Your last-minute guide to Bike to Work Day

May 15

For the past four months, we at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) have been working to convince people to consider becoming two-wheeled commuters with us on Bike to Work Day on Friday. We’ve reached out on all media, stood (rain or shine) in the region’s bikeways, taught Learn to Ride and City Cycling classes, hosted Everyday Biking Seminars, and worked to get out the word.

Somehow, you missed all of that and are just reading about the event on the Washington Post’s Web site today. Can you participate in Bike to Work Day on a single day’s notice? YES. And with 79 pitstops spread throughout the region, it’s easier than ever to fit Bike to Work Day into your commute. Here’s how:

Step one: Look at the weather report, but don’t let it get you down. This is very important for Bike to Work Day 2014. WABA keeps a great deal of data about local cycling conditions and roadway incidents, but we have never, in our 40 years, received a report of a bicyclist melting in the rain. Bring a rain jacket or a change of clothes. If it rains, everyone else will be wet too. So will we. Nobody will care, and the celebration will go on. Click here for tips on biking in the rain and staying dry.

If there’s more serious weather, make your decisions in the interest of safety. If it is not safe to ride, hold off and ride another day.

Step two: Register at www.biketoworkmetrodc.org. This is very important: It’s the only mechanism we have for counting participants, and it’s vital to know that number so we can show the growth of bicycling in the region. Frankly, nobody has good data on how many people are biking in the region. The Census asks certain people about certain types of trips. Some trails have counters. Local groups do localized counts. But nobody really knows, which means it is hard to quantify demand for investment in biking improvements. Of course, the Bike to Work Day registration number is not going to tell us that either. But, it gives us a fairly reliable trend-line. It also lets us quantify certain follow-on impacts, such as the amount of air pollution prevented by people foregoing automobile trips for the day. All of this may sound wonky, and some of it is. But, simply put, we need data to advocate for investment in better bicycling, and registering for Bike to Work Day gives us data.

Step three: Find a bike. Find a bike that goes when you pedal and stops when you brake. Those are the key features. Other options are nice, but those are critical. But if you can’t lay hands on a safe bike, you have several rental options. Bike and Roll is WABA’s go-to partner for bike rentals. We use their bikes in our Learn to Ride classes and for many of our events. If you’re in D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, or Montgomery County, you can also use Capital Bikeshare, even if you aren’t a member. Use your credit card at the kiosk in any station and purchase a day rental ($7). And, don’t worry about getting downtown and not having a docking space. Capital Bikeshare will be providing a corral near Freedom Plaza. They will take care of it for you.

Step four: Find your route. Once you’ve chosen your pitstop (as part of your registration in step 2), choose a good route. Google Maps provides the most comprehensive place-to-place routing for bicycling. In the new site format, just type “Bicycling” into the search bar to see trails and bike-friendly routes. In addition, WABA Web site has a listing of some of the major trails, and many pitstops are clustered along those trails. If you are in Laurel, Falls Church, Greenbelt, or Dupont Circle there will be an organized convoy, riding together from each location. However you find your route: ride safely, yield to pedestrians, and follow the law.
Step five: Enjoy the festivities! Every pitstop is different, organized by local organizers and sponsors. You’ll likely be able to mingle with elected officials and VIPs, play games, grab a free breakfast, enter raffles. And, there’s nothing to prevent you from visiting several if you have time before work. When you are at the pitstop, take a moment to thank the organizers for their work, the VIPs for coming out—especially if it does rain—and talk to the WABA staff and volunteers who will be at more than 20 pitstops. Maybe even become a WABA member.

Now, the bad news. If you just signed up for Bike to Work Day when you started reading this, you are probably not going to get a T-shirt. Shirts are available for the first 14,000 registrants, and we passed that mark several days ago. I realize this is a major disappointment to many people. Bike to Work Day shirts are beloved. But please don’t yell at the nice volunteers if they don’t have one for you. Stick around until the end when they are packing up, and if there are still shirts unclaimed—as there may well be if it rains—they might let you have one.

Step six: Think about how it went. The morning of the event you are going to be biking, then mingling and having fun at pitstops. Pay attention to what you’re doing and enjoy the ride and the festivities. But later, think about what it means that you were part of an event in which more than 15,000 people chose to bike and show their support for better bicycling in the region. Think about what was good about your ride. Were there bike facilities and trails that made it easier for you? Do you wish there were more? Were the places you felt uncomfortable? Were there places you were okay riding, but wouldn’t have wanted to take your kids?

At WABA, our goal is to change the region so that anyone who wants to ride a bike can, and can feel comfortable doing so. When 15,000 people experience the region by bike on a single day, the experiences vary quite a bit. We advocate tirelessly for improvements, and we want to celebrate our victories, but we also know that much of our region’s transportation network needs to be improved for people to feel comfortable biking.

Bike to Work Day is not just an annual event. If it works properly, it is a starting point for people to try biking, actively reflect on the experience, and become aware of the work that needs to be done to make the difficult parts easier. That’s what we at WABA do the other 364 days of the year, and we hope you’ll accept this invitation to ride alongside us on Bike to Work Day and work alongside us afterward to build a better region for bicycling.

Shane Farthing is executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

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