Posted by: emilybybike | August 30, 2011

The Other Side of the Coin

As a cyclist – it’s almost nature to always assume that cars (vans, taxis, scooters, busses, etc…) are typically in the wrong when it comes to vehicle – cyclist interactions. We sometimes forget that as a cyclist, we also have to be observant, responsible and smart when it comes to sharing the roadways with other forms of transportation. I like to think of myself as a safe and observant cyclist, and also when I do drive, a cyclist-friendly driver. On the bike, I’ll stop at lights and signs (okay fine, I stop when there’s traffic or a cop), I warn other cyclists when I’m passing and even though it can be slower and more crowded with other users – I’ll take the bike path when one is available or the traffic is really heavy (i.e. Beach Drive near the National Zoo). When I drive, I pass cyclists with care, and use caution at lights and stop signs when cyclists are present.

What does sometimes confuse and irritate me, in addition to those drivers who are rude and disrespectful of cyclists (my good “friend” in the blue BMW who passes me at mach-10 every morning on Beach Drive) are the cyclists who put themselves in dangerous situations, almost looking to get into a tussle with a car.  I experienced this the other evening, as my friend Rachel and I were heading into Georgetown.

It was a nice evening, and my friend Rachel (another fellow cyclist) and I were headed down to Georgetown (there was a really good sale at Banana Republic and I had coupons…) Initially I was going to ride, but Rachel had recently hurt her back and is off the bike for a while, so she offered to drive. At least we were carpooling – right? The traffic leaving Arlington on 66 wasn’t bad at all, however we ran into a bit of a jam heading into the city over Key Bridge (6pm….) All three lanes going into DC were at a standstill – but that’s pretty standard for this time of day.  As we inched over the bridge, there was an opening in one of the lanes due to a car trying to merge out of it and into a blocked one (genius). So both Rachel and I checked, and double checked before she slowly pulled into the other lane. Then all of a sudden, out of no where, a cyclist whacked her trunk with his fist and started shouting incoherently at us. I was confused. Neither of us had seen him, and we had both checked due to the heavy traffic. Plus, we were in the middle traffic lane on Key Bridge – not exactly a place you’d expect to see cyclists, especially since there are TWO wide pedestrian / bike path, one on either side of the bridge.

The cyclist rode by and flipped us off, shouting more incoherent babble. I was again confused and slightly irritated at the cyclist. I commute over Key Bridge every day too – and sure, while the pedestrian and bike traffic on the sidewalks is heavy, it’s definitely much safer and responsible to take the sidewalks instead of playing Frogger through the 6 consistently bustling lanes of traffic, where people do frequently change lanes to either go into Georgetown or down Canal Road. I did feel a little bad for the cyclist – in his defense it’s not fun to be cut-off by a car, but again, we weren’t speeding, it was stop and go heavy traffic, and there is definitely an alternative option to riding in the traffic lanes across Key Bridge. Here’s one of those situations where, as a cyclist, I get very frustrated with other cyclists for putting themselves in a potentially adversarial position when a much safer alternative is available. So what if it costs you a few minutes getting to or from work – you’re not going to win any cash or prizes for getting there the fastest.

As cyclists, we frequently use the phrase Share the road – and I’d like to emphasize the share part. It’s not “give the entire road to cyclists” and it’s also not “drive like a jerk and ignore cyclists” it’s SHARE the road. Sharing is something we all were supposed to have learned in Kindergarten – right?

So in the end – as cyclists, when we’re riding out on the roads and bike paths – we do have to be defensive cyclists – alert and ready for cars not paying attention, but we also have to be smart cyclists and not put ourselves in dangerous situations, especially when a much safer alternative is available. And as drivers – we do need to be cautious and watchful for cyclists, especially in urban and suburban areas.

Not trying to be up on a soap-box here – just interesting to see the other side of driver / cyclist interactions, and realize that it takes an effort from both cyclists and drivers to keep everyone safe out there!

Happy riding!


  1. I have to admit to generally taking the Key Bridge by bike on the main part of the bridge. There are far too many pedestrians to think about taking the side path. Especially if traffic is heavy and not moving that fast, there’s no reason why not stick to the road. I mean, the cars slow bikes down on the downslant as much as the other way around on the upslant. Can’t we all just be cautious and share?

  2. Being cautious and sharing was the entire point of this post – personally, when there are two bike/pedestrian lanes available, as opposed to six lanes of heavy traffic, even at a standstill (since that’s almost more dangerous when traffic is stopped and drivers stop paying attention and stop/go/stop/go a little randomly) I think the bike/pedestrian lanes are safer. And I’m not going to stress my commute if I have to slow down for 30 seconds because of a pedestrian. Most of them move out of the way fairly quickly and the paths are wide enough that I’ve never had a major problem. But like I said – it’s not really Key Bridge-specific – it’d just be nice if everyone – cars, cyclists, pedestrians, were all a little more careful and observant of each-other and really, truly shared the road.

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