Hot on the trail of rentals

January 31

Colin Browne picked the Brookland rowhouse that he rents because of its proximity to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a popular pipeline for cyclists into D.C. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

Between the two of them, Colin Browne and his girlfriend, Inez Steigerwald, own seven bikes. So when they were deciding where to rent in the D.C. area, one priority was obvious for both of them: Live near stuff that makes biking easier.

The two rent a rowhouse in Brookland, near the Franklin Street entrance to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, an eight-mile route that runs from Silver Spring to D.C.’s Union Station.

Browne uses the path, a former rail line that includes off-road segments that wind through neighborhoods, to bike to his nonprofit job on Capitol Hill, a 15-minute ride.

“The [trail] gives me a quick, low-stress way to get to work and to many of the other parts of the city I spend time in,” Browne says. “I feel safer riding in bad weather because I can concentrate on handling my bike and not worry about whether nearby drivers are in control of their cars.”

Just like Browne, more and more people in the Washington area are getting serious about cycling — according to U.S. census data, the percentage of Washingtonians commuting by bike jumped from 1.2 percent in 2000 to 4.1 percent in 2012, meaning thousands of new commuters are hitting the trails and bike lanes.

Those cyclists are making bike access a top priority in their housing hunts. That’s something leaders in the rental market are catching on to — and taking advantage of.

Some chic luxury apartment buildings, such as Ava H Street (318 I St. NE; 877-714-4718), boast of indoor bike storage and repair rooms, as well as apartments with built-in “gear walls” — space to hang bikes, helmets and more. The Alaire at Twinbrook Station (1101 Higgins Place, Rockville; 301-770-4440), has an in-building bikeshare and bike racks in the parking garage.

“[The Alaire] was the first residential project where we focused on bike-friendliness as an end in and of itself,” says Tony Greenberg, a developer for JBG who oversees its projects at Twinbrook. “Bike-friendliness as a consumer preference is fairly well established at this point. It’s not a fad.”

Cycling infrastructure is increasingly becoming a selling point for Alexandria Realtor Kevin Posey’s rental clients.

“We have a fair number of apartment buildings that are close to the Mount Vernon Trail, and when I mention that amenity, that really grabs their attention,” he says. The Mount Vernon Trail offers a paved path for Northern Virginia cyclists riding into D.C., running 18 miles from Rosslyn to Mount Vernon.

But avid cyclists don’t have to rent in big high-rises to make biking feasible.

Smaller buildings may offer ground-level entrances, so that you can roll your wheels into your bedroom. Browne’s townhouse has a covered porch, a perfect space to store seven bikes.

And if you’re not sure where the best trails and bike lanes for your commute are, you can comb through D.C.’s bike maps.

Even for experienced riders, bike lanes and trails make life easier by giving them room to zoom without cars in the way, cyclists say. Most trails in the region ban motorized vehicles, though a few connect with bike lanes, which share pavement with cars.

“Even for those of us comfortable riding in traffic … there’s always some level of risk or insecurity about sharing space with traffic,” says Shane Farthing, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (2599 Ontario Road NW; 202-518-0524).

Picking a bike-friendly rental can also save on transportation costs, Farthing says. Being willing to bike to a Metro, instead of living on top of one, can save renters hundreds of dollars every month and allow them to live in neighborhoods with more of a quiet, suburban feel.

“The [apartments] around the Metro are some of the most expensive,” he says. “Having a bike is a way you can expand your mobility.”

Browne is one such cyclist who isn’t paying Metro fares, thanks to his bike: He hasn’t commuted via Metro in two years. He also doesn’t own a car.

“Brookland and the Met Branch Trail are nice because they’re not really in the middle of things,” he says. “With a bike, it’s just very easy to get 15 minutes to the middle of things — without having to live right in the middle.” LIZ ESSLEY WHYTE (FOR EXPRESS)

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