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Thread: Newbie in Rockville: should I get off the sidewalk?

  1. #1
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    Default Newbie in Rockville: should I get off the sidewalk?

    I live along Rockville Pike and started bike commuting, just a couple of miles each way, about a month ago. I'm also branching out into errands in my area, where I can find a back way, and I've ridden into DC a few times on the CCT and/or Metro.

    On the Pike and other busy roads, I usually stick to the sidewalk or else parking lots. The set speed limit is usually 30 or 35 and the cars tend to go a lot faster than that. Also, sometimes the sidewalk saves me a huge detour through a large or tricky intersection. Drivers around here are not particularly welcoming of bikes either. There's one left turn at a busy-ish intersection on my commute, and I often get grief (horns, crowding) from cars there. I dismount and walk my bike across in the crosswalk often enough, but at that intersection I usually bike (because the walk lights take SO LONG), yet I'm always wondering if I'm doing the right thing. I'm always mindful of cars coming out of driveways especially when I'm on the sidewalk, so I feel I'm choosing the safer option. The sidewalks aren't very busy here and I'm always careful to give pedestrians the right of way. For the record, cycling on the sidewalk is legal in Montgomery County.

    Am I wrong to ride on the sidewalk? Am I setting back the cause of cycling? I always read that I'm not supposed to cycle on the sidewalk, but I don't see how riding in the road is supposed to work around here except on the quietest back streets. I'd like to take a class on commuting (before I bought my bike in late April I hadn't ridden in several years) but they're not offered anywhere near me. I love my new commute and I want to do it right. Thanks for your input.
    Last edited by Silver; 06-07-2011 at 12:55 PM.

  2. #2
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    Do what's safe and legal. It sounds like you're taking good precautions. I don't even feel safe DRIVING on the streets in Rockville, so I certainly don't blame you for not wanting to bike there.

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    Safety first, legality second, propriety third, style last. Suburban bike commuting is an huge challenge, and rules and customs and guidelines that may work in other places may not work in areas where pedestrians and bikes were a distant afterthought when roads and commercial areas were "planned."

    My daily commute often includes salmoning up a short stretch of sidewalk alongside Greenbelt Road (another multi-lane suburban speedway like Rockville Pike), going cross country through a grassy area, cutting through parking lots behind some shops and office buildings, cutting through a bus stop waiting area (very slowly and courteously of course), and crossing at cross walks. All this to avoid congested or high-speed suburban roads. It's just something you sort of have to do sometimes.
    Last edited by Greenbelt; 06-07-2011 at 10:51 AM.

  4. #4
    DismalScientist is offline I really need to log off the internet and go for a ride.
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    I generally feel that it is safer in the street than on the sidewalks and I think there are studies that confirm this. Drivers do not expect fast moving vehicles on the sidewalk, so you'll have to make eye contact with anyone likely to cross your path. This is particularly a problem when on a left sidewalk (i.e. going in the opposite direction of traffic). In my opinion, the best way for you to be noticed by drivers is for you to act as a fellow driver and take the street.

    I open up this can of worms with the following link: http://www.labreform.org/blunders/

  5. #5
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    Thank you both. Rockville is very different from the parts of DC where I used to live and where most of my friends cycle, so I'm just trying to use common sense as I figure out how to get around here.

    Greenbelt, "salmoning" is exactly what I have to do in some places. Are you the Greenbelt with the videos on Vimeo? If so, love your work!

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    DismalScientist, the thing is that I'm not moving particularly fast, nowhere near the speed of traffic. If I were, I might be more comfortable riding in the road. TFTL; I'll have to save it for later.

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    I don't necessarily disagree with dismal scientist -- it "generally" is safer to take the lane than to ride on sidewalks for the reasons she (or he) mentions. However, there's no way in heck I'd ever take the lane on Greenbelt Road. It's just far too bike and pedestrian hostile. Roads like that are just the exception to the usual rules for me. Plus, the general streetscape on those sorts of roads is so ugly and intimidating that there aren't many pedestrians on the sidewalk. Of course, you can't ride fast and do have to just stop for turning traffic -- can't expect them to yield to you ever.

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    Silver, I really sympathize with your situation. I used to live along Colesville Rd in Silver Spring and that, along with East-West Hwy are two more examples of artery roads that I would never feel safe riding on - especially on a daily basis. On E-W and Colesville I have seem many drivers going upwards of 50 mph.

    On the other hand, I really hate riding on sidewalks. It just doesn't feel right to me. There are a ridiculous number of potential hazards from the gap between the sidewalk edge and the grass, possible collision points at driveways, parking lots, intersections, etc... and I know you said you're courteous to peds, but what about those days when all there seem to be are moms with double-wide baby strollers. Will you get off the sidewalk and pass in the grass each and every time?

    My suggestion would be to look for a side road solution. Even if this will take you out of your way and add a mile or two onto your commute, I think it's probably worth it. It will get you used to riding on semi-busy roads without having to be on Rockville Pike and over time you'll probably get faster and more skilled in your cycling. This will increase your confidence and ability to ride in bike-unfriendly situations when necessary. At least for a short while.

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    creadinger, I know what you mean about Silver Spring. The sidewalks there are a lot busier than the ones I travel on. And I am using mostly side roads, although even on those the traffic is cranky sometimes.

    I guess I'm distinguishing between what I can reasonably to do make my own commute more sensible and what's good for cyclists as a whole. In some cases I can see how it would be wiser to take the lane, and I do that. In reading this thread, I've figured out a way to simplify things by riding on the road in one stretch. I'm just not willing to put my body and my bike on the line for the sake of some principle, to blaze a trail for other cyclists. I'm not that brave, and the drivers around me are just not that cool.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Silver View Post
    I guess I'm distinguishing between what I can reasonably to do make my own commute more sensible and what's good for cyclists as a whole. I'm just not willing to put my body and my bike on the line for the sake of some principle, to blaze a trail for other cyclists. I'm not that brave, and the drivers around me are just not that cool.
    Understood. Maybe the best way to 'take on the cause of commuting cyclists' is to not become a grim statistic. Your advocacy for cycling will go a lot farther if you are alive. Don't be a hero, and no one is invinceable. I learned that this past year when this happened. http://road.cc/content/news/24512-mu...obi%C4%8D-dies The guy rode across the entire US non-stop multiple times and was killed in an accident a few kilometers from his home.

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