The intersection. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
On Wednesday, a driver on Massachusetts Avenue hit me while making an illegal and dangerous turn onto 9th Street NW. I was bicycling east on Massachusetts Avenue, waiting to cross 9th Street on the south side crosswalk. The driver fled the scene.
I travel this area frequently, and know this is a dangerous intersection because it includes a right red arrow to allow pedestrians to cross 9th Street safely even while other through lanes get a green light. Many drivers nevertheless illegally turn right when the light turns green for people continuing straight.
I have asked the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) on multiple occasions to add enforcement here, but have never witnessed any.
I have seen this behavior numerous times before at this spot, so I am ready for it. However, this time the first car, a black Chevy Suburban waiting to turn right, remained stopped. But the driver second in line could not stand for this, changed lanes to the left, then drove around the Suburban to make the right turn.
I saw this coming from the corner of my field of vision, but it was too late. The driver cut in front of me, clipping my front tire with the rear corner of his car. It was a grazing blow, but enough to knock me off the bike.
The driver left the scene, never bothering to stop. Fortunately, my spill was fairly minor and I was able to continue to Union Station with little injury. However, if I had been a few seconds faster, I would have been more squarely in his path and would likely be in the hospital.
Without enforcement, lawlessness runs rampant
There was no police officer to witness the incident. Police can’t be be everywhere and catch everything. However, I’ve also seen MPD simply ignore dangerous infractions by drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians occurring directly in front of them.
Last weekend, while riding in the 15th Street cycletrack, a driver illegally turned left against the protected left turn signal at 15th and U Street NW, right behind my wife and me. By coincidence, a MPD patrol unit was directly behind this illegally turning driver but did nothing.
On the same trip, my wife and I witnessed two illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue right in front of police cars and officers stationed along the street for the marathon. At the time, there were lots of pedestrians and cyclists around but they refused to enforce against illegal driving right in front of them.
This is even more frustrating because this episode occurred during the regional Street Smart campaign, an annual campaign to raise safety awareness and increase enforcement. Mayor Vincent Gray stood with MPD Chief Cathy Lanier to announce DC’s part of the program a week ago, alongside advocacy groups such as WABA. The Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track was supposed to be an area targeted for enforcement during this campaign.
Drivers are not the only problem. Cyclists and pedestrians also contribute when they ride down one-way bike lanes in the wrong direction, run out in front of cyclists and drivers without bothering to look, and more.
The roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks all function as a transportation system and users interact with this system according to a set of laws. When these laws go unenforced for long periods of time it creates a broken system of lawlessness.
Mayor Vincent Gray has called for a 25% mode share for walking and cycling by 2032. To reach this goal, sustained and consistent traffic enforcement will become pivotal. The city doesn’t need any more public safety campaigns, advertisements, lip service, and promises. We need results.