Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Police chief: 'We've quadrupled the tickets issued for blocking bike lanes'

January 5, 2012 - 02:46 PM
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(Photo: flickr/dylanpassmore)

WTOP conducted a conversation with D.C.'s Police Chief Cathy Lanier recently for the radio station's "Ask the Chief" segment and several transportation issues came up — in particular one biking statistic that made me pause and consider.  They discussed how police handle the increased number of bicyclists commuting through D.C.

One enormously significant dimension to the bike policing issue and transportation in general is the sensitivity to space. With more and more people traveling in different ways, we need to make sure everyone can travel safety. Bikes, pedestrians, drivers, taxicabs, buses ... they're all out there. And increasingly we've placed significant value on public space like bike lanes and crosswalks, which exist to protect commuters.

"The bike lanes are a little bit tricky for both drivers and the bicyclist," Chief Lanier told WTOP and WJLA reporter Mark Segraves during the live chat. "We've quadrupled the number of tickets we've issued for people who block bike lanes."

The chief said that the D.C. police department wrote about 2,000 tickets last year for people who blocked bike lanes. She added that the department has increased the number of tickets for the pedestrians and drivers who collide with cyclists and pedestrians. What Lanier acknowledges is the enormously complicated nature of our traffic system, in which bike lanes sometimes coincide with drivers' left turn space and other such delicate overlaps. Hence hot tempers and risks. The website MyBikeLane collects photos of cars and pedestrians violating the sanctity of the bike lane, and public shaming compelled D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange to apologize for parking his vehicle in a D.C. bike lane on a recent Sunday. Conscious policing of public space manifests in other ways, from blocking the box to ensuring that proper pedestrian crossings are in place, and it's never easy.

Yet the end-of-2011 ticket news is good — and 2012 will depend on even more attention to this collision of public space for several reasons.

For one, more bike lanes are on the way. Here's a map of where the District Department of Transportation hopes to add new bike lanes in 2012, as I reported in December.

The initial map included projections for the L and M Street cycletracks, in limbo since mid-2011, and inspired great enthusiasm among many of the District's biking advocates. Yet don't get too excited yet. Last night the Bicycle Advisory Council held another meeting on the new biking infrastructure. "DDOT's representative said they hoped to get the L Street cycletrack in place by this spring," reports the Wash Cycle, "but that the M Street cycletrack would be installed some time later, perhaps even 2013."

I'm very sorry! I apologize for parking in the bike lane.
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More bike infrastructure will mean more bicyclists, in all likelihood, but another source of increasing cycling will likely be Capital Bikeshare — especially as it expands to new counties. Alexandria will be getting bikeshare stations, as we know, and the District and Arlington are getting far more. Montgomery County recently sought a million dollars in a grant that would bring 29 stations and 204 bikes. This expansion will have to be implemented carefully, with a critical mass of stations close enough to one another to allow seamless commuting through the region. And as The Huffington Post has reported, Capital Bikeshare is exploring corporate sponsorship for their bikes, which may well include naming rights and visual branding and would allow for continued funding of the expansion. Yet bicyclists and drivers have conflicted at times, and this past fall, the D.C. Council considered new legislation that would address the friction. The overall set of traffic laws is still evolving, and one D.C. bicyclist has explicitly advocated that bicyclists shouldn't have to follow current laws if it's safe to ignore them. And now there'll be even more bicyclists.

What will this mean? Space will be more important than ever in 2012.

I'm looking specifically toward spring and summer, when many bicyclists pull out their bikes or head to the nearest bikeshare station. That's when we'll see this crowding and the dance of traffic management come to the forefront. Pedestrian life will also be influenced by new bicyclists on the road, with just as much care and attention needed for the sidewalks and easy passage of the walkers among us, whether out for a stroll, run, or the nearest Metro station.

Fortunately, Lanier reported that pedestrian fatalities were down from 14 in 2010 to 11 in 2011. That's good news. To permit room for everyone, and to do so fairly and safely, is the paramount mission in the months ahead.

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