Bike commuters who work in downtown Washington, D.C. know exactly when Congress is out of town by the big drop in car traffic across the bridges and on surface streets. This week the traffic is especially light, and that would seem to be a good thing, no?
Perversely, we bike commuters have to be as vigilant or more around holiday time, because drivers do weird things when volume is low. The normal bumper-to-bumper crawl of luxury SUVs, BMWs and Lexuses makes the traffic somewhat predictable and keeps the NASCAR wannabes in check. (Those with money to burn seem to really like the Infiniti G35, the modern-day Pontiac Firebird sans hood scoop and ugly flaming bird. So says Edmunds: “More so than just about any other car in this class, the G35 feels best when driven hard.” I see these cars coming and automatically expect trouble.)
When gaps open up on D.C.’s wide boulevards and avenues, drivers floor it and take more risks at intersections. Traffic enforcement in downtown D.C. is nonexistent save for the Secret Service protection of VIPs and their turf around the White House. My favorite dangerous intersection at 17th and Constitution Avenue, just to the southwest of the White House, is a perfect example.
MG and I go through this intersection daily along with throngs of other cyclists, and we’re constantly seeing drivers run red lights and make illegal left turns. On Monday and Tuesday I took photos of drivers doing just that, and it took just a couple of traffic signal cycles to catch them in the act.
I’ve often thought that enforcement at this intersection will happen only after a White House political appointee gets killed by someone running the light. But it’s not just here. There is bad driving all over D.C. and the D.C. police just look the other way.
To everyone out there who rides without the turkey drivers getting them down, Happy Thanksgiving!