Image by the author.

The Ride of Silence on Wednesday evening in Benjamin Banneker Park SW was a gathering, a memorial, and a demonstration. But mostly, it was a sobering commemoration to cyclists killed or injured in crashes in the past year.

Bicyclists share the road with cars, buses, and pedestrians. More effective rules for safety are necessary to avoid crashes. People want to feel safe on the streets of DC regardless of their preferred mode of transportation. With the impending reality of climate change, they also want to lower their carbon footprint as much as possible.

These are some of the cyclists the ride was commemorating:

  • Malik Habib, 19, killed June 23, 2018 on H St NE
  • Jeffrey Hammond Long, 36, killed July 8, 2018 on M St NW
  • Carlos Sanchez-Martin, 20, killed Sept. 21, 2018 on Dupont Circle
  • Tom Hollowell, 64, killed Sept. 24, 2018 on Constitution Ave NW
  • Dave Salovesh, 54, killed April 19, 2019 on Florida Ave NE

The setting sun cast a bright orange hue over the park as more than 100 cyclists trickled in, little by little. The gushing fountain added peaceful background noise to the somber mood of the event. It didn’t feel sad like a funeral, though. Most were there to honor their lost friends, but also to send a powerful and clear message: Bicyclists are here to stay, and they demand safer roadways.

Image by the author.

The event was partly organized by Jay Swiderski, who wants the Ride of Silence to commemorate killed and injured cyclists, scooter riders, and pedestrians. “I want to see more safe, protected infrastructure. I want to make sure people who are riding in the city have safe places to do so,” he told me. “We are here and these are our streets, too; we are not going anywhere.”

Safety is the goal of Vision Zero. Started in The Netherlands and Sweden, the initiative takes systematic safety for road users as its main priority. This means governments have refocused their efforts to keeping crashes from happening, especially fatal or serious ones, rather than waiting for them to occur. They’ve built protected bikeways, added space for pedestrians, and slowed traffic speeds.

Three new bills to push for more of these ideas were recently introduced in DC. Councilmember Charles Allen said he wants his bill, the Vision Zero Omnibus Act of 2019, to improve infrastructure, reduce the use of carbon-emitting vehicles, and enforce existing traffic laws.

Rachel Taylor, a resident of Montgomery County, who comes into DC to bike and visit, told me she wants to see more protected bike lanes. “It just takes one reckless or careless driver and it could be me [that’s killed or injured]. We need a better network of bike lanes in the DMV and drivers need to have more respect for cyclists and pedestrians.”

Susan Kelleher, a 20-year resident of the District who lives in Adams Morgan and commutes on her bike to work, hopes the Ride of Silence and other demonstrations will encourage Mayor Bowser and the DC Council to make meaningful changes to roadways. “Paint isn’t a protection,” she told me. “Actually having concrete protections between cyclists and cars is the way to get more people on bikes.”

She also sees the environmental benefits that more widespread biking could have. “Climate change is coming and if it’s available for people to change their commuting style to biking, more people should be encouraged to do that.”

DC’s Clean Energy Act has measures to further incentivize more biking, walking, and the use of public transportation in order to achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 50%. But what’s not clear is what the District plans to do in order to make these “cleaner” modes of transport more safe and accessible.

Andrew, a DC resident, car driver, and cyclist is surprised that people in the District don’t take bike safety more seriously, considering how many incentives—nature trails and parks, people have to bike in the city.

Image by the author.

But still, car drivers and pedestrians aren’t always conscious of who is using the bike lanes, he told me. “I usually ride with the notion that I’m not made of fenders and bumpers, so I try not to take any unnecessary risks… I’ve had friends get hit [by car doors opening] when people get out of Ubers, so ridesharing has definitely increased the amount of accidents people have.”

People, Andrew reminds me, often learn to drive outside of DC and aren’t used to seeing traffic on bikes. Because of that, there’s a confluence of people who don’t know how to respond to traffic from cyclists.

The growth of ride-hailing has increased the number of traffic crashes, according to one study. This is not because their drivers are less safe, but because there are simply more cars on the road, which leads to more crashes in general. Uber has started to warn app users to be mindful of their surroundings to avoid “doorings,” what Andrew described happened to friends.

Image by the author.

Jessica Martin attended the memorial to ride in solidarity for riders killed and injured. She lives near the now-infamous and deadly intersection of Florida Avenue and 12th Street NE. Jessica was waiting for safety improvements last year, but so far little has been done to make it safe; DDOT officials now say they will install temporary measures in June.

It was there that Dave Salovesh was tragically killed in April. “We need to look out for each other, literally and figuratively. We need better enforcement of rules and more bike lanes,” said Jessica.

The Ride of Silence was organized to be slow and quiet like a funeral procession. There were marshalls present and a police escort for safety. They followed this route, and slowed down near “Ghost Bikes” which are stark reminders of cyclists killed on the road.

Image by the author.

Sharing the road seems like a simple request. Without the proper protections in place, however, it can be deadly.

This article is part of the GGWash Urbanist Journalism Fellowship, made possible in part by the Island Press Urban Resilience Project and the Meyer Foundation.