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Letter: Challenging Bicyclists

To the Editor:

The Alexandria City Council recently adopted a new bicycle ordinance allowing bicycles on the sidewalks. Let us compare this to a city considered to be the Mecca of bicycling, Copenhagen, Denmark. Safety and security are vital for pedestrians in urban centers, since they contribute to city life — both on the streets and squares. They are enmeshed in the urban fabric, since they support retailers, eat in restaurants, and participate in cultural events, etc. When pedestrians walk, it should be without risk of being run down. They are the most vulnerable and should be afforded the greatest protection.

Bicycle-friendly governments such as Denmark recognize the significance of pedestrians and cyclists, but also understand their inherent incompatibility. When cycling on the sidewalks is allowed, it creates conflicts and disagreements with pedestrians, because cyclists do not always cycle in a manner that acknowledges or respects the pedestrians. For this reason, Denmark does not allow bicycles on sidewalks as a matter of law. Furthermore, the Danish bicycle union emphasizes the law on its web site. Although there are bicycle lanes in Copenhagen, many streets do not have these lanes, so bicycles share the street with vehicles.

Coincidently, Copenhagen recently announced a street project showing a different priority. One of the major streets has no bicycle lanes or trails. Yet, Copenhagen proposes to take away part of the traffic lanes to create a wider, nicer sidewalk. Copenhagen also emphasizes that they are not creating any bike trails, and that bikes will continue to share car lanes with cars. The street is called Istedgade, a very busy street indeed that connects some of the boroughs in Copenhagen. The Mayor of Copenhagen gave the following explanation to Politiken, a major Danish newspaper. The mayor says "it is no secret that the renovation of Istedgade becomes a bit of this, and a little of the other. It is art of the possible. And we have decided that there must be room for life, " said the mayor. “Therefore the broad sidewalks beat the bike path and wide car lanes."

I have experienced two recent events in the City of Alexandria which are quite troubling. The first was having to perform an emergency stop to avoid a bicyclist who blew past a stop sign on Wayne Street right in front of me while I was driving on Adams Street. Everything not bolted down in the car became airborne.

The second was witnessing five Alexandria police officers on bicycles blowing through a stop sign in Old Town. I called out, telling them it was illegal. Then one turned back asking in a belligerent tone what my problem was. I again told him that what they just did was illegal and they were setting a bad example. He replied that the law merely required them to yield. To which I responded, they did not yield, only avoided hitting the car that was in the intersection at the time.

There are numerous bike web sites for Demark, all which emphasize that if there are no trails, bikes cannot ride on the sidewalks. These sites also point out that if you do, expect to receive sizable fines levied on scofflaws. The fines also apply to those cyclists who run red lights, fail to signal, or who do not ride on the right in the inner right lane.

Poul Hertel

Alexandria