12 October 2009

Bicycle Language in DC

DC Bicycle Infrastructure
Visiting Washington DC recently I was quite impressed to see many attempts at founding a language with which to communicate with citizens on bicycles and much of it surrounding separated bicycle infrastructure. If you were dropped blindfolded from a helicopter onto Thomas Circle or many of the nearby streets and removed the blindfold you'd be quite sure to think that you had landed in a bicycle-friendly city what with the bicycle lanes and signage.
Bike Leauge Jeff in DC
Jeff from the League of American Bicyclists showed me around on one of the days and here he is on his Brompton.

Let's forget, if we can, the details about Best Practice for design of bike lanes for a moment and just regard the many areas of the city that feature facilities for making cyclists safer, as well as the all-important bicycle-friendly communicational aspect of the graphic design universe aimed at the traffic users.

It's quite clear that on the street above bicycles are welcome and are given their own space in which to move, instead of being thrown rudely into the unfair cockfight that is traffic, like it was the middle-ages and where only testosterone-pumped, sub-cultural 'purists' choose to tread.

Such infrastructure is not in place for them, the small minority that seek to elbow out all attempts at mainstreaming bicycle culture. It is in place for the Greater Good and the hope that more citizens will take to the bicycle and that both individuals and society will reap all the benefits that follow with it.
DC Bicycle Infrastructure DC Bicycle Infrastructure
Let's forget also for a moment the fact that many of the two-wheeled citizens have yet to master the infrastructure and instead choose to dance precariously all over the shop with little regard for the motorists or pedestrians. [although after my visit to NYC, DC seemed as calm and relaxed as a Greek island village]. Signage has been produced, funds have been allocated for it and it is in place. A form of commitment to a bicycle-friendly future has been made. Which is brilliant.
DC Bicycle Infrastructure
This is all an extension of the symbolism mentioned in an earlier post about Washington DC. The importance of creating not only space but a graphic design language that cements the bicycle as an accepted, respected and equal form of transport. Beacons flashing staccato signals of light that give hope that a safe harbour is within reach before long.

The city has a daunting journey ahead of it but there are clear and present signs that it is on the right [cycle] track. My experience cycling around the city was that it was less intuitive than, say, Paris, but lightyears ahead of New York. It was actually enjoyable, whether I was on a preferred bicycle lane or not.

There was still an overwhelming number of male cyclists, which is the surest sign that much work is to be done. As Dr. John Pucher will also tell you. Although Cycle Chic exists and can blossom, given the right ingredients, along with the rest of the bicycle culture.

And it seems that things are taking a very position turn for the better, as you can read here.
DC Bicycle Infrastructure


Kelsey said...

Much of the city doesn't have good infrastructure though...16th St. and Connecticut are downright dangerous for bikers. And even 14th St. which has a bike lane is very unpleasant to bike on. The buses are always whipping out in front of bikes, and the side streets have no room for parked cars, moving cars, and bikes. Not to mention a lot of the men in DC are always calling out to me as a girl on a bike...no wonder I have to bike on the sidewalk, and never in my own neighborhood. I even interned at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and I didn't feel safe enough to bike there, I took Metro instead. I think DC should do a lot more as the capitol to set an example.

Steph said...

That's the first time I've seen a cycle helmet wearing road icon, very subtle politico-ing but does look a wee bit odd, do non helmeted cyclists have to go on the road?

Anonymous said...

I think you can group DC cyclists into neighborhood based Clans. It's a result of staggered introduction of bike infrastructure into different parts of the city. The 14th Street Bike Clan has a lot to learn still about bike lane etiquette, how NOT to go through red lights like a messenger, and how to mix with other cyclists. They're still on the shallow and long part of the learning curve.

Kenney said...

First of all, thank you Mikael for coming to visit DC. You may remember me as one of the only attendees at your presentation here that arrived by bike wearing a suit and tie. You thanked me for "dressing in normal clothes."

The point made by Anonymous is key. The overall behavior of cyclists here in DC endangers themselves, pedestrians, and most ironically, fellow cyclists.

As Mikael mentioned in a post about cycling in New York, it seemed to him that too many people were trying to "break landspeed records." Whipping past slower moving motor traffic and red lights hurts other cyclists indirectly, by doing tremendous damage to the goodwill people like me try to curry with motorists by practicing common courtesies such as queuing up behind cars stopped at red light, instead of going to the head of the line, at which point most of these cars will end up having to pass me on the left.

Sure, many motorists don't extend similar courtesies to cyclists, which leads some to believe that you have to counteract aggressive driving with aggressive cycling. But on this point, the golden rule of the world's many great religions has proved most helpful to me in safely navigating the urban jungle. Here it is summarized beautifully from the Buddhist perspective in the Dhammapada: "Hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, Ancient and inexhaustible."

Meredith said...

Thanks for posting! Since you agree that DC does have some facilities but it lacks best practice, can you please send me some type of guidebook on best practices? We're always fighting with DDOT engineers who don't want to include bike facilities in a plan because they think it cannot be done. Instead of this constant attitude and never the desire to think outside the box, we continue to have half-assed designs that don't even work properly for cyclists.
I can be reached at mbegin.dcbac@gmail.com

Justin from ReadysetDC said...

Thanks for showing DC some love! The good news about DC bike culture isn't where we are, but where we are going. Cycle tracks, bike boxes, and more lanes are in the works. Expansion of the bikeshare system is underway. It will definitely be a big part of DC culture very soon!