Spring has hit us, hard and fast. In Washington, that comes with a lot of baggage: the National Cherry Blossom Festival swells the streets with tourists from across the world, the spring gala season fills our calendars to the brim, our retail districts overflow with throngs of shoppers eager to replenish their warm-weather wardrobe. Our city parks are also rediscovered. Having lain dormant through the whippings of winter, they spring up with joggers, ball players and picnickers about as fast as with dandelions.
For a good many of us, it’s time to pull the bicycles out of storage and widen the horizons of our recreational and commuting potentials. If you talk to a local cyclist, very little can refresh the senses like the rush of cruising through warm spring winds along the Potomac or through the Mall. Whether biking along the Tidal Basin or the Capital Crescent, the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD) or Rock Creek Park trails, the very nature of the ride is a signifier of spring.
Unfortunately, those of us who aren’t on bikes don’t always share the elation, and that disconnect can often result in some ugly run-ins—literally. Every spring, bicycle accidents increase significantly, a result of both heightened automotive, pedestrian and bicycle traffic. While it’s easy to blame it all on the cyclists—and in many cases, they are indeed the ones to blame—it is worth trying to understand their situation.
Cyclists are at the bottom of the traffic food chain. Too slow and fragile to share the road properly with vehicles and too fast and precarious to ride along pedestrians on the sidewalk, bikers hunt for safe riding areas in the city like a scavenger: winding around the neighborhood blocks to avoid the congested streets, shooting into pockets of open road when they present themselves, compensating for the cars that never see them and the pedestrians that don’t pay them attention. Even most bike lanes in the city are sandwiched between traffic lanes and parallel parking spots. Bikers are almost constantly at risk when riding through the city.
As a response to the increase of bikers and walkers and runners, the Metropolitan Police Department has kicked off its Street Smart Campaign, an annual mission enforcing pedestrians, cycling and driving laws.
Street Smart is an annual public education, awareness and behavioral change campaign in the Washington area, responding to the challenges of pedestrian and bicycle safety since 2002 through public awareness and law enforcement efforts. The Street Smart program emphasizes education of motorists and pedestrians through mass media as a companion to the efforts of state and local governments and agencies to build safer streets and sidewalks, enforce laws, and train better drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.
The program is coordinated by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), and is supported by federal funds made available through state governments and funding from some TPB-member jurisdictions. Throughout the past week, police have been enforcing traffic laws at major city areas and intersections—they were focused on 14th and U Streets last Tuesday and cleaned up good.
Arlington County has also gotten on board with its own campaign, PAL (Predictable, Alert, Lawful).
Whether in your car, atop your bike or on your feet, now is a good time to be aware of the road—not only to avoid citations but to prevent injuries or worse. And for the sake of greater good, let us all agree not to bring back roller-blades.