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Constitution Avenue NW at Virgnia Avenue NW

Constitution Avenue NW at Virgnia Avenue NW

Tim Evanson/Wikipedia Commons

The National Mall is Actually a Very Dangerous Place to Ride a Bike

NOTE: This story updated to include the medical condition of the cyclist and added details about the motorist.

A motorist running a red light killed a bike commuter in DC on Monday morning. DC Police are searching for the driver who caused the crash at the intersection of Constitution Avenue NW and 12th Street NW. The offender sped away after the incident. The collision closed Constitution between 10th and 14th Streets NW during the morning rush. The road re-opened in time for the evening commute.

Thomas Hendricks Hollowell, 64, of Arlington, Virginia, was on his regular morning commute, according to a colleague at the Smithsonian Museum of National History. Anecdotal reports from passersby suggest this type of incident was bound to happen, given red-light runners exiting the 12th Street Expressway tunnel, heading North. Witnesses said “close calls” occur daily between drivers and cyclists or pedestrians. DC Police say the driver was traveling at a high rate of speed.

The National Mall is a Dangerous Place for Bike Riding

Constitution Avenue NW is exceptionally hostile to non-car travel. The entire distance from 2nd Street NE to 23rd Street NW is designed to maximize the number of cars that can get through. There are four lanes each way, three travel and with a parking lane at the curb—that’s eight lanes total. There are no bike lanes. Sidewalks on each side are poor for cycling. The security measures at Smithsonian buildings to the South and federal agencies to the North break up the sidewalk. Giant, cement planters, poorly maintained garden spaces, and crowds of out-of-town visitors make it a dangerous fool’s errand to use the sidewalk.

I’m going to stop on that point: cyclists aren’t supposed to use the sidewalk. It’s dangerous to everyone using the sidewalk. Scooters, also, should not be used on the sidewalk. That’s dangerous as well. Cyclists go 12-15 mph, those scooters max out at 15mph, and pedestrians walk 2-4 mph. You’ll say that car traffic on Constitution can travel 50+ mph; that’s dangerous to even a fast cyclist going 20 mph. You, dear reader, get me to exactly the point: cars should not be going anywhere close to 50 on that road.

Constitution, and Independence to the South, are ridiculous, dangerous, urban highways designed to deliver cars to the downtown grid as fast and in as much volume as possible. Those two famous streets and boulevards like it around DC (*cough* 16th Street NW) crowd out all other modes of travel in what is supposed to be America’s Front Lawn. It’s the damn National Mall, not Pocono Raceway. Think about it: they put the Lincoln Memorial in the middle of a freaking traffic circle. That’s how little DC’s early designers thought of pedestrians and cyclists.

Vision Zero will Take Bolder Changes to Street Design

DC is failing to meet Vision Zero goals because the everyday experience of it’s infrastructure shows how little we’re investing in shared mobility facilities. You’ll have a “but, but…X bike lane” retort and I’ll have dozens, hundreds of daily close calls at all the intersections. I’ll reply with the dozens, hundreds of drivers who park in bike lanes when little lines of paint are what you call cycling-friendly design.

There’s no point in yelling about the now several, serious cycling accidents in DC this year. Y’all don’t seem to care about the thousands of humans who die from collisions between the giant hunks of metal you pilot around the DMV. As Brian McEntee says, maybe DC can’t get above 5% bike commuting because the design of our streets matters more than outreach campaigns, bike parking at the office, and Bike To Work Day events. Overwhelming evidence in real life suggests design modifications are the only thing that changes peoples’ behavior.

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