Wednesday, October 23, 2013

No Bike Bell? Go to Jail? DC's New Bike Law.

The Bicycle Safety Amendment passed in Washington, D.C. on October 17, 2013.
Cars now have to think about cyclists while they are driving.  

If a driver fails to yield to a cyclist, he or she could get three points on their license, along with a $250 fine.  Also, if a driver collides with a cyclist, then six points can be added to the driver's license, and the driver can be ordered to pay $500 fine.  Other sub textual consequences include, but are not limited to: eternal damnation, the permanent contamination of the driver's karma, a sentence of days in a pillory, hours on the rack, minutes in the Iron Maiden (no, not the band), public shaming, and, of course, the permanent wrath of the cycling community - which tends to be a rather hale bunch capable of physical intimidation.  The law does not state these latter penalties, but we all know that they will be part of justice dispensed.

The law no longer requires cyclists to have a bell on their bike.  Instead, if you don't have a bell, you have to have a loud voice, objectively speaking, or an air pistol, or one of those blow horns they use to signal the start of a water polo game.  I deduce this because here's what the law says now:
"[A cyclist must] be capable of making a warning noise either with a bell or mechanical device, or with his or her voice, audible for a distance of at least one hundred feet."  If you have strep throat, or a tinny little vox, I think you might want to consider a "mechanical device."  Maybe one of those horns that clowns carry at the circus or a pair cymbals would do.  But I would not rely on a Mister T bobble head, or a pair of castinettes.  That's just my opinion.

I have a bike bell that sounds like a door bell.  People aren't sure whether to get out of my way or let me in so I can borrow a cup of sugar.  But it gets attention and amuses.  I think I would like to get a bell that sounds like Foghorn Leghorn, or perhaps LBJ when he was angry.  Or maybe a woman making a blood-curdling scream like those loops that play in fun houses at the beach.  I am open to suggestions.  Obviously whatever I use will have to be loud since 100 feet is about 95 feet longer than me.

The statute also removes a section of the law forbidding cyclists from making a noise within the established quiet zones of the city.  Title 18 Section 1204.7.  I am not sure where there are quiet zones in Washington, D.C., except in the political middle, which is kind of like an outer space vortex, devoid of voters, legislators and oxygen.  But I think the law meant an actual bit of geography not and existential space.  I will investigate this and report back.

Importantly, the law now allows bicyclists to start into the intersection as soon as the pedestrian light shows the little man walking.  This may provoke high-strung drivers to want to hit cyclists and to disregard the consequences of the points on their licenses.  That is because drivers are angry, and SUV drivers are angrier (except those who have three children or more and have been given a waiver by God to drive such monstrosities for a limited number of years).  Yet we cannot enact legislation based on how the most anti-social among us will react.  Right?  Lest we should say "let's not punish murder because it might cause a murderer to get angry."  Or perhaps that analogy is a bit over the top.  The point of this provision was to allow bikes to go ahead of cars so that they can be seen more easily.  That is a noble legislative goal.

And the mayor can now force people whose projects block the bike lanes to get permits.  This sounds like a good idea if there is enforcement.  I have had to swing out and around the same Dempsey Dumpster now for six months on Capital Hill.  This has forced me into the way of cars stopped in stand-still traffic.  The drivers are visibly upset to be sitting there, and more upset to me whrrrrr by just inches from their side mirrors.  But there are people who won't block the bike lanes if they have to wait in line at the permit office.  So I am in favor of this.

It was good to see this amendment since I needed a little boost this week.  I was disappointed at not being able to attend Railvolution in Seattle, and filled with jealously to see the merriment being played out on social media.  It was sort of like missing your senior prom, and instead having to watch it in Vine snip-its on Twitter.  The new law reminded me that there are places where cycling rules, like Groningen and Copenhagen.  And maybe in the fullness of time Washington, D.C.

So if I see you in the bike lanes, pull the string on your tiger bell, crash your cymbals together, and let out a celebratory noise that can be heard 100 feet away, and let's be very, insufferably smug.

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