Better bicycle policies more helpful than vehicular homicide

Washington Post columnist trolled the internet last night when he suggested that Washington drivers use their cars as weapons against bicyclists, or, when on foot, cause injury by inserting broomsticks into their front wheels. His silly and ill-considered clickbait generated lots of hate reads and responses.

GGW’s Dave Alpert focused on the need for greater empathy between people utilizing different modes of transportation, while Vox’s Matt Yglesias noted that poor people are much more likely than the affluent to commute to work via bicycle. If you’re wondering why Yglesias would point that out, “bike lanes” is a euphemism for white political influence sometimes used by those who don’t want the District government to cater to younger, often-white newcomers.

When bicyclists and drivers meet on poorly-designed roads tempers can flare, sometimes resulting in serious injuries or death. Whether racially-motivated, WaPo-style political violence or just  ol’ fashioned road rage, these situations will be less common if we can make a few changes to our current policies.

1. Implement the Idaho Stop

As I’ve written before, no one stops at stop signs unless there is a physical barrier to proceeding through an intersection:

It’s true that cyclists rarely come to a complete stop at stop signs unless there is cross traffic that requires the cyclist to yield. Cyclists usually slow to a speed that allows them to ascertain whether or not the intersection is clear, and then proceed forward if it is. This is called an Idaho Stop.

It’s not just something scofflaw cyclists do, but a universal feature in all forms of road transportation. See for yourself:

Rather than using stop sign adherence as a test to determine whether or not not bicyclists should live, we should just grant bicycles the legal right to treat stop signs like yield signs. When cyclists are able to proceed through an empty intersection it makes them less of an obstacle for drivers, and reduces opportunities for them to get Milloyed by a car.

2. Improve East-West Bicycle Routes

There aren’t many good routes between Northeast and Northwest. H Street is a bicycle death trap. Massachusetts lacks bike lanes for most of the stretch between Stanton Park and Mt. Vernon Square.  NY Avenue is basically a freeway, as is Irving. Florida is too wide and fast. G and I Streets dead end at railroad tracks, and K Street doesn’t have bike lanes.

Dedicated bike lanes along Florida, Massachusetts and other streets would make it easier for bicyclists to commute downtown and other areas of interest in Northwest without having to share lanes along dangerous stretches of road, a win-win for all involved.

3.  Educate Drivers About Bicycle Laws

D.C. Metro Area governments don’t require drivers to have a rudimentary understanding of how bicycle riding is governed in the District, and it shows. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear an uninformed person complain about scofflaw bicyclists who “routinely worm their way to the front of a line of cars waiting at a red light” even though this action, called filtering, is completely legal in D.C.

According to D.C. Municipal Regulations, “A person operating a bicycle may overtake and pass other vehicles on the left or right side, staying in the same lane as the overtaken vehicle, or changing to a different lane, or riding off the roadway, as necessary to pass with safety.”

Bicyclists are also allowed to ride outside of bike lanes, ride two abreast, ride on sidewalks (outside the Central Business District), and make use of all streets aside from freeways. Educating drivers about the rules of the road will make bicyclists’ actions seem less erratic to drivers, and also make inconveniences seem less intentional.

According to a study from the U.K.,

The unpredictability of cycle users is seen to be a particular source of irritation to drivers when it compromises drivers’ own convenience. Further, drivers’ estimation of cyclists’ unpredictability is partly related to other sources of negative attitude and cyclists’ status as an ‘out group’ leading to drivers to interpret their behaviour as dispositional and therefore not to be predicted by reference to situational factors. Drivers’ estimation of the unpredictability of cyclists in particular seems to be significant in influencing driver behaviour, resulting from its apparent negative impact on drivers’ perceived behavioural control: their perceived ability to successfully behave in the way that they know to be ideal.

That is, drivers who understand the basics are less likely to see bicyclists as outlaws who need to be taught a lesson, and less likely to excuse sociopathic behavior–like intentionally hitting someone with a car–on their own part.

Local governments could implement this rule by adding a few questions to the written tests teenagers take to earn a driver license.

By changing just a few rules, improving infrastructure in a few key places, and increasing driver knowledge of already-existing regulations, we could greatly improve bicyclist-driver relations in the District.