Examining How New Bike Laws in D.C. Impact You

by Kris Ankarlo
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A cyclist makes her way under a snowfall in Washington. (credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

A cyclist makes her way under a snowfall in Washington. (credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON — Even if you’ve taken a sworn oath to never push a pedal in your life you still need to know about a host of new bicycle laws that took effect with the New Year.

In October, Mayor Vincent Gray signed the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013. The law aims to make riding a bike in the District safer. And there are two changes with a direct impact on motorists.

“This brings the law in line for bicyclists as we have for pedestrians,” said Greg Billing, advocacy coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).

There are now violations for “failure to yield” that could mean a fine of $250 and three points on your license. There is also a violation for “colliding with a bicyclist while failing to yield” that results in up to a $500 fine and six points added to your license.

“A good example would be passing a bicyclist,” said Billing. “A bicyclist is riding on the road and you come up behind them and pass them. They’ve got the right of way, they’re a vehicle in front of you. If you overtake that vehicle and collide with them they’d have the right of way. You’d be cited for failure to yield a right of way to the cyclist.”

Aside from these two provisions, there is also a change to how cyclists are able to pass through an intersection. Lead Pedestrian Interval (LPI) is just a complicated way of explaining the head start that pedestrians get when crossing the street. At many intersections in the District, the walk indicator lights up before the traffic light turns green.

“What research has shown is that the LPI increases safety for pedestrians, because it puts them out there and makes them visible to drivers,” said Billing.

Under the new law cyclists are able to start from the intersection at the same time as pedestrians, also giving them a head start on motorists.

“At intersections where there is an LPI you may see a bicyclist kind of take a jump on the red light because they’re following the pedestrian signal,” said Billing. “This is about increasing the safety and visibility of bicyclists because when they are in the intersection before cars there’s a greater chance that cars can see them.”

One random change to the bicycle laws in the District: you don’t need a bell anymore. Not that the law’s been enforced since the Coolidge administration.

“This removes the bike bell requirement, but requires bicyclists to be able to alert car drivers and other cyclists with their voice, a bell or whatever,” said Billing.

All of the construction that spills over into dedicated bike lanes remains a hazard to cyclists. The new law requires builders to create a safe alternate travel lane for bikes when construction obstructs bike lanes and sidewalks.

“14th Street is one of the best examples in the city where you have a lot of new buildings going up and developers and contractors shut down the bike lanes for two years at a time, forcing cyclists to weave out into traffic to pass the development. It creates a hazard for both drivers and cyclists,” said Billing, while also acknowledging that implementation on that part of the law will take a bit more time.

WABA has a full rundown on bicycle laws in the region if you want to catch up on the new laws and read up on the old. You can also read the legislation itself.

Follow reporter Kris Ankarlo and WNEW on Twitter.

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