We have noticed over the past decade or so that many parts of the Washington, D.C. area are reinventing themselves in very interesting ways. While the 70s, 80s and 90s all seemed to be about getting bigger and wider (shopping malls, gated communities, suburbs further and further away from the city itself,) the trend over the past few years has been to consolidate and to go smaller.
Neighborhoods like Silver Spring, Tacoma Park and Bethesda in Maryland and Clarendon, Courthouse, Shirlington and Penrose in Virginia have been attempting to make things more pedestrian friendly. The idea is to keep everything you need within walking distance. The bottom floor of an apartment building in these neighborhoods usually has a full sized grocery store on the first floor. There are restaurants, shops, dry cleaners and all the usual amenities within a five minute walk or less.
What is also interesting is that public services in these neighborhoods have really stepped up with public transportation options. Many of them are in close proximity to a Metro station, buses make regular stops, and some of them are even considering building a streetcar service.
One really interesting innovation has been the Capital Bikeshare program, which is based only in D.C, Arlington and Alexandria. It’s a great idea. You pop in a debit card, unlock the bike, adjust your seat and away you go. When you are done, you simply return it to the station where you got it or return it to another station. It’s quick, easy and convenient, and a bike can be a great way to get around.
We view all of this as a good thing. The whole concept might be hard to initially grasp, especially since so many of us grew up in areas and eras where people drove everywhere, whether it was an hour commute to work or a two minute drive to the store. But with gas prices going nowhere but up, driving constantly no longer makes economic sense for most of us. Besides, knowing D.C. traffic, who wouldn’t want to take a few cars off the road?
So while things are heading in an interesting direction, the unfortunate reality is that we haven’t gotten to the next phase yet. We are in the middle, which means that we are still working out the kinks in the system.
For instance, the idea of bikes becoming as commonplace as cars is a great idea, but in the meantime bikes are outnumbered by cars in every conceivable category (numbers, size and weight), and the majority of the car drivers are positively clueless about how they are supposed to act when they are around bikes. We think that will change over time, but for now, bike riders would be well advised to be aware of their surroundings.
A sad example of this happened a few days ago. A bicyclist was riding a Capital Bikeshare bike on 11th and U Street NW when a truck sideswiped him. The rider was dragged for 30 feet and was very badly injured.
The photos are pretty gruesome, as you would imagine any photos would be if they show what happens to a twenty pound bike when it is hit by a multi-ton truck.
We aren’t sure what exactly happened, but we can take a guess. We would bet that the truck driver did a lane change without taking a long enough look at the side view mirror and went into the next lane. Or maybe the bike was right in that blind spot. But the end result is that someone got hurt pretty bad.
A lot of people lack the basic knowledge of how they are supposed to act with bicyclists, and when we say “people” we mean “Americans.” We aren’t just keeping our criticism to the D.C. area. The United States has been a car based culture for about 90 years. Bikes simply aren’t in our DNA just yet.
People on bikes have the same rights on our roads as people in cars. It’s that simple. You can’t blow by them on a two lane street and you can’t demand that they get on the sidewalk. If you do any of those things and you end up hurting a bicyclist, you are every bit as liable for his injuries as you would be if you hit another driver or a pedestrian.
The weather is getting warmer, and more and more bicyclists will be out on the roads in D.C, Maryland and Virginia. Please treat them with respect.
Greenberg and Bederman is a personal injury law firm in Silver Spring, Maryland, and we are currently offering legal assistance to bicyclists and pedestrians who have been injured due to no fault of their own. Bicyclists and pedestrians have rights, too. If you or a loved one in Maryland, Virginia or Washington, D.C. has been hurt due to the negligence or recklessness of someone else, contact Greenberg & Bederman for a free consultation.