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Bike Advocates See U-Turn Enforcement As A Good Sign

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The bicycle lanes in the middle of Pennsylvania Ave. are off-limits to cars, as DDOT officials warner motorists Wednesday.
Martin Di Caro
The bicycle lanes in the middle of Pennsylvania Ave. are off-limits to cars, as DDOT officials warner motorists Wednesday.

Anyone making an illegal U-turn across the bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown D.C. will be subject to a $100 fine. District officials are wrapping up a public awareness campaign about the new law.

Employees with the District Department of Transportation were out on Pennsylvania Ave. Wednesday handing out fliers that to motorists that say, "Please help us stop the Pennsylvania Avenue U-turns."

The road is wide, so it's not hard to see why drivers would be tempted to make mid-block U-turns across bike lanes. But as has been reported previously, the practice led to as many as 11 accidents in 2010 and 2011, when drivers didn't look for cyclists before cutting across the middle of the road. Out of the last 16 accidents on the avenue, 11 involved illegal U-turns, DDOT says.

The practice is now illegal, and after 30 days of issuing warnings, police will now hand violators a $100 ticket. Bicyclists say cabbies are the worst offenders, making U-turns to pick up passengers hailing from the other side of the street.

"Well, you are going straight down Pennsylvania Avenue and you are pedaling along, you have green lights, you are going quick, and then all of a sudden a car that you are thinking is going straight all of a sudden whips around and you are looking at getting t-boned on your bicycle," says Maggie Benson. "It's very scary."

Benson rides her bike to work every day down Pennsylvania Avenue. Before the law was passed, there wasn't much she could do.

"You kind of throw your arms up, kind of yell a little bit and keep pedaling," Benson says. 

But bicycle advocates also see the need for the enforcement as a sign of progress. If D.C. hadn't seen such growth in bicycling, there'd be no issues with cabbies crashing into bicyclists as taxi drivers and others make illegal U-turns. If D.C. weren't such a big bicycling city, there'd be no bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue in the first place.

"It's about the next steps in integrating biking as a major form of transportation in this city," says Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association

There are now 56 miles of bike lanes in the District of Columbia, the most traveled being those on Pennsylvania Avenue, L Street and 15th Street. Farthing says the more bicyclists are on the road, the less intrusive they become because drivers are forced to work with them.

"That's been proven to be true in cities across the country and the world, that the more cyclists you have the more motorists adjust and the safer cycling becomes overall," he says.

While police are responsible for enforcement, Farthing is focused on education for both motorists and cyclists, especially as D.C. adds even more bicycling infrastructure.

"A lot of us took the driver's exam a long time ago when we didn't have things like center cycle tracks and dedicated bike lanes and things like that," he points out.

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