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 and drivers sometimes make mid-block U-turns across bike lanes. But as TN reported previously, almost 80% of the avenue's bike crashes are caused by cars making U-turns.
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 more drivers become accustomed to 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.
Pennsylvania Avenue is home to the city's only center bike lane, and it was prominently featured in this month's presidential inauguration.