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Behind the Handlebars: D.C. Cyclists Speak on What It's Like at the Wheel

Disrespect, Vision Zero, and Instagram

From the outside, being a cyclist in Washington, D.C. seems pretty easygoing. Petworth resident Rachel Maisler runs an Instagram account called HandlebarsDC that captures photos of what she sees while biking around the District. From delicate flowers in the springtime to a break at Hains Point, Maisler's point of view appears relaxing. In truth, what Maisler often sees a lack of respect for cyclists from D.C. residents—and sometimes even a lack of safety.

Generally, Maisler feels safe when riding her bicycle through Washington, D.C.

For Colin Browne, communications director for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, he says there are areas of D.C. where it’s terrifying. When commuting from Woodridge to Adams Morgan, he has to cross North Capitol Street NW, but there is no way to do so without feeling exposed.

Despite any fear from roads with minimal physical barriers between cyclists and drivers, Browne still said D.C. is a great place for bike riding.

Cyclists are sometimes criticized for not following the rules of the road. Maisler countered this by arguing that both pedestrians and drivers break the rules as well.

Browne agreed: "The reality is that people behave badly in cars, people behave badly on bikes, and people behave badly on foot. That happens everywhere."

What Maisler believes cyclists should do if they want more respect from drivers, pedestrians, and any other commuter is to simply follow the rules. Stop at red lights, ride with the traffic, know where you can and can't bike on the sidewalk—it's breaking rules like these that cause animosity and even accidents.

"I think finding mutual respect and awareness of each other will help make everybody’s experience better," she said.

View from the #Handlebars: Handlebars on the home front edition #nofilter #shawdc #bikedc #bikelove #commute

A photo posted by View from the #Handlebars (@handlebarsdc) on

In the last decade, Maisler has seen more cyclists take advantage of the transit option. Capital Bikeshare in particular has boomed, growing to over 350 stations, over 3,000 bikes, and roughly 30,000 members in the five years since its inception.

She said, "The city is changing. Not everyone wants to be in a vehicle anymore. It’s not practical."

Despite the cyclist culture growth, Maisler still sees the current rules against violations as pretty relaxed. Browne believes, though, that the rulesthey're sufficient.

"Our region is doing a pretty good job at least from a policy standpoint of making sure that when it happens it doesn’t put people at risk," said Browne.

With Mayor Muriel Bowser's Vision Zero initiative, there are plans for an even safer city with even stricter penalties.

The goal of this initiative is to lower the number of traffic-related fatalities to zero. The D.C. government plans on implementing Vision Zero by increasing penalties for drivers who violate traffic laws. To make cyclists feel safe, Browne also suggested building protected bike lanes with a physical barrier between them and drivers.

With Vision Zero, Maisler said, "I’m really glad to see the direction that D.C. as a city is going with cyclists."

To follow Maisler's path as a D.C. cyclist, you can follow her Instagram, HandlebarsDC, here.

Cyclists, new and old, should also check out the Washington Area Bicyclist Association website for information on bike laws, classes, and more.

DC Bike Law Pocket Guide Jan2014 by wabadc

Washington, D.C. bicycle maps [District Department of Transportation]

Bike laws [Washington Area Bicyclist Association]

Vision Zero [Official Website]