What’s the deal with… biking in D.C.?

Bikers are constantly whizzing by on sidewalks and bike lanes around the District, but what you don’t know is that many cyclists say they don’t feel safe on D.C. streets, and safety statistics are backing up their claim.

According to the Washington Transportation Planning Board, about 25 percent of those killed on roads in the metropolitan area are bicyclists and pedestrians. Although D.C. has roughly the same percentage of bicycle commuters and couriers as other major U.S. cities, experts say it lacks a similar level of biker accommodation.

Alex Braha, president of the GW Cycling Team, said she doesn’t ride on the streets because they are so unfriendly to cyclists.

“I hate riding in the city because I didn’t grow up around the kind of traffic in this town,” Braha said. “It’s very nerve-wracking. I definitely prefer the trails.”

Under the leadership of former Mayor Anthony Williams, the District passed a plan to increase bike lanes on city streets. Most of the plan has not been implemented because the lane construction only occurs when resurfacing work is needed.

Eric Gilliand, executive director of the Washington Area Biking Association, said the area was built for cars, not people.

“The problem is that D.C. is a commuter town, with a large percentage of cars from suburbs in Maryland and Virginia,” Gilliand said. “The city’s road engineering is focused primarily on moving automobile commuters – not on the needs of D.C. locals, including the biking community.”

Gilliand said the lanes have been an improvement but not enough.

“We still have a long way to go to catch up to some of the great West Coast biking cities, like Portland and Seattle,” Gilliland said. “But we’ve seen some paint on the pavement, and things are improving.”

Despite the hurdles, there is a strong biker culture in the D.C. Metro area, said employees at Georgetown’s Bicycle Pro Shop.

“You always get a few bad apples, but on the whole, D.C. motorists are fairly respectful,” said Nathan Walker, a technician at the store. “I would even blame the bikers for most of the problems. You get these road racers who cause hairy situations that can ultimately result in accidents and injuries. It gives bikers a bad rap.”

Co-worker Edwin Fairfield said biking around D.C. is definitely worth it, as long as one use proper biking etiquette.

“If you follow the rules of the road, it’s the quickest and easiest way to get around town,” Fairfield said. “Sure beats paying two-and-a-half bucks a gallon to fill up a car.”n

-Eric Walker

“What’s the deal with…” is a weekly feature in the Life section. If you have a suggestion for the column, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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