Washington, D.C., turns to Twitter to enforce its bike lanes

November 19, 2013

The nation’s capital may have edged up another notch on Bicycling’s list of top bike-friendly cities in America with its latest enforcement effort. Coming in at fourth last year, Washington, D.C., earlier this month took to Twitter in an attempt to educate drivers about the dangers of using dedicated bike lanes as parking spaces.

Bike lane in Washington DC

A bike lane in Washington D.C. From Elvert Barnes.

Reggie Sanders, director of communications for the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), told the media, “It’s a safety issue. Cars parked in those lanes force . . . cyclists to put themselves in danger.”

According to the agency’s site, an average of 334 cyclists in D.C. were struck between 2005 and 2010, just at a time when its ridership increased (80 percent between 2007 and 2010). And the city is hoping the increased ridership will continue: It’s adding ten more miles of bike lanes this year to the fifty it already boasts.

Another strong showing in the local cycling community: the daily complaints DDOT receives from frustrated cyclists. Sanders said the complaints are especially acute for the 15th and L streets corridors in the city’s northwest quadrant, where cyclists grouse about vehicles parked in designated bike lanes.

In response, DDOT is trying to spread its message of safety via social media by photographing ticketed cars and tweeting the images with cautionary text. For example, DDOT, which has more than 17,000 Twitter followers, tweeted a photo of a traffic control officer placing a ticket on a van in the city’s downtown. It was accompanied by the caption, “Fair warning: If you park your car in a bike lane, this is bound to happen.”

The initiative appears popular. One follower tweeted NBC’s coverage of the new effort and, in a message to DDOT, wrote, “I’ve never said this before, but YOU ARE MY HERO.” Another tweeted, “Keep up the ticketing.” Each ticket carries a fine of $55.

Whether other cities follow D.C.’s lead remains to be seen, but some cyclists in New York City are skeptical of the tactic. “I doubt things like ‘shame’ have the same weight here in New York,” wrote Howard Hurst, deputy editor of Chalet, an art and cycling quarterly, in an email.

AFI truck unloading on bike lane

According to skeptics, in Brooklyn, you’re never going to shame this AFI Food Service truck out of parking on a bike lane on Adams Street for half an hour.

“The bike lanes are already so unsafe, they are basically unusable, thanks to the plague of unobservant jerks who open their doors without looking both ways,” he continued. “I actually had a guy yell at me for ‘running into my door.’”

Avid cyclist Charity Stebbins, who has written about cycling issues and safety for SmartSign in the past, expressed similar sentiments in an email. “It’s incredibly frustrating to need to swerve in and out of the (relative) safety of the bike lane to avoid parked cars.”

Stebbins, like Hurst, isn’t sure that shaming via social media would be effective but is supportive of “anything that raises awareness about the issue.”

“It could make some drivers think twice,” she added.

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