Dear PoPville – Please Post WABA’s Pocket Guide to DC Bike Laws

Photo by PoPville flickr user Rich Renomeron

“Dear PoPville,

Could you please post WABA’s pocket guide of area bike laws?

For background: I’m a DC bicyclist that commutes to work by bike daily and also rides on the roads and local paths recreationally.

Yesterday I was riding on the road on my way home from Crystal City at a brisk pace when a car came up behind me. Although the driver had a very wide and empty road to pass me, he immediately sped up as fast as he could and swerved towards me, coming within inches of hitting me, all while he and a passenger screamed at me with the window rolled down. I’ve been hit by a car before and sustained minor injuries, but at the speed that this car was going, a hit would have inevitably caused me serious injury or possibly even death. It was a terrifying experience that left me in tears – I’m an experienced long-distance and city rider, so I’m pretty tough when it comes to dealing with cars, but the thought that I could have lost my life due to road rage directed only at me being a bicycle on the road put me in shock.

I saw this article by the Washington Post about the death of MD cyclist Trish Cunningham who was killed when a driver tried to pass her on a blind hill and did not abide to the “3-foot law.” The comments section included ignorant statements on both sides about traffic laws, revealing how truly clueless we all are about road safety.

I’ve found in general that the comments sections on bicycle-related posts on both PoPville and the Washington Post have been very indicative of how little the public actually knows about bike laws. Both cyclists and drivers feel like the other side is uniformed, which fosters dangerous hostility.

I’ve seen lots of posts on PoPville about bicycle-related incidents, but none on the actual laws involved. If both parties are ignorant about traffic laws, all of our lives are put in danger. I think the best solution is to educate both cyclists and drivers alike about area traffic laws – it’s the only way to help both sides understand that we have equal rights to operate safely on the road.”

25 Comment

  • gotryit

    Good suggestion to post the pocket guide. Can you please repost this on each bicycling related post? It really is a breath of reason in an otherwise ridiculous “debate”.

    • Great idea to include this in cycling related posts. One thing I wish the guide specifically mentioned is DC Rule 18-1201.15: “No person shall operate a bicycle except in obedience to the instructions of official traffic control signals, signs, and other control devices applicable to vehicles, unless otherwise directed by a police officer or other person authorized to direct and control traffic.” I know the soundness of this rule is often hotly “debated” on here. While some may disagree with the rule, I think it is helpful for all to know that it is in fact the law in DC.

  • waba has an iphone/android app that has the dc (and md/va as well) laws in it.

  • My favorite law and one I wish more drivers knew of was that there is no requirement to ride in a bike lane on a street where one is present. Personally I don’t feel safe in bike lanes because so few drivers know how or are willing to respect them. This is especially helpful on 14th Street near DC USA where the bike lanes only serve as a lane for cars to double-park. It’s much safer to take the lane since the cops in DC are so damn lazy and never tell drivers to move.

  • Thanks for posting this, PoP, as the laws and guide are helpful (and the story recounted is a scary one!).

    That being said, is there a way we could put a temporary slow-down on all the bike-related content? Maybe I’m influenced by reading through Rant or Revel too much, but it seems like so much of the discussion here recently is on biking, it gets everyone heated and flame war-y, and takes away from an otherwise great site. I imagine I’ll probably get flamed myself for writing this, but just a suggestion.

    • austindc

      Agreed. I already know how I feel about drivers and bikers. Watching people get catty about it is just kind of irritating. I want to see people argue about other stuff, like maybe how sailboats and barges need to share waterways or something.

      • I know you’re joking there, but… if you want to see people get REALLY catty, let’s talk about whether canoes/kayaks should have to yield to crew boats.

  • This is fantastic, thanks for posting. And I agree with the prior comment that this needs to be included in every bicycle-related post on here!

  • As a fellow bicycle commuter, I really appreciate this post and hope bikers and drivers will read the guide. There are reasons why drivers may be annoyed about having to share the road with bicycles, but keep in mind the damage a driver can do taking out his “road rage” on a bicyclist. Drivers need to deal with the fact that they are sharing the road with a rapidly growing number of bicyclists. On the other hand, bicyclists should find that they will be treated with respect by most (not all) drivers if they obey traffic laws.

    • I have not found that drivers respect me for following the law. They will either give me three feet when passing or not. I just don’t want to be punished for the irresponsible actions of other cyclists, because that’s not me and it’s not my fault.

  • Thank you for posting!

    I hope some of the metrobus drivers will read that…

    • gotryit

      Yes! I wish I had a stack of pocket guides to give out to bus drivers (ok, some others too) with an accompanying “You drive for a living – please learn the laws applicable to driving.”

  • Wow – I’m so sorry you had that road rage experience!! That’s really awful! But thanks for this post, and good suggestion on the pocket guide.

  • I came here for inflammatory commentary and am leaving disappointed.

  • ha ha.. how’s this: can all of you anon’s get names so i can tell which ones of you are bike haters???? 🙂

  • I experienced something very similar last week. I was biking on the right side of the road on a quiet, residential one-way street where drivers have plenty of room to pass me safely, and a driver came up behind me honking. As I knew that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I did not respond. He pulled up next to me in his minivan and started shouting obscenities at me, for which I’ll spare PoPville readers, but the gist was that I needed to get off the road because I wasn’t a car. Then he swerved towards me as he passed me. I was rattled, to say the least, but I hope that those that think that bikers just need to obey the law to earn respect from drivers take note: I was not doing anything illegal in this circumstance. The only thing that prompted this tirade and threat on my life was riding my bike in a legal manner. It would be nice if all drivers knew that bikes are allowed on all city streets.

  • As a PEDESTRIAN, I wish more cyclists read the sidewalk rule. Especially the Aholes who feel the need to yell and scowl at people walking inear them or in front of them on the sidewalk. Oh and if I’m in a crosswalk walking with a green signal, no you don’t get to run the red light and bitch about it.

  • Does anyone know the laws about bikes on the sidewalks? I don’t mind bikes on the sidewalks that much if they are going slow and yielding to pedestrians, but lately I’ve had a few run-ins that would have left me injured if I hadn’t jumped out of the way. Are bikes on the sidewalk legal?

    • Bikes are allowed on the sidewalks except in the central business district, though bikes must yield to pedestrians at all times. From the WABA Pocket Guide:

      “While not recommended safe cycling practice in most instances, DC code states that cyclists are
      allowed to ride on the sidewalk as long as they are outside the central business district (CBD). The
      CBD is bounded by 2nd Street NE and SE, D Street SE and SW, 14th Street SW and NW, Constitution
      Ave NW, 23rd Street NW, and Massachusetts Ave NW. Within the CBD, bicycling is allowed on lands
      under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service including places like Lafayette Park, Farragut Square Park, the National Mall and Dupont Circle. However, if cyclists do ride on the sidewalk they must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians.”

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