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Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick Headshot

It's Dangerous to Chase the Moon: 9 Things Every Cyclist Should Know

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It's Thursday, Sept. 19. I rolled out of bed at 5:37 a.m. As I headed to the window to look at the morning, I saw a brilliant, yellow moon sitting in the middle of the Western sky peering back at me. I love the moon. And few things such as a sight like this moon, at this hour, could compel me to immediately get dressed, hop on my bike and head down to the Lincoln Memorial. It's a rare aligning of stars to catch a glimpse of what I knew would be something spectacular.

I set out on an amazing race. I needed to hurry to get down to the mall before the moon dropped, and I wasn't sure how much time I had. In my quest to catch this moon suspended behind the Washington Monument just before it dipped behind the Lincoln, I cycled down 7th Street like a mad woman then realized I was violating many of the rules of cycling safety I hold sacred.

In pursuit of a constant glimpse of the moon hanging there, I found myself staring up at it more than I was focused on the road in front of me. Granted, cycling on D.C. streets at 6 a.m. is much more forgiving than at rush hour, but I was wrong to be more mesmerized by the moon than my own safety. I made it safely and stopped at the World War II memorial to watch it slowly drift behind the Lincoln. As I turned to ride home, the sun was coming up. Yet another beautiful sight. The city was awake, and that meant traffic. I headed home with all my senses and sensibilities on high alert.

On the way back I was reminded of how little regard both motorists and pedestrians have for cyclists. In the short distance between the mall and my house, I almost collided with a pedestrian crossing against the light, was cut off by a driver poorly executing a six-point turn in the middle of 5th Street, caught in the blind spot of a reversing garbage truck, and nearly hit by a bus so eager to move ahead that he passed me on the left only to abruptly pull over and in front of me after passing only to halt at a bus stop less than a few hundred feet ahead.

These near misses and behaviors motivated me to highlight the following safety reminders for cyclists maneuvering in a city yet to fully embrace our presence on the road:

1. Accept that drivers and pedestrians are not looking out for you. Don't take this for granted. Until motorists become educated about and accustomed to moving with us on the road, it is our responsibility to be vigilant and obey the rules of the road. I know this is annoying -- motorists shouldn't get a pass, but safety is more important than ego.

2. Establish your presence on the road. Don't weave in and out of traffic. Motorists respond to us better if we are consistent and predictable.

3. Make eye contact with the driver when approaching intersections and turning cars.

4. Look behind you BEFORE changing lanes. Often we look AS we are changing. This is also true for drivers!

5. Avoid riding your bike on the sidewalk. Sidewalks are for pedestrians and bikes on the sidewalks are cause congestion and agitation. Besides, your presence on the road helps us sensitize motorists to sharing the road.

6. Watch rear view mirrors for drivers to avoid collision with suddenly opening car doors.

7. Avoid riding two abreast on a busy road. This is perceived as rude, doesn't help us gain respect and only increases drivers' resentment of our presence on the road.

8. Avoid riding against traffic. Drivers are already not alert to cyclists on the road and are even less alert for a bicycle riding toward a car. Recently while driving, I stopped at a red light but as I proceeded to make a turn on red, I had to swerve to avoid hitting a cyclist coming toward me. I was never expecting to see her there and she should not have been.

9. NEVER talk on a cell phone while cycling. It seems this has become commonplace. Remember most motorists still don't yet know how to behave while sharing the road with cyclists. No matter how good you are, it is difficult to cycle defensively and vigilantly when you are distracted by a cell phone conversation.

As for motorists, we hope to educate you over time about how we can co-exist on the road, but in the meantime please: 1. Recognize how much you underestimate the speed at which we are traveling on the road and stop cutting us off, and 2. Please stop parking -- flashing hazards or not -- in the bike lanes.

Washington, D.C. officials have increasingly supported the cycling community in hopes of facilitating a harmonious environment among travelers using all modes of transportation. Likewise, bike share programs are emerging in cities across the country which means motorists will increasingly need to embrace the cyclist's presence on the road. Cyclists' presence and growth in D.C. are inevitable. Therefore, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians must develop mutual respect for one another and learn to engage each other to achieve stress-free commuting.

A few years ago I cycled through Vietnam with Veloasia. I was envious of the natural synergy and harmony among the motorists, cyclists and pedestrians throughout the country. If a place with such a horrific past can achieve this kind of cooperation, I know it is possible here. Adopting community-centered behaviors will not only reduce commuting stress but will prevent accidents, injuries and above all fatalities on the road. We all have a responsibility to create this change and symbiosis here in D.C. and cities all across America.

Despite everything I encountered, overall, I had a beautiful, safe and peaceful morning. As I watched the sun rise behind the Capitol on my way back home while passing joggers, walkers and motorists, I was reminded what a beautiful city Washington, D.C. really is -- even when I am not chasing the moon.