Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

A photo guide to bicycling in the dark

December 28, 2011 - 09:15 AM
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A Capital Bikeshare rider cruises south on Connecticut Avenue during evening rush hour. Nearly everyone photographed for this story wore a helmet. The photos were taken in high-traffic areas from 5-8 p.m. on a Monday and Tuesday evening.13 Photos
(Photo: Joshua Yospyn/TBD)

December may be a colder, darker month but many people still take to their bicycles to get around the District of Columbia. The darkness creates new risks for cyclists, however, and if you haven't yet seen it, I urge you to check out TBD photographer Joshua Yospyn's fascinating gallery of D.C.'s nighttime cyclists.

Washington, D.C. has a growing population of bicyclists and in that spirit, I'd like to highlight the dynamics of biking in the darkness. Here are 8 things worth remembering about the activity:

1)Bike lighting is essential. Include a bike light at the front that casts light in the direction you're traveling and one in the back large enough to be seen by any drivers who may be approaching. "Faster riders need brighter lights to see farther down the road, but keep in mind that the brighter the light, the faster your battery will be used up," writes cyclist Ed Pope. "Dual-beam systems are available that allow you to use the low beam while cruising at low speed to conserve the battery, then switch to high power when hammering away at top speed. Lights can also be helmet mounted."

2)Capital Bikeshare bikes include safety features such as front and rear flashing LED lights and tire reflectors, which help with night-time cycling.

3)These lights are, in fact, required by law. The Pocket Guide to D.C. bike laws includes the section 1204.2 mandate:

"Each bicycle, when in use at night, shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a steady or flashing white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500 ft.) to the front and with a red reflector on the rear which shall be visible from all distances from fifty feet (50 ft.) to three hundred feet (300 ft.) to the rear when directly in front of upper beams of head lamps on a 19 motor vehicle.” Section 1204.3 says, “A lamp emitting a steady or flashing red light visible from a distance of five hundred feet (500 ft.) to the rear may be used in lieu of the red reflector.”

WABA as well as DDOT advise a red flashing rear light, the guide also notes.

4)Yospyn alludes to how D.C. cyclists can make use of multiple modes of transportation and take advantage of transit at night: "Perhaps the safest night-time biking option is to stack your ride (and helmet, in this case) on the rack in front of a Metro bus, which can support two bikes. Bicycles are permitted on Metrorail every day except weekdays between 7-10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m."

5)Consider the clothing you wear. Bright and reflective gear makes bicyclists all the more visual for drivers.

6)In some parts of the District, such as on 16th Street alongside Meridian Hill Park, it may be easier to travel on sidewalks due to busy roads and a lack of bike lanes, as we can see in Yospyn's photos.

7)Despite the early onset of darkness, big cities like D.C. still provide a great degree of illumination along big avenues due to all the office buildings, businesses, and other bright locations as well as traffic and street lights. But this busy urban environment still poses challenges for bicyclists. I especially like the vocabulary Yospyn includes for such cycling obstacles, such as "the Door Prize" horror of a car door opening as you ride by.

8)Bike lighting may change in the months and years to come. Earlier this year, I interviewed one of the men responsible for Revolights, a start-up that hopes to hitch bright LED lights directly to bicycle tires.

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