Tomorrow, May 17th, is Bike to Work Day in DC! Those of you who registered can meet up at locations around the city to grab a free t-shirt, meet up with other bike commuters, and enjoy what should be a great day for a ride . Even if you’re not “officially” participating, it’s May in DC and the weather is finally warm – so go ahead, get out, and enjoy your commute rather than sitting in traffic on in a cramped metro car.
Most you know by now that I’m a regular bike commuter – something which I love, but which is not exactly free of certain perils. Just two days ago, I was two blocks from my apartment when some #*((#*&&^ neighbor decided to creep up behind me, rev his engine, then swerve around me – coming within four inches of my right pedal and almost sideswiping a parked car in the process. As he nearly knocked me over, he also saw fit to flip me the bird and yell, “Get out of the road!!” The best part? We were in front of an elementary school and local park/playground. I seriously hope that there is some logical explanation for this behavior (maybe he really had to pee?), but sadly it isn’t the only time it’s happened.
While we can’t eliminate all the a**holes in DC (oh, how I wish…), there are certain things you can do as a biker to minimize your risk of incidents. Here’s my (very short) list for those of you biking to work tomorrow, as well as some much more well developed resources:
(1) DC and Arlington County are very bike friendly places, but understand where you belong. When you are a biker, you are considered a vehicle. Let me repeat that for all of you, both bikers and drivers: bikes are considered vehicles. So, all you jerks who think we should be on sidewalks….do you drive your car on a sidewalk? No, you don’t. We don’t ride our bikes there either. But, for all of you crazy bikers, this means behaving the way that a car would. Take up a whole lane- just do it, and let the aggravated folks behind you suck it up. They are required by law to give three feet on all sides, and there’s nowhere in the city where you need to be going *that* fast.
(2) Pedal Predictably. Signal when you’re about to turn. Don’t swerve between cars, as tempting as it is in heavy traffic. Stop completely for stop signs and red lights. Check for pedestrians and turning cars. The usual. It’s amazing how well people do this when they drive, but forget immediately once on a bike. I know it’s tempting to just zip ahead of traffic, but that’s how most collisions occur – and if a car hits you, even if they’re the one who is wrong, you’re the one getting hurt.
(3) Be proactive and be prepared. This means make sure your bike is in good working order and not doing strange things like slipping gears that could cause you to move unpredictably in heavy traffic. Check your tires and gears before you head out on the road. Helmet and lights are a must. Seriously – I’ve had several friends involved in collisions where a helmet saved their life. Carry the things you might need for simple repairs on long rides.
For more details on any of these points, and to be a better biker, check out any of the following awesome resources. The DC Metro Area is one of the worst places in the country for traffic, and it’s great to be a biker around here – just be sure to be safe and enjoy the ride!
Potomac Peddlers, List of DC, Maryland, and VA Bike Laws: http://www.potomacpedalers.org/?page=bikelaws
Bike Arlington, and Bike Arlington’s PDF Document on Bike Safety: http://www.bikearlington.com/
Capital Bikeshare Bike Safety Resources: