Inside the Beltway

Metrocentered: Stay in Your Lane

AU changemakers step up and show up in our community 


cyclists riding near the US Capitol
Photo by Andy Feliciotti/Unsplash

For a split second, they were invisible; now they’re unavoidable. Ghost bikes—twisted titanium, spray-painted white and fastened to road signs—dot DC streets in honor of loved ones who were killed while cycling.

Bike lanes and sidewalks serve as vital arteries that allow cyclists and pedestrians to traverse DC. But they eventually reach a dangerous roadblock: one of DC’s infamous traffic circles or a six lane, state-named avenue that’s designed to move high volumes of cars at higher speeds.

Even though DC consistently ranks among the most bike-friendly cities in the US, half of the 40 traffic deaths recorded in the city in 2021 were pedestrians or cyclists. In 2022, Mayor Muriel Bowser, SPA/MPP ’00, admitted the city had fallen short of its goal to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.

The District Department of Transportation has built more than 100 miles of bike lanes and trails since 2001, along with 24 miles of protected bike lanes that are physically separated from the street by planters or curbs. In 2020, the city pledged to carve out another 20 miles of protected bike lanes, which, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of Transport and Health, result in 44 percent fewer deaths, making the road safer for everyone.

The Ninth Street Northwest protected bike lane completed in late 2022 goes two ways: 1.6 miles of both progress and controversy. The battle over bike lanes is inherently political; it’s about race, changing neighborhoods, and who gets to use what space. Bowser originally opposed the Ninth Street project in favor of business owners and predominantly Black religious leaders, who expressed concern over a lack of parking in the area, but changed gears to provide what she called a critical and safe connection for cyclists in the area.

Speed limits are another speed bump. According to the AAA Safety Foundation, pedestrians and cyclists are 70 percent more likely to be killed if they’re hit by a vehicle going 30 miles per hour than if they’re struck at 25 miles per hour. In September 2020, the DC Council unanimously approved the Vision Zero Enhancement Omnibus Amendment Act, which will fundamentally change DC’s streets, incorporating bike and bus lanes, mandating lower speed limits, and creating more sidewalks and crosswalks around new construction. The city will also ban right turns on red by 2025, and starting on July 1, DC’s two-dollar bus fare will be waived to help curb traffic and foster safer streets.

“The protected bike lanes need to fully connect to form a network,” says AU public affairs librarian Olivia Ivey. A member of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and DC Family Biking, Ivey pedals everywhere—to her children’s school, the grocery store, and up the hill to work at AU. “While we wait on continued infrastructure improvements, commuters can do their part to improve safety by treating roads as shared communal space where one’s neighbor deserves safe passage as much as oneself.”

AU changemakers strive to make the streets safer for those on two wheels or two feet. Meet a few of them here.

“Rising deaths of pedestrians and cyclists are not unique to DC—it’s a nationwide problem. Initiatives won’t be successful until roads are designed to slow or calm traffic. Roads are currently wide and open, which gives drivers the comfort to speed. They would not be as inclined to do so if the roads were narrowed—as they have been on Old Georgetown Road and Little Falls Parkway [in Bethesda, Maryland]. Drivers have heated opinions about thoroughfares being narrowed because they don’t understand the goal: to calm vehicle traffic so cyclists and pedestrians can use the infrastructure too.”
—Courtney Schrader, Kogod/BSBA ’08, IT manager, CAS dean’s office, and volunteer, Mount Pleasant bicycle pop-up shop 

“For years, pedestrians and bicyclists were treated the same as drivers when it came to being at fault in a crash, despite [the former] often being far more injured in a collision. The laws have recently changed in favor of pedestrians and bicyclists, and courts have realized that [they] are not always as able to avoid crashes in the same way cars or trucks can. The new laws make it possible for pedestrians and bicyclists to recover damages.”
—Christine Murphy, SOC/BA ’02, WCL/JD ’05, personal injury lawyer, Jaklitsch Law Group

“We work with a number of customers who use their bicycles for work, whether deliveries or commuting. Ensuring that cyclists have well-oiled and functioning bicycles is important so they can bike safely. You never know when you are going to have to brake quickly or dodge a car that doesn’t see you.”
—Geoffry Box, SIS/MA ’23, REI bicycle mechanic 

“Biking in DC is advancing and changing every day. From new bike lanes and e-bike rebates to the permanent bike-friendly Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, I feel fortunate to be in a place where biking is an option today with more avenues [coming] tomorrow. However, it’s also important to listen to people’s hesitations about biking and concerns about bike infrastructure and address them.” 
—Spencer Wagner, SPA/MPA ’23, lives and bikes in the District

“The history of our cities and streets is the history of this country; racism and segregation have played a role in what we see today. Everyone needs to have a seat at the table so they can have a say in how their communities and roads are improved. Vision Zero is a great concept, but it needs to be [equitably] implemented across the city.”
—Marc Lewis-DeGrace, SIS/BA ’96, principal, DeGrace Planning International 

“A key to improving bike and pedestrian safety for daily travel is to connect DC’s existing infrastructure. Over the past century, biased transportation planning and redlining have resulted in inequitable access to safe walking and biking facilities—specifically for communities of color, who are most likely to be affected by pedestrian fatalities and injuries.”
—Amy Kapp, SOC/MA ’05, editor in chief, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which is working to connect 800 miles of trails in the DC region 

“Slower speeds save lives. I am ecstatic that the city has a default speed limit of 20 mph, which is far safer than the previous 30 mph speed limit. Research has shown that the more people walk or bike at an intersection, neighborhood, or even an entire city, the fewer crashes there are.”
—Thomas Hamed, SPA/BA ’11, transportation planner, Burgess and Niple

“Feeling confident biking in the city takes practice. If you want to get into bike commuting but are intimidated by riding in traffic during rush hour, try out a few route options on the weekend when things are less busy. Knowing what to expect—such as when the bike lane ends or what the traffic pattern is like—makes a big difference. And all levels of cyclists can benefit from taking a bicycle education class.”
—Melanie MacKenzie, SIS/BA ’18, licensed cycling instructor, League of American Bicyclists

“There has never been more energy and effort behind the fight for safer and more equitable infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, and other nonmotorized modes of transportation. We’re fortunate to live in a city and a region with strong advocacy organizations that have pushed for more bike lanes, cycle tracks, a more connected network of off-street multiuse paths, and safer pedestrian infrastructure. Challenges remain, but local governments and businesses are beginning to see the positive impact of more connected, happier people.”
—Taylor Jones, SIS/MA ’09, executive director, Bikes for the World