At dinner the other day, some friends expressed surprise that DC law allows riding a bicycle on the sidewalk (except in the central business district, basically between Massachusetts Avenue and the Mall). One person commented that when she is walking, bikes seem to be in the way on the sidewalk, but when she is biking, it’s the people who seem to be in the way. It’s the natural tendency to see only the violations from those using a different mode of transportation.

Richard Layman posts a series of recent letters in the Washington Post starkly illustrating this dilemma. First, a bicyclist wrote about intimidation by drivers, to which a driver suggested bikers should stay off the road and on the bike paths. That led to a third letter arguing it’s more disruptive to the walkers and rollerbladers when the high-speed bike riders use the path instead of the road, and a plea for everyone to “share the road”.

The simple fact is, it’s not possible, nor even desirable, to separate all transit modes. Pedestrians and cars have to cross each other frequently. Bicyclists have to use the road, which may slow down a few drivers, or the sidewalk, which means navigating around slower walkers. And what about rollerbladers? We need awareness that the slow and the fast are entitled to share the public space.

Tagged: bicycling, dc

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.