How Can D.C. Deal With Group-Ride Growing Pains?

Bike DC 2001

Many of you have seen the video of the cyclist struck while riding illegally during a community ride last week. We’re glad the cyclist is OK, but we’re disappointed at the way the incident and the video portray the bicycling community. I have no doubt, given the number of voicemails I have received, that this video is being used to paint cyclists as nothing but scofflaws. But it raises some serious questions about how the District is going to deal with the growth of bicycling and group rides. So far, the answer has been, in too many cases, “not very well.”

Many know that the annual BikeDC event was cancelled this year because permits could not be secured, due to restrictions that were overly burdensome individually and self-contradictory, and therefore impossible to meet. Fewer know that smaller events, including the Tour de Fat parade, were also unable to meet permitting requirements. In the case of the Tour de Fat parade, WABA went to the affected ANCs to voluntarily ask for support. Though we did receive ANC support, we were still unable to obtain a permit for the ride and were thus unable to limit motor vehicle traffic along the route or, importantly, exclude participants who might have been riding or celebrating in inappropriate ways.

Organizers of rides frequently reach out to WABA asking for assistance in making their rides safe. But if the issue is a number of riders who refuse to follow the rules that the organizers set, the organizers are left with no recourse. Anyone can ride public streets along with a group.

What is the solution?

We do not want a system in which every group ride has to get a permit. That makes a mockery of our right to bike on public streets. But that was actually suggested in some our our prior permit negotiations with the D.C. permitting taskforce—that any time multiple cyclists ride together an event permit would be required. However, the mayor’s office quickly clarified that was not the case.

What we need is the ability to work with enforcement officials interested in balancing in a flexible way the safety of events with functioning roadways. Perhaps the one fortunate thing to come from this ridiculous demonstration of bad behavior is that Sgt. Terry Thorne, who has worked productively with WABA on numerous bicyclist safety issues, contacted us to figure out a way forward.

I will be contacting a number of groups with a specific interest in this issue to participate in a discussion with Sgt. Thorne and MPD to work out a reasonable approach to ensuring that community ride events can take place, and that MPD can focus its efforts on public safety.

That said, WABA does not support additional restrictions on group rides. We already have a permitting system with so much red tape and so many fuzzy “security” standards that only large and well-heeled fundraising rides and races can be held. Community events are either cancelled or left to operate on their own. But we do look forward to an open conversation with police about how we can better work together to find a balance that helps ensure the safety of group bike rides.

To that end, I will be reaching out to a number of ride leaders in the coming week to discuss the issue further. If you operate a group ride and want to be included in this conversation, email us at advocacy@waba.org to be on the list.

We don’t need any more viral videos of bad behavior, and we especially don’t need any more people hit by cars on group rides. Let’s work together and find a solution that meets the needs of bicyclists that WABA and ride leaders can collectively get behind.

Photo by Flickr user Mr. T in DC