If you didn’t know it from Bike DC or Bike-to-Work Day or the other bike-related events in the city, May is National Bike Month. And in honor of National Bike Month, we’ve got some bicycling myths to bust. I’m a recent convert to commuting by bike, and now I love cycling around the city. But there are lots of myths out there about the safety and legality of cycling in the city. Is DC a bike-friendly city? Is it legal to ride on sidewalks in the District? And how does one go about starting to bike to work?
Myth #1: DC isn’t a bike-friendly city/there’s nowhere I can ride safely/it’s scary to bike in the city. We hear so much about bicyclist fatalities in the city, like Alice Swanson and Constance Holden, and it’s easy to assume that the city isn’t bike-friendly.
But in reality, DC is becoming more bike-friendly by the day. There are 56 miles of bike trails, 44 miles of bike lanes, 64 miles of signed bike routes, and thousands of bike racks in the city. The District Department of Transportation has made biking a priority, installing new cycle tracks on 15th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. DC has one of the highest percentage of people biking to work among comparable cities (2.3% in 2008), and in some neighborhoods like Logan Circle, over 5% of the population bikes to work. And it’s true that there’s safety in numbers for cyclists— as more people start biking, drivers look out for them more and numbers of injuries and fatalities decline.
Myth #2: It’s illegal to ride on sidewalks in the city. Many beginning cyclists are hesitant to start riding with cars in the road, and some people just prefer riding on sidewalks. But since bikes are supposed to be treated like cars (stopping at stop signs, obeying all traffic signals, etc), is it legal for cyclists to ride on sidewalks?
In the District, it’s legal to ride on sidewalks everywhere except for the Central Business District (which is essentially Constitution Avenue through Massachusetts Avenue, from 23rd Street NW to 2nd Street NW). And the good news is that there are lots of bike lanes in the Central Business District, so even though you can’t ride on the sidewalk you don’t necessarily have to bike through traffic. The laws vary by jurisdiction outside of the District; for example, Montgomery County allows it, but Prince William County doesn’t.
Other bike-related laws in the District: biking while drunk is illegal, you’ve got to have a front light to ride in the city when it’s dark, and bicyclists must obey all signs and traffic lights (yes, that means rolling through stop signs, biking the wrong way on one-way streets, and getting a head start on red lights are all illegal, even though many cyclists forget about those rules). As for bringing your bike with you on transit, you can take your bike on Metrobuses at any time, but on Metrorail only outside of 7-10 AM and 4-7 PM on weekdays.
Myth #3: Biking to work sounds like a great idea, but there’s no way I can do it. There are dozens of excuses you can use: there are no safe bike routes, you don’t want to bring a change of clothes and/or can’t shower at work, you’re not comfortable riding during rush hour, there isn’t secure bike parking at your job, the list goes on. How does one go about starting to ride to work?
Now’s the time to start! Take part in Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 21st– ride in a commuter convoy, stop off at a pit stop for food and drink, and get into the swing of biking to work. Then, that weekend you can get used to riding around the city at Bike DC, when roads are closed to traffic. And if you register with We Love DC’s discount code DCC250 and join the We Love DC/Trail Voice team, you get $5 off the registration fee.
There are a lot of great resources that can help you get started biking to work too. Ride the City is a great way to find bike routes between two locations (and you can choose whether you’d rather have the most direct route, a safer route, or the safest route), and Google now offers bike directions. Check out the DC bike maps of the city and of downtown. Make use of the great biking trails in the area. And take advantage of bike education classes to ride with confidence on city streets. No bike racks near your office? Bicycle parking is required in all off-street parking garages, so check with your building manager– or contact DDOT to request a bike rack. And check out the Commuter Connections guide to biking to work in DC for help on the logistics of riding to work.
Making the change to commuting by bike takes a little research and planning ahead, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s absolutely worth it. Biking to work saves me time and money, and it’s a great way to get a little exercise in during the day. And this is the best time of year to get into the swing of biking to work, with all the bike-focused events in the community. So dust off your bike, grab a helmet, and get ready for Bike to Work Day– hopefully the first of many days you ride your bike to work!