Schantz, 62, travels by bike and sometimes rail. Occasionally, he tosses a bus ride or two into the mix.
He knows driving would cut his commute time by more than half, but what fun would that be?
“It can be 40 degrees in the middle of winter or 90 degrees in the middle of summer — but I am the happiest when I’m out there turning the pedals,” he said.
It’s one thing to get from Point A to Point B without a car in Washington — a relatively compact 68.3 square miles. But navigating the region’s far-flung suburbs — never mind crossing through two counties and the District — offers an entirely different challenge. Doable certainly, but not for the faint of heart.
“That beats any commute I’ve done,” said Mark Plotz, senior associate and program director for the National Center for Bicycling and Walking.
Schantz joins a growing number of workers who have abandoned their cars in favor of bus, rail and bike for their daily commutes. Solo drivers still dominate the ranks of D.C. area commuters, but according to an analysis by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the number of regular bike commuters in the D.C. region increased by about 11,000 between 2000 and 2011. The uptick is largely fueled by people who live and work in the District. But bike commuting also has increased in popularity in other jurisdictions, including Montgomery County, which opened more than a dozen Capital Bikeshare stations last month.
Experts say that cycling undoubtedly will continue to grow in the District, Arlington County and other close-in areas, but how much growth there will be in suburban, auto-dependent neighborhoods such as Schantz’s remains to be seen. Although government and private investors are spending billions to remake areas including Tysons Corner and White Flint, those communities are years away from becoming the pedestrian-friendly meccas their boosters hope for.
But million-dollar investments in wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and bike- and car-sharing stations are paying off not only in the D.C. region, but also in places one wouldn’t necessarily consider bike-friendly — among them Indianapolis, Memphis and Springfield, Ark., said John Pucher, a professor of urban planning and public policy at Rutgers University and co-author of “City Cycling.”
Although the numbers remain small, there was a 9 percent jump between 2011 and 2012 in the number of people who said they commute by bicycle, according to recently released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. About 865,000 people said they biked to work in 2012.
Much of the increase in bike commuting is among millennials, but other generations, including baby boomers, are increasingly recognizing the health benefits, Pucher said.
“Driving is sort of an addiction. People get so used to it, they don’t think of doing anything else,” he said. “Then you have these special events. You get on a bike for the first time and think, ‘Hey, that’s fun.’ ”