What Does it Mean to be A Silver Bike Friendly Community?

Washington DC, my “work hometown” rates a Silver on the League of American Bicyclist’s Bike Friendly Communities list. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  So what’s the street-level view of a Silver community? In DC it involves an expanding number of bike lanes, cycle tracks and sharrows, a growing bikeshare program, a BikeStation for commuters and lots more cyclists on the roads than there were just a few years ago.  Much of this has happened due to WABA’s persistent and effective advocacy. These accomplishments create a pretty picture indeed, but that picture has some big time flaws, too.

Seeing DC cycling fromJohn’s perspective last weekend reminded me of that.  He got annoyed enough to berate car, cab and bus drivers for parking in the bike lane or  stopping in places that required us to maneuver around them. Those experiences are at the least aggravating and at the worst seriously dangerous, but after several years of DC bike commuting, I rarely bother to say anything. It’s too commonplace to get worked up over. Yet it shows that the city’s bike lanes are more of a vague idea that the space is there for bikes rather than a respected reality. Whenever it’s inconvenient for drivers – or pedestrians – to acknowledge what that little bit of space is truly for, cyclists lose out. A recent car-bike collision in the Pennsylvania Ave bike lanes illustrates this all too well. The Struck DC website  tracks accidents involving cyclists as well as those in which pedestrians are hit and there are lots of these incidents. Certainly avoiding accidents is a shared responsibility, but when drivers U-turn through bike lanes,and  park or drive in them, they aren’t doing their share. And yes, when cyclists blow through lights without looking, dart through traffic without signaling, pass other cyclists without warning, or go the wrong way on a one-way street, they’re not doing their part either.

There’s another, gentler side to DC cycling, though it rarely never makes the news. I’ve had many instances of drivers slowing to let me pull into their lane, allowing me to turn first, and making sure not to door me. My sincere thanks and appreciation to each of you! I arrived by bike at a DC hotel this Wednesday for a day long meeting. There were no bike racks or other secure parking nearby. When I asked the doorman what the bike parking options were, he helped me bring the bike inside and up to the meeting room. Awesome!

To go from Silver status on a list to Silver status in reality, we need to keep improving the physical infrastructure.  I think we are doing a decent, if imperfect job there. Equally important is to improve the social infrastructure so that roadsharing between motorized vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists is the norm.  We have a long way to go on that one.

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4 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to be A Silver Bike Friendly Community?

  1. I think infrastructure inevitably precedes culture. People have to get used to the idea of a bicycle as a legitimate and mainstream form of transportation rather than just recreation before that more appropriate behavior will follow. The Netherlands weren’t always so bike friendly – they purposely chose to turn that way decades ago, but it even took them a while. Unfortunately, I think there will always be jerks parking in the bike lane – they cut off fellow era and bicyclists alike. Only better enforcement will fix that. DC should start giving out more tickets – it would be a good way to raise revenue!

    Rockville is reapplying for Bike Friendly Community status this year and we’re hoping for Bronze. It’s particularly hard here because a lot of roads are controlled by the state or county, but it’s also gotten better in the last few years alone.

    • Shannon, I so wish the DC police would ticket for idling or parking in bike lanes. All to often though, it’s a police officer who’s obstructing the lanes so I don’t know how motivated they’d be about enforcement. Interesting comments re infrastructure. Given this analysis, what do you think will be the impact of the recent transportation bill, with its big cuts to cycling and pedestrian programs?

      • In terms of the police, it’s largely a matter of training and education. I know there’s an increasing number of bike police in both D.C. and Montgomery County (the writer of A Girl and her Bike is one). While Rockville police aren’t perfect, we do have an excellent liaison, which I think helps a lot.

        As for the cuts to cycling and pedestrian programs, I think it will have the biggest impacts in places that already have the worst infrastructure. The places that aren’t motivated to improve infrastructure on their own and dedicate state/local funding to it will have very, very little without the federal funding. It just means that community-based groups have to make even more of an effort to raise local awareness and support.

      • Thanks for these thoughts. I think it’s a setback for all to have the federal funds cut, and I agree that those with strong support, advocacy and infrastructure in place will weather the cuts successfully. It’s good to know of all the great things happening in Rockville!

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