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The Beauty of Bikes -- Even Ugly Ones

Georgina Ardalan, back on her
Georgina Ardalan, back on her "ugly" bike near Union Station. A station guard had broken its lock and removed it. Was the issue one of aesthetics? (Courtesy Of Alex Ackemann)

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By John Kelly
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Georgina Ardalan thinks her bike was removed from in front of Union Station because it's ugly. Union Station thinks it might have been removed because it was parked there too long. I think this story has a relatively happy ending. But what really interests me is something else entirely.

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Briefly: Georgina is an architect who lives not far from the station. She bikes there every weekday, locks up and takes the Metro to her job in Silver Spring. By her own admission, she rides an unsightly bicycle -- an unsightlycycle, if you will. Purchased for 20 bucks in Panama City, Fla., it's rusty and it usually has a plastic bag tied over the saddle.

She returned one afternoon not long ago to find the bike missing.

"I thought it had been stolen," she told me. "This guy next to the bike racks said he had seen the security guards take some bikes away. Mine had been one of them."

Georgina found the security guard who had cut her lock and removed her bike. She said he told her it was ugly. She understood this to mean that that's why the bike had been taken. It was aesthetically displeasing next to the grandeur of the station.

I called Union Station. Joan Malkowski, the general manager, told me, "We have a policy in place that is pretty much in line with the District's policy." That means that bikes are tagged and, if they haven't been moved in 10 days, they can be removed. She admitted she wasn't sure why Georgina's bike was taken.

I think Union Station wants the whole thing to go away, which, because it gave Georgina her bike back and promised to reimburse her for the ruined bike lock, it should. These problems might be moot eventually anyway, because a nifty two-level kiosk capable of storing 150 bikes is set to open at the station next year.

That's good news. Not so good is the news that the intercounty connector might not have a continuous bike path along its 19-mile route in Montgomery County. Bad for the environment, planners say. As opposed to, say, the six-lane highway itself and the thousands of vehicles that will travel on it?

Let's see: There's too much traffic. There's too much pollution. There's too much fat. It seems to me that every new road that's built around here -- and plenty of old ones -- should include dedicated bike lanes.

Of course, riding a bike in our area can get you killed. Car plus bike often equals disaster. If you'll excuse an Oxonian memory, I never felt nervous cycling in Oxford, even when I was pedaling on a narrow, rain-slicked road with a double-decker bus looming inches from my right elbow.

The reason I didn't feel nervous is because I knew the bus driver had been in my shoes before, maybe when he was a kid, maybe on his commute to work that very morning. When you've ridden a bike regularly, you look out for bikes.

That's not the case here. We've severed our relationship with these sublime machines. Making it easier to cycle -- by building bike lanes and bike paths -- will help us reestablish it.

Do As I Say . . .

When I was 13 or 14, my family visited some relatives I didn't know very well. After some small talk with the grown-ups -- the dad worked in public health, in drug-abuse prevention -- I went to hang out with a distant cousin who was a little older than I. Once we were in his room, the door shut behind us, my cousin retrieved a shoe box from the back of his closet. "Look at this," he said, dropping his voice to a whisper and lifting the lid.

Inside were plastic bags of what I naively took to be yard clippings or oregano. It was, of course, marijuana. Pot, grass, weed, dope, Mary Jane, reefer, cannabis. . . . All those terms from junior high health class sprang to mind. The cognitive dissonance was almost too much for my brain. While the father worked to keep people off of drugs, the son was gathering material for a Cheech & Chong movie.

I thought of that moment when it was announced that Sarah Palin's unmarried 17-year-old daughter was pregnant. But she can't be. Isn't her mother big on that abstinence-only sex education stuff?

As a parent, I hate sentences that begin "As a parent." But I also know that children, teenagers especially, are their own people, controllable only up to a point. Sometime they make bad decisions and, well, "Life happens."

Life happens. That's how one campaign staffer referred to Sarah Palin's upcoming grandmotherhood. It's certainly true. My hope is that this episode will help broaden minds as to what "Life happens" includes. And that it will serve as a reminder that people -- children included -- should have access to the information they need to make the right choices. Coming Sunday: Answer Man reveals why Washington is called "Washington." My e-mail:kellyj@washpost.com.


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