with that” [effmayfield]; “They should follow the same rules as bikes, even motorized bikes (I mean motorized bicycles, not motorcycles . . .)” [junkyardog]; “Earlier this week, I was almost hit by a 20-something guy in a suit on one of the electric scooter rentals. I was walking on a sidewalk by Union Station and he buzzed past. He was going quite fast. Cyclists don’t generally bike on the sidewalks and neither should these motorized scooters. I think this is just an accident waiting to happen” [elnicho].

Lots to think about. As far back as six years ago we were thinking about the danger to pedestrians from careening bicycles on the sidewalks, especially along the residential streets where extending the prohibition in the downtown core farther out seemed then a pipe dream.

In our November 2012 editorial we not only quoted the applicable DC law governing the operation of “Bicycles, Motorized Bicycles, and Miscellaneous Vehicles” (maybe the Council will amend the law to include scooters, motorized or not, as “miscellaneous vehicles”), we summarized some scary examples: “bicycle on sidewalk quietly approaching from behind just as pedestrian moves slightly into the path of the on-coming cyclist, there having been no warning bell (for which there seems to be no legal requirement in DC) or even vocal warning; bicycles speeding along sidewalks, frequently from behind and without warnings; cyclists riding the wrong way on a one-way street almost (or even sometimes) running down a pedestrian who is crossing legally and who had been looking out for on-coming traffic and not looking both ways as would be done on a two-way street.”

Fast forward to just four years ago last month when we followed up with another editorial that focused on the increasing urgency for dealing with pedestrian safety being expressed in many quarters. Sadly, we were not able to express much optimism, writing that “so far it does not appear that the City Council understands the urgency that large numbers of residents who walk — as our city’s leaders actually encourage — feel about this issue; we know because we have heard from many and tapped into on-line discussions, all revealing that this needs to be dealt with. While there may be individual Council members who share our concern — and we do know that Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans does — so far we do not discern a collective concern within the Council.”

Clearly the dangers are nowadays even greater –- not just because of the huge proliferation of people using bikes, but now the scooters are bearing down on us hapless pedestrians! High on the Council’s agenda when it reconvenes in September should be the myriad matters regarding use of sidewalks inimicable  to pedestrian safety.