Biking Through the Streets of D.C.


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I like my bike. I like it because it allows me to avoid the Metro and cuts my commute from Petworth to Rosslyn in half. This means more time sleeping, and some exercise when I finally do roll out of bed.

Almost every day, barring bad weather, I make the trip from Petworth, climbing 14th Street into Columbia Heights, taking Columbia Road to 18th Street and diving into Adams Morgan. Florida Avenue then takes me into Georgetown, where I finish one last climb along M Street, taking me to Key Bridge and dropping me off at work.

I’ve learned a few things on this route, mainly that people in D.C. are in a big hurry, and that commuters have no patience for bikes. Get the hell off the road, one of them told me a few weeks ago just outside Columbia Heights. Every day people speed around me, almost as if to make a point, only to find themselves at a red light or a stop sign. I even find myself speeding around other cyclists (“on your left”) only to stand side by side with them seconds later at a red light. Hurry up and wait is what they say.

And when passing, you should definitely only pass on the left. Because there was that one time I passed on the right, and offended the cyclist I overtook. If you can’t pass on the left because of traffic, he said, then you’ve got to wait. It’s not a big deal, I told him, to which he responded, don’t be an jerk.

So I’ve tried to make a habit of passing on the left, which I did this morning when overtaking some girl wearing a fur vest. Be careful, she said, with a tone of voice that said she was offended by my passing, as well. You can’t win, especially in rush hour traffic, when tension and conflict are unavoidable.

Then there’s the pedestrians who see that all the passing cars have stopped, but they blindly walk across the bike lane. They especially like to pop out from behind a parked SUV or truck, right as I’m working up to top speed. I almost flattened this guy walking his bike across the bike lane on Columbia Road a few weeks ago. Jesus, he said as he stopped in the wake of my path, what’s wrong with you? Nothing, sir. You just walked into oncoming traffic.

Then there was that jaywalker on Florida Avenue running to get into the passenger seat of a car, right after I had bombed the hill in Adams Morgan (probably my favorite part of the ride). I saw her at the last second and slammed on my brakes, skidding to a halt at her shins. Watch out, I told. Her response: Why don’t you watch out.

Nobody ever accepts fault, including myself. That guy that switched into my lane, so he wasn’t forced to make a left onto Key Bridge and end up in Virginia, the one that turned to me and said, “F&%k you!” right after he cut me off, no it wasn’t his fault. Not at all. When it comes to cars, bikes, personal property and potential medical bills, you can’t possibly concede fault. That’s one of the first things they teach you when getting a driver’s license. And now that I’m on a bike, it’s even more apparent. D.C. has some kind of rule where cyclists, even if they are proved to be 1 percent at fault in an accident, are on the hook for their own damages (I believe the city is currently in the process of upping that number to 50 percent).

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Then there’s everything else I’ve seen on my ride, aside from the oversensitive bikers, the blind pedestrians, and the rude motorists. I’ve come across a lot of interesting stuff on this route, particularly in the early evening. About 90 percent of the time, there’s some kind of emergency response vehicle, whether it be an ambulance or police car, barreling down the road.

I’ve seen a kid crumpled on the sidewalk, holding his gut with his back against a brick wall, while passers-by are talking about a stabbing. Then there was the guy who was clearly jacked up on something, staggering around outside a convenience store with this crazed look in his eyes. “Stop moving,” the EMT called through his PA, safely inside the cab of his ambulance. “You need help.” The man wasn’t listening, though. He was determined, it seemed, to make it to the end of the sidewalk. “Just sit down.”

I’ll take this scene over rush hour Metro, which may or may not involve fire and explosions, any day.

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