Traffic rules that went into effect on June 1 prohibit anyone without a permit from the House or Senate from parking a bike on Capitol grounds.
That would effectively ban lobbyists, tourists and the thousands of other people visiting Congress from using the 40 or so outdoor bike racks previously available to the public.
Capitol Police say they don't plan to enforce the law on the outdoor bike racks or impound bikes as long as they are parked appropriately. The language is a holdover from an era when the bike racks in House and Senate office buildings were the only option for people traveling on two wheels. It was written to address bicycle parking by staffers, according to Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider. The department did not provide a prior version of the rules.
"In the unlikely event that permits would be required of the public in the future, this regulation would then be enforced," Schneider said in an email.
Cycling enthusiasts, including the Washington Area Bicyclists Association and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Bike Caucus, were angered by the language.
"We don’t see how this is a possibility for people coming for meetings, tourists, or others visiting the Capitol who choose to bike," Blumenauer spokesman Patrick Malone said in an email, referring to the requirement that all bicycles parked on campus have a valid permit issued by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee or the House Administration Committee.
"I feel as though we’re constantly being told by the powers that be to avoid driving to the Capitol because parking is scarce, but this is going to create a disincentive for people to bike, one of the best and healthiest forms of alternative transportation, and create more cars fighting for parking," Malone said, adding that he suspected the provisions were not well thought out and may have been an oversight.
Greg Billing, a spokesman for WABA, said the traffic regulation overhaul announced by Capitol Police on May 30 was "laughable almost" because it would prohibit one of the most convenient ways to get to the Capitol.
"This wasn't a public process," Billing said in an interview. "These are rules that the public now has to follow, that they had no impact in creating."
Under federal law, the Capitol Police Board — consisting of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Drew Willison, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers — has "exclusive charge and control of the regulation and movement of all vehicular and other traffic, including the parking and impounding of vehicles" and speed limits within the Capitol grounds.
The overhaul, touted by the Capitol Police as the first major rewrite of traffic regulations in 30 years, includes a section on bike parking that states: "No person shall park his bicycle on Capitol Grounds in any place other than a bicycle rack or other area designated specifically for the parking of bicycles."
Indoor bike racks typically used by Hill staff are located in several corners of the campus, such as the Rayburn, Cannon and Ford garages on the House side and the Hart Senate Office Building garage.
AOC spokeswoman Laura Condeluci estimated there are about 40 outside racks around the campus, but did not have a figure on how many bikes each rack potentially holds. Popular bike parking options include racks near the carriage entrance on the East Front and the Botanic Garden.
Capitol Bikeshare docks on Constitution Avenue Northwest, Independence Avenue Southwest and Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast provide two-wheel transit for some tourists and commuters.
The steady flow of cyclists crisscrossing the campus during morning and evening rush hours contradicts with the original vision for the Capitol grounds.
When Congress commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted to develop a comprehensive landscape plan for the campus, he envisioned the 59-acre site would be pedestrian-oriented.
In an 1874 letter about the design, Olmsted wrote: “The general design is very simple, and will be easily understood. It has two purposes: First, to provide convenient approaches to and standing room about the Capitol; …..”.
He continued “… the whole meager area of the little lot in which the Capitol is placed is to be treated as a court-yard and dependency of the building … Walks and carriage-ways are to be formed between it and each of the fifteen streets leading from all sides toward the Capitol.”
David Glickstein, associate director of the National Association for Olmsted Parks, provided the excerpts in response to questions about the historic vision for the grounds.
Capitol Police spokesman Shennell Antrobus emphasized that the department encourages bike travel and encourages people to use the racks provided, rather than locking up to fences, signs or gates.
The department is sometimes called to respond to bikes parked in inappropriate places because they are deemed suspicious according to regulations. In those cases, bikes can be removed and impounded.
Each March, the National Bike Summit draws thousands of cyclists to downtown Washington. The cycling advocates at WABA try to make sure their membership is clear on the regulations before the group convenes on Capitol Hill.
Billing said there is a strong push nationally to fight bike permitting because it tends to be a tool for selectively targeting people. The District does not have public bike permitting laws, he said. For now, neither does Capitol Hill.