The guard. Photo by the author.

Last week, a guard at the Kennedy Center threatened to steal my bike if I dared to park it on the sidewalk.

I had arrived by bike to see a show, and found that the rack on F St was already crowded, and didn’t look especially sturdy. I walked nearby to a sign post and began to lock it up.

A guard (pictured right) approached me, yelling at me that I could not park my bike there. I insisted that I could since it is a public sidewalk. I was ready to clasp my lock around the post when he shoved his hand against mine to prevent me from continuing. He insisted that the sidewalk was Kennedy Center property and no bikes could be locked there.

This is a common misconception.  Street sidewalks in DC almost always fall within the public space that includes the roadway; in fact, many front yards of buildings also fall in public spaces instead of private property.  The DC Atlas confirms that the sidewalks on F Street adjacent to the Kennedy Center are in public space outside the property lot lines.

Image from DC Atlas. The Kennedy Center is labeled 0806. F Street is to the north.

The guard said that if I left my bike attached to the street sign pole he would cut the lock and remove the bike as he said he had already done 3 or 4 times that day. I reluctantly relented and moved to a different rack up the hill and across from the main entrance.

The sidewalk along F St is public property and it would be a bad precedent to let anyone dictate how a public sidewalk may be used simply because their property fronts it.  As anyone who has been to a sidewalk cafe knows, the District and other jurisdictions permit some private appropriation of public space with permits but there is no permit to allow private property owners to steal bikes attached to public sign posts.

Claiming that a public street sign between a public sidewalk and a public roadway is in fact private property is bullying.  Furthermore, to physically menace someone by pushing them away is battery. If the Kennedy Center is in fact routinely destroying locks and confiscating bikes, they should first consult their legal counsel as they are probably destroying and stealing private property.

It was just a month ago that a similar event occurred. This time it was on the sidewalk of Lafayette Park, and I suspect the man in a black uniform was an actual law enforcement officer rather than a rent-a-cop.

I like to think that the legal authority that comes with a badge and a gun limits the officer to carefully enforcing actual laws, not their own made-up, capricious rules that have no basis in law.