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Bicycle Riding on Neighborhood Sidewalks Out of Control: Revisited

When we first addressed this matter in this space last November we noted that the focus up to that point had primarily been about the safety of bicyclists using the designated lanes in the roadways. While agreeing that was –- and continues to be –- a clearly serious issue, what concerned us then was what seemed to be a failure to also focus on pedestrian safety.

Since that time, we are pleased to note, at least two neighborhood advisory commissions –- those for the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods –- have started giving attention to this matter. If there are other ANCs around the city also giving consideration to this, we applaud those commissions and would be very interested to receiving from them any resolutions, recommendation or other action they may have taken or are in the process of taking; we invite them to share that information with us by email to [email protected]

Unfortunately, however, 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.

Our pessimism about this was enhanced when we saw that the bicycle safety bill introduced awhile back by Ward 3 and Ward 6 Councilmenbers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells, respectively, appeared to emphasize cyclists rights vis-à-vis motorists; we saw nothing about protecting people on the sidewalks other than a spineless requirement to have a bell or other noise device mounted on the handlebars and to be used, which they rarely are even when they are there to be used –- but nothing about zooming along sidewalks and not giving warning or careening around a corner into a one-way street but going in opposite direction so that pedestrians who are crossing and looking in the direction of on-coming traffic are blindsided by a speeding cyclist coming from the unexpected, wrong direction.

Notwithstanding our less than enthusiastic view of what’s happening at the City Council, we are certain that citizen pressure through the ANCs may be what is needed to get the kind of legislation that will protect the hapless pedestrian. To that end, we compliment the Logan Circle ANC for its unanimous action on June 5th by adopting a resolution directed to the Council that included a very important provision focused on pedestrian safety; the language is unequivocal and to the point:

“That the city council direct DDOT to study and provide a written report to the Council within six months recommending revisions to 18 DCMR Section (S) 120l.9 such as:

”a. 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, (iii) other factors that, in DDOT’s view, support extending the prohibition and that (iv) recommends limited exemptions for the public’s safety, such as bicyclists 12 yrs old and under;

”b. Reducing the speed limit for bikes traveling on sidewalks;

“c. Whether existing penalties encourage compliance with the law.”

In addition to getting the ANCs to weigh in, we encourage individual residents to get actively involved in this cause. One way to participate is to join Dupont Circle resident Jeanne Mallett who has established an excellent on-line gathering place for sharing information and strategies and for building a city-wide movement to push for needed changes. She characterizes her initiative as “citizen action on sidewalk bicycling.”

So, for those concerned about the dangers of bicyclists riding on the sidewalks in Dupont Circle, to name just one neighborhood, you are not alone. Already, thanks to Mallett’s activism, in late January a group of Dupont Circle business owners sent a letter to Mayor Gray and Council Chair Mendelson, with a courtesy copy to Councilmember Evans, petitioning for a ban on sidewalk bicycling and stating their reasons.

Jeanne Mallett, a Dupont resident, has started a blog dedicated to keeping pedestrians safe, and has included a post summarizing the business petition and what citizens can do to support it. Visit She is also seeking to find interested persons who would take an active role by canvassing other local businesses for their support and strategizing on further efforts. She is inviting inquiries and suggestions and may be contacted by email at [email protected].