In a rush to get from class to my internship last week, I jumped on a bike from the Capital Bikeshare station outside of Duques Hall and headed off down the street. I traveled about a block before I started to question on which side of the one-way street I should be biking.
Biking is an affordable, healthy and sustainable way to travel around the District, but it isn’t always safe or easy to navigate. Busy intersections and speeding cars can present danger for the daily commute. Urban biking is especially challenging – even for those who have experience biking in their hometowns or smaller cities – because there are so many official and unwritten rules of the road. For example, bikers can only legally ride on the sidewalk in certain parts of the city, and road bicyclists generally have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers in cars.
With 10 Capital Bikeshare stations on or near campus and many students owning bikes, it’s clearly a popular mode of transportation for students. Plus, a “dockless” biking system rolled out earlier this month may make biking even more popular on campus because it allows riders to pick up and leave bikes anywhere. To ensure that students are able to stay safe while getting the most out of city biking, GW should offer bike safety and training seminars.
The seminars would be optional and free for students and faculty and held in a convenient on-campus location.
Though information about biking safety in D.C. is available online from the District Department of Transportation, it would be helpful to have a resource specific to GW and Foggy Bottom. The Lerner Health and Wellness Center or the Milken Institute School of Public Health’s Lifestyle, Sport and Physical Activity department would be better equipped to give students relevant in-person instruction about the safest routes and routines for this area of the city.
Many people will just hop on a Capital Bikeshare bike without a second thought, and for tourists and daytrippers biking around pedestrian areas like the Mall, this works out fine in the short term. But regular commuters on busier roads may benefit from more in-depth instruction to answer questions like whether bikers are allowed to bike between lanes and how much distance to put between oneself and traffic.
All of these questions could be easily answered. In-person seminars would not need to be a significant time commitment for interested students and faculty. This safety seminar could be taught by instructors who teach courses in HelWell or Milken’s LSPA department. The necessary information could be conveyed in a short period of time – like a Saturday morning meeting – and offered to the community once or twice a semester. Ideally, the seminars would be optional and free for students and faculty and held in a convenient on-campus location, like the District House basement.
The University should learn from its fellow urban peer schools and prioritize the safety of faculty and students who choose to bike in D.C.
In addition to safety training and an overview of biking laws, the seminar could offer information about different bikeshare options and the risks and benefits of bike ownership in D.C. An opportunity for attendees to ask questions relating to their specific experiences on the road would also be helpful, as real-life examples can make concepts more relatable. Offering seminars should be possible and low-cost for the University. And at the very least, GW should already be offering resources like videos and safe route maps online on their transportation website.
Many of GW’s peer institutions offer more bike training resources. Before taking out one of New York University’s free bike-share bike rentals, students must complete an online safety training. Boston University has a website dedicated to bike safety and rules for biking in Boston. American University and Georgetown University both have transportation websites offering both campus- and D.C.-focused advice and resources to bikers.
GW’s transportation website, on the other hand, publishes the locations of bike racks and bikeshare stations but offers nothing in terms of safety or training. Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund Travel Grants can be granted for bikesharing, meaning that GW will help students afford the costs of using bikeshare to get to their internships. This is a positive thing, but it can be dangerous if students don’t know how to bike safely to their internships. The University should learn from the example of its fellow urban peer schools and prioritize the safety of its faculty and students who choose to bike in D.C.
In the meantime, I’ll keep commuting on my Capital Bikeshare, nervously hoping I’m not on the wrong side of the street.
Matilda Kreider, a sophomore double-majoring in political communication and environmental studies, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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