One of the best offerings the northeast metros have is their variety of transportation options. If using public transportation or driving through hour-long traffic aren’t your preferred methods of getting around, biking through the capital city is another great option. For roommates in Washington D.C., who are already battling rising rent costs, using programs like Capital Bikeshare or investing in your own two wheels can be both cost-effective and a great way to experience the city. But before you hop on and ride off into the sunset, familiarize yourself with the biking laws. Before you know it, you’ll be most mobile roommates in Washington D.C.
An Intro to Biking Laws for Roommates in Washington D.C.
Stopping at Lights
Many D.C. cyclists tend to agree that it’s OK to bike through red lights as long as they aren’t interfering with traffic or doing something that could cause an accident or harm others. Though it’s a common occurrence, it’s actually illegal and could land you in the slammer should something go awry. (You don’t want to be those roommates in Washington D.C.) However, a proposal that would allow cyclists to simply yield at red lights is currently under review and “would apply to quiet residential areas where under current law cyclists are required to stop even when there’s no one around,” according to The Washington Post.
“The law would not allow any behavior that threatens the safety of others,” says Tamara Evans, advocacy director for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “Stop as yield would apply where no one else currently has the right of way. It would help divert bicyclists from more dangerous streets to safer streets that they might currently avoid because those streets often have stop signs at every block.”
Evans says that the proposal, which Council Member Mary Cheh introduced through The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act, might also encourage the Metropolitan Police Department to concentrate on enforcing traffic laws that would be more likely to cause injury or death. Cyclists throughout the city, many who don’t follow the standing law regardless, support the proposed bill.
“Under the law, cyclists would be required to stop at a red light, but if no traffic was coming, could then proceed through the intersection with caution,” Evans says. “The law distinguishes between red lights and stop signs.”
Riding Two Abreast
When the weather is nice and you’re looking for something to do, taking a bike ride with your roommate is a great outdoor activity. Though riding two abreast (when two cyclists ride side-by-side) is legal, it’s more common to see people biking single file. But because bicyclists can use the full lane they’re in, riding two abreast occupies less of the road, according to Evans.
“This is a contentious subject out of the city on two-lane roads, where it is difficult and sometimes dangerous (or illegal) for drivers to pass,” says Evans. “There is an infraction for impeding the flow of traffic by riding two abreast, as we mention in the pocket guide. So it is somewhat situational depending on how many lanes of traffic there are.”
Required Bicycle Parking
New to biking and worried about where you would store your own? Fortunately, this is no longer a problem for apartment residents and roommates in Washington D.C., who don’t want the hassle of lugging a bike upstairs and finding room for it in their home.
“All new and existing buildings in the District now require bicycle parking,” says Evans. “Locations and types of bicycle parking must be shown in building site plans and be approved by the District Department of Transportation during the development review process. There are two sets of regulations governing bike parking in D.C. Code: Title 11 (zoning) shows number of spaces related to size of development and Title 18 (traffic) governs residential specifications, rack placement, and abandoned bikes, where bikes may legally park.”
For a full list of D.C. bike laws, WABA’s pocket guide is available here.
Using Capital Bikeshare
If after securing a new rental in one of the country’s priciest rental markets, buying a new bike isn’t in your budget, Capital Bikeshare is your next best option. The program offers numerous passes allowing roommates in Washington D.C. to rent bikes to commute to their destination. As a member of the program, you can use a bike for a free 30-minute ride. An additional fee will be added to your bill if you go over the first 30 minutes, but every new bike you take offers another free 30-minute trip. So essentially, customers can bike for 30 minutes, park the bike in a Capital Bikeshare station (if one is available), take out a new bike and ride for 30 minutes again. Considering the inexpensive membership cost, many D.C. dwellers enjoy the convenience of the program.
“Biking is my primary mode of transportation. Plus, you can get practically anywhere in D.C. in 30 minutes,” says Erin Gifford, a marketing professional. “The metro is terrible, buses are OK, and walking is great but slow. My company has nine locations throughout the D.C. area, so it’s nice to be able to move about the city easily and quickly on a bike.”
Though Gifford notes that it’s frustrating when a bike isn’t available, Capital Bikeshare’s app and the station kiosks notify its members of availability at other stations.
Taking Advice From the Pros
As a cyclist, you really can’t win; cars loathe driving around you, and pedestrians will curse the day you accidentally side-swipe them on the crosswalk. Despite the reputation cyclists have with both parties, however, there are things you can do to avoid confrontation and prevent potential accidents.
“My number one rule is to be predictable,” Mike Abrams, a D.C. paralegal says. “If the cars, pedestrians and other cyclists are expecting you to do what you do, you’ll probably be fine.”
Abrams advises practicing safety — even as an experienced biker — whether that means going the correct way on one-way streets or using lights and neon vests when biking through the dark. Likewise, cyclists should exercise caution on sidewalks around pedestrians and should mind the actions of those around them if, say, a driver is texting or a passenger of a cab is exiting the car.
“My biggest pet peeve when driving around cyclists is when they pass on the right at intersections,” says Abrams. “The most dangerous interaction between cars and bikes is when the car passes the bike. The cyclist passing the car at the intersection just forces the car to have to pass the bike repeatedly, which is dangerous.
“It’s not worth the extra 20 feet by moving to the front of the intersection. When I ride, I try never to force someone to pass me more than once. I act like a car and stay in the middle of the lane at lights. Not saying the cyclist should move to the back of the line at an intersection, but forcing unnecessary extra passes is just stupid, in my opinion.”
Gifford agrees with this notion and, while biking is her main mode of transportation now, she admits that cyclists and drivers attempting to pass each other at lights is a common problem. Of course, drivers and pedestrians have their own faults as well.
“Pedestrians cross the street whenever they want and jaywalk, forcing me to slam on my brakes so I don’t end up in prison,” Gifford says. “Drivers unaware get way too close, drive in the bike lanes and don’t always look for cyclists. Pedestrians feel like they always have the right of way and refuse to pause for two seconds while I pedal past so I don’t have to stop completely.”
In any case, it’s not a bad idea to prepare for the worst case scenario. One precautionary action you can take? Using technology to document what happened.
“I ride with a GoPro on my handlebars because D.C. has contributory negligence and that combined with MPD’s general apathy toward bike/car crashes doesn’t leave me with much confidence,” says Redditor tiny_apt_brewer. “I got burned once so the GoPro became a $200 insurance policy.
It’s not a bad idea, confirms another Redditor by the name of voikya.
“I do the same. I got hit by an Uber driver one time and it proved beyond any doubt that I was completely in the right. Completely paid for itself.”
For roommates in Washington D.C., biking can be the ultimate way to experience your new city. Be smart, and be safe, and leave your tips for fellow cyclists below!