MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Say the word sidewalk, and what comes to mind? Probably walking, right? Although here in D.C., our sidewalks perform double duty and also function as bike lanes. NPR's Parth Shah reports on the strong opinions many of us Washingtonians have about sharing our sidewalks.
PARTH SHAH, BYLINE: When a bicyclist rides past Lukia Eccleston on the sidewalk, she always wants to yell out.
LUKIA ECCLESTON: This is for pedestrians. Why are you here?
SHAH: Eccleston is a young mom in D.C. She walks practically everywhere, and clearly, she does not like seeing bicyclists on the sidewalk.
ECCLESTON: You're supposed to be in the street, you know?
SHAH: Did you know, actually, no, in D.C. everywhere except downtown bicyclists can bike on the sidewalk?
ECCLESTON: Are you serious? No, I didn't know that. I thought it was for everywhere they're supposed to be in the street.
SHAH: And that's exactly the law in places like New York City and Chicago where adult bicyclists are banned from riding on the sidewalk. When Nelle Pierson moved to D.C. from Colorado six years ago, she was surprised to see so many sidewalk cyclists, but it wasn't long before she joined in, too.
NELLE PIERSON: People are driving at 40 to 50 mph even though the speed limit is 25 or 30. There's absolutely no way I feel safe in the road. So I have become someone who bikes on the sidewalk.
SHAH: Pierson is a member of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, a local group that works to make D.C. more bike friendly. She says like many other U.S. cities, D.C. has significantly built up its bike infrastructure in the last decade. There are more bike lanes than ever before, and the city boasts one of the largest bikeshare programs in the country. Despite all that's being done to get more people biking, college student Leticia Clark (ph) says she still prefers to walk.
Do you ever bike?
LETICIA CLARK: No.
SHAH: Why not?
CLARK: It's too dangerous. People out here - these people in D.C. drive crazy. I don't want to bike. (Laughter) I like my life.
PIERSON: People will stop biking on the sidewalks when we have safe places to ride everywhere.
SHAH: The ideal safe place for Nelle Pierson is a protected bike lane. Unlike the standard white line painted on the side of the road, a protected bike lane has a physical barrier that separates bicyclists from traffic. D.C. Department of Transportation research shows protected bike lanes reduce sidewalk cycling by more than 50 percent.
COLIN BROWNE: If you want to actually install a protected bike lane, you'd probably have to get rid of some parking.
SHAH: That's Colin Browne. He's also with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. He says in a traffic-heavy city like D.C., finding space for protected bike lanes is the biggest obstacle. Of the nearly 80 miles of bike lanes in D.C., just six miles are protected. So when the roads are too scary, bicyclists make the sidewalk their unofficial protected bike lane.
BROWNE: Nobody wants anybody to be riding on the sidewalk. It's a sensible decision to say it's better to ride on the sidewalk for a couple of blocks than it is to say if you can't take a lane don't bike.
SHAH: While many pedestrians don't think riding on the sidewalk is ever a sensible decision, they'll just have to get used to sharing. D.C.'s planned bike lane network won't be completed until 2032. Parth Shah, NPR News, Washington.
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