EDITORIAL: Everyone has rights — and responsibilities — on the road

“What shouldn’t be controversial has yet somehow become controversial,” sighed Mayor Bill Euille on June 25, just as city council prepared to overhaul the outdated bicycle ordinance. But regular readers of our Opinion section know that cycling has been a hot issue since Alexandria installed Capital Bikeshare stations last fall.

After all, rarely a week goes by when we don’t feature at least one letter from a resident espousing either the virtues of bicycling or the menace they pose to motorists and pedestrians. Given that summer is in full swing and cyclists have come out in droves, we feel the time is right to weigh in on what really should not be a controversy.

As one letter to the editor stated: This problem stems from a lack of civility. Cyclists, pedestrians and motorists need to get along — that’s just the way it is. And that hasn’t changed with city council’s recent review of Alexandria’s bicycle ordinance.

Since members of the Times staff occasionally ride to work, as well as drive and walk on city streets and sidewalks, we feel as though we’re in a position to speak from authority on this topic. We often swap stories of near misses in and around Alexandria, whether behind the wheel, on two wheels or on foot.

It’s not hard to figure out the root of the problem: We live in a fast-paced, deadline-driven and high-stakes community. We — and you — have places to be, and we need to be there quickly. And in an area known for congestion, traffic is not an excuse for tardiness.

So it’s easy to see why a cyclist might blow through the occasional stop sign. Although, to be fair, it’s not just the two-wheeled, pedal-driven commuters at fault for putting other people at risk on our roads and sidewalks.

We have all seen that motorist who hits speeds upward of 80 mph on the George Washington Memorial Parkway or runs a red light on Duke Street. And we doubt many of our readers haven’t spotted pedestrians walking into a busy roadway in Old Town — traffic signals and oncoming vehicles be darned.

But in each of these cases, we’re sure the offender has their reasons for the infraction. If only everybody understood why their trip is more important than the safety of those around them, they wouldn’t mind being put at risk. At least, that’s what we imagine them thinking.

So, in the interest of promoting motorist-cyclist-pedestrian relations, we recommend everyone take a moment to think about those around them no matter their method of travel. No one wants to be the cause of an accident or injury.

Maybe safety — and civility — should be at the forefront of our minds when we take to the streets.

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(2) Readers Comments

  1. I have a better idea; why doesn’t the city undertake a public education campaign explaining the rules and responsibilities for cars, bikes and pedestrians. The city could then follow up by actually enforcing these rules.

    Just yesterday, my dog was very nearly killed by a cyclist who blew through a stop sign while my dog and I were crossing. The day before, I nearly had to swerve into another parked car to avoid another cyclist who blew through a stop sign at full speed.

    I say this as someone who cycles regularly and wants to see those giving us all a bad name finally held to account.

    Same for motorists and pedestrians.

    • Not a bad idea, Tyler. I think the focus of the campaign should be “Eye Contact”. Once eye contact is made, communication almost universally follows, and the right of way is granted by one party. As an avid biker that regularly rides through Old Town on the Potomac trail, I do like to keep moving where I can. Where foot and car traffic is congested, I have to slow down and start making eye contact with those that intersect paths.

      I don’t think enforcement will get much public support, there is just not enough police force for it – as a local taxpayer, I want my tax dollars focused on bigger payoff items for the police.

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