The “Tensions Among D.C. Road Users” Are Not ‘Cultural’

Last week, the Washington Post‘s Courtland Milloy wrote a ridiculous screed against bicyclists, which, as you might imagine, reignited the never-ending automobile-bicycle wars that plague cities. That, in turn, led to another Washington Post article which focused on the lack of law enforcement (boldface mine):

As an increasing number of Washington-area residents forgo their vehicles and choose to bike or walk to work, tensions between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians have escalated, with reports of terrifying encounters: drivers intimidating cyclists, cyclists antagonizing drivers, pedestrians at the mercy of both bikers and drivers.

The one thing that all three agree on: D.C. police are not doing enough to enforce the rules for any of the groups.

“There hasn’t been much priority to enforce those laws,” said Joe Reiner, a member of the nonprofit organization All Walks DC, which promotes pedestrian safety. “Cars and bikes are speeding through pedestrian crosswalks ignoring that pedestrians have a right of way. This is an issue that we really need to have the police do better with.”

…But it is not just about the number of tickets issued, transportation advocates say — it is about changing the culture on the roads. What they want is enforcement that is equitable among all users to make sure everyone is safe and follows the rules…

“I have seen plenty of cyclists that do follow the rules, but I think there is a significant minority of cyclists who feel that they are entitled to do whatever they want on the road or the sidewalk,” he said.

Motorists and cyclists say that nothing prepared them for the new hazards on the roads they now share.

This is really about a culture shift for all users of the road,” said Sam Zimbabwe, a director of policy and planning at DDOT.

Unlike most articles, this one, at least, acknowledges pedestrians (full disclosure: I neither bike nor own a car). But this isn’t a ‘cultural’ problem, it’s systemic. If we wait for the New Urban Person to arise, we’ll be waiting for a long time. To make the roads safer for everyone, especially pedestrians, there’s a simple solution, albeit one that isn’t ‘win-win’: you have to make the traffic slower. This means driving will be less convenient, perhaps even unpleasant.

Readers might not believe me, but being a pedestrian in DC is far more dangerous than in Boston. It’s not because Boston drivers are ‘better’ (a ridiculous notion), but because the road grid and transportation network are safer for pedestrians. Consider the Back Bay in Boston. Every intersection has either a stoplight or an all-way stop, with most intersections being mandatory stops. It’s impossible to get up a head of steam on Commonwealth Avenue–when the weather turns nice, one is usually treated to spectacle of some guy in a speedy car racing 75 yards…only slam on the brakes at a red light. The addition of bike lanes on Comm. Ave. has also slowed traffic. The exception to the rule is Beacon Street, where the traffic flows well, and pedestrians get killed*.

So what should DC do (other than telling Milloy to make like a tree and shut the fuck up)? First, many of the stoplights need to be turned into four-way stops–and these stops need to be enforced. Second, the diagonal streets (e.g., New Hampshire) in residential areas need to be altered (e.g., ‘bulb-outs’). When drivers don’t have to make ninety degree turns, they come flying around those turns, often from a pedestrian’s blind spot. It’s deadly. Third, except on the main thoroughfares, more two lane streets need to be made one way. It’s actually easier to cross streets when you don’t have to worry about traffic from two directions (again, it works in most of the Back Bay).

D.C., not the ‘DMV’, but the residents of the city (which does not include that fucker Milloy) need to decide how safe the streets should be. How many people per year should be maimed, crippled or murdered* so people can arrive some place five minutes faster? Until that debate is had, the cyclist-driver wars will continue (and pedestrians will continue to be ignored as always).

*Leaving aside legal terms, this is murder. It is most certainly not an ‘accident’–that’s what you call spilling a cup of coffee on someone.

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11 Responses to The “Tensions Among D.C. Road Users” Are Not ‘Cultural’

  1. Pingback: The best way to make cities safer for pedestrians and cylclists: slow down cars | Gold Muse

  2. colnago80 says:

    I haven’t driven in Boston in a million years but one summer I spent 6 weeks at a series of seminars at Brandais, Un. and I found that Boston drivers speeded up and took aim whenever a pedestrian had the temerity to step off a curb to cross the street. Coming from California where pedestrians have the right of way at intersections and which is enforced by law enforcement, this was quite a cultural shock.

    • dr2chase says:

      They could tell you were weak, that’s the problem. Always project the attitude that if they don’t yield, their paint job will suffer.

      I try to always yield to pedestrians — when I’m driving, that means I get to obstruct traffic, which is a social good, and when I’m biking, I get to feel (even more) smug.

  3. not important says:

    Bicyclists already make traffic slower (ever seen 3-4 cars/buses slowly moving behind a bicyclist?). In general, bicycling is good only for bicyclists – every one else suffers (slower commute). Thus, the solution is everyone to bike like they do it in China – you know the Chinese are always ahead of us.

  4. not important says:

    “mad” as in “no one takes you seriously, dr2chase”. At least I do not.

    • dr2chase says:

      But you are not important. Says so right on the label. You’re never going to get cyclists off the roads unless you give them a better place to ride; there’s fundamental rights involved (freedom of movement/travel) and the social costs are so low there’s no way you can justify infringing that right in any significant way (unlike autos, which have plenty of social costs, thus we have the whole licensing-training-registration-insurance rigamarole).

      So if you want to do something about your problem, I suggest a skinny car.

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