Gear Prudence: Occasionally when I’m driving along some of the streets that feature the city’s finest bike lanes (L, M, and 15th), I see cyclists not using them and on the open road with cars. When biking, I always go out of my way to get to the safety of a bike lane. I’ve racked my brain trying to understand their motivation for avoiding the lanes and riding with traffic, but I just don’t get it! What gives? —No Obvious Logical Answer, Needs Explanation
Dear NOLANE: You haven’t really biked in D.C. until you’ve been told by a ragey driver to “GET IN THE BIKE LANE!” Even after the shouter has been met with “THERE’S NOT EVEN A BIKE LANE HERE!”, there’s typically exasperation and honking and the exchanging of middle fingers and hopefully nothing worse. When there is a bike lane present and a cyclist isn’t in it, it can be baffling. But there are reasons.
The big obvious reasons for temporarily riding outside a bike lane are big and obvious: bike lanes attract obstructive detritus (construction equipment, dumpsters, delivery vans, wrong-way cyclists, wayward pedestrians). Some people on bikes, rather than contend with these nuisances, simply choose to bypass them by moving into a general lane. The same occurs when avoiding the potholes, metal grates, ice, steel plates, flotsam, jetsam, and other hazards that can lead to suboptimal or dangerous cycling. Another common reason: the cyclist is preparing to make a turn at an upcoming intersection that’s on the other side of the street.
There are others, however, who eschew bike lanes not from temporary necessity, but a conscious choice. Justifications include: “I ride fast and can keep up with cars”; “Bike lanes, as designed, are unsafe, and it’s safer and predictable to avoid them”; “Bike lanes relegate bicyclists to a second-class status and I deserve as full rights to the road”; and “An evil witch cursed me and if I ride in the bike lane, I’ll turn back into a toad.” Under District law, the presence of a bike lane doesn’t mandate any cyclist to ride in it, and while this might irk or confuse observers, where to ride is a matter of personal preference.That said, I would contend that the overwhelming majority of city cyclists prefer bike lanes, always try to ride in them, and desperately want more and better ones. —GP