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Gear Prudence: I don’t know whether it’s like this in other cities, but it seems like there are road closures in downtown D.C. all the time. Either it’s a “suspicious package,” some big VIP event, or a road race/food festival/charity walk. All of a sudden and with no warning, streets go from open to closed, and as a bicyclist, this leaves me confused. When streets are closed to traffic, are they also closed to bikes? Or it is just cars? And if there’s room to get by, wouldn’t it be OK for me to just go past a barrier or around the caution tape? —Deftly Evading Traffic On Unopen Roads
Dear DETOUR: GP doubts that D.C. is unique in having occasional street closures, but all locals know that we are beset by them quite frequently. Learning to cope is just part of getting around. At least facing closed streets while on a bicycle is vastly better than being stuck in a car (or worse, a bus), since it’s much easier to pull a volte-face or wend your way through the mess using your superior maneuverability and relative litheness. Whereas bulky cars are stuck, bicyclists, like cockroaches, can find a way. Use caution in these situations—the resulting congestion from unexpectedly closed roads tends to amplify driver impatience, which can result in some reckless (or outright hostile) navigation in an attempt to gain an advantage over all those others equally stuck.
Getting around a closed road is one thing, but deciding whether to go through is trickier. There tends to be a hierarchy in road closures, and those related to VIPs and big events sit at the top. A good rule of thumb is when you see sirens and people with machine guns, don’t blithely assume your passage through the closure will be permitted. Those tasked with providing security to big events have bigger concerns than you and your bike. Sometimes you might be allowed through, but always ask in advance. And don’t be whiny if they say no, which will likely happen.
Obviously, biking alongside a marathon route or any other kind of closed race course is prohibited. Don’t put the dip in Pheidippides. If you come upon a street closed for a bike race, don’t ride there either. At least not without registering first.
Street festivals are less obvious and biking there is probably not strictly forbidden, but common sense should prevail. If there are a lot of people walking and your biking through will be inconvenient to them, stay clear. If it’s spacious, you can ride through, but slowly. The same rules generally apply when the street is closed but the sidewalk is open. It’s probably going to be easier and less frustrating for everyone if you dismount and walk. If you really must ride and with pace, then detour. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.