Councilmember Jim Graham is eager to create a DDOT bicycle-mounted enforcement squad. Depending on whom you ask, this squad might be designed to mainly enforce laws against cyclists, or to enforce laws against both cyclists and drivers. We need even-handed enforcement of dangerous behavior regardless of the type of vehicle. And we definitely need more enforcement.
Both types of vehicle operators sometimes act dangerously. Both also frequently engage in annoying but not necessarily harmful behavior. For cyclists, blowing through a red light at a busy intersection is an example of the former, while slowing and proceeding through a stop sign without coming to a complete halt is one of the latter. For drivers, driving in the bicycle lane so that cyclists lack room to maneuver, or turning across the bicycle lane without entering it or looking, is dangerous. Overlapping the lane just a bit is wrong, but perhaps not quite so dangerous.
Recently I bicycled down the length of the Q Street bicycle lane from Dupont to Bloomingdale. I slowed and yielded at the many stop signs along the route, but didn’t stop completely each time. But when I reached Rhode Island Avenue, I stopped to wait for a safe time to cross.
Meanwhile, nearly half of the drivers positioned their cars not in the center of the car lane, but in or closer to the center of the roadway, overlapping the bicycle lane. For most of the cars, this was annoying and could create a greater risk of getting hit by a parked driver opening a door. Some of the drivers, however, blocked the lane entirely, especially ones with wider vehicles, or parked in the lane, forcing me to merge into traffic to get around. One woman was sitting in her car in the bicycle lane while two consecutive parking spaces sat open just ten feet ahead of her.
Technically, not stopping at the stop signs or driving just a bit over the line into the bicycle lane are illegal. I didn’t appreciate the latter, while some drivers find the former annoying. A bicycle enforcement squad could ticket all of these. That would be a waste of time. Instead, they should focus on ticketing cyclists who blow through lights dangerously and drivers who encroach upon bicycle lanes in dangerous ways.
We also need better enforcement of double parking downtown, especially at rush hour. The Downtown BID says that congestion, much of it caused by truck loading and other non-moving vehicles, creates a major obstacle to further economic growth. It’s also a major obstacle to safe cycling and less stressful driving.
Not infrequently, I find myself along 18th and 19th Streets around rush hour. Almost every day, a big beer delivery truck parks on 18th Street between Massachusetts and N to deliver goods to Cafe Luna. 18th in this area is only one lane in each direction. It must be tough for Cafe Luna, being sandwiched between Connecticut and 18th with no alley, but that isn’t an excuse for taking over a whole street at rush hour.
A lot of bicyclists, in particular, commute on 18th, where they share the lanes with cars which often pass them at close distances. When cars have to squeeze in both directions around delivery trucks, it’s even more dangerous for bicycles. Couldn’t Luna schedule their deliveries early in the morning or in the middle of the day? 18th is pretty empty then. Or better yet, let’s put a midday loading zone on the east side of the street, where there’s parking.
Delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and federal employee vehicles also use these major streets as their personal loading zones. Yesterday, I had to drive down 19th at the height of rush hour. 19th was packed with cars and taxis trying to change lanes around the various vehicles turning in and out of garages, at corners, and parked illegally. The left lane was blocked by parked vehicles, but the right side of the road was clear. I was in the rightmost lane. A driver, turning left, was trying to make his way out of the alley between M and L across the travel lanes. Trying to be a courteous driver, I let him in. He immediately entered the lane, stopped, parked, jumped out of the car holding a pink folder, and walked back across the street.
The car bore an official US Government (GSA) license plate. Where was he going? The passport office? Why did he have to exit the alley and cross the street all the way to the other side, only to then block the road to run his errand back on the opposite side? I and the other drivers had to then try to squeeze back to the left, and so did the cyclists, at least one of which I almost didn’t see. Today, I was in the area again at rush hour, and there was another government vehicle parked in almost the same spot. This one belonged to the Architect of the Capitol.
It’s amazing how many cyclists ride on these roads, given the numbers of parked cars blocking lanes, drivers switching lanes quickly, and general traffic. I sure wouldn’t. If there’s a place in DC that needs protected bicycle lanes, it’s downtown. There should be at least one protected lane north and south on the Golden Triangle side and one on the Metro Center side, plus one east-west across both.
And there’s clearly plenty of capacity. At least one and sometimes two lanes of most major roads downtown doesn’t even operate for most of rush hour, since they’re blocked by government scofflaws or beer deliveries. Get all the double parkers to at least use the same side of the street, and we could create a protected lane like Manhattan’s Eighth and Ninth Avenue lanes without taking away any actual capacity from cars or buses.