Bike commuter rides to defense of D.C. bike lanes

By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2010; C02

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing in support of installing more bike lanes in Washington and surrounding suburbs. I was dismayed at AAA's recent statement that the bike lanes would impede traffic in downtown D.C.

The city has done extensive research to find roads and avenues that had less traffic to install these bike lanes. In those streets where the bike lanes have been installed, I have not witnessed any difference in traffic density. If anything, it has forced drivers to slow down to posted speed limits, making the roads safer for pedestrians, cyclists and even other drivers.

As a D.C. resident, I am tired of seeing vehicles with out-of-state tags driving recklessly in our streets merely to save a few minutes in their commutes. Thankfully, the District is starting to realize this. If drivers are not happy with their commutes, maybe it is time they looked at taking public transportation.

I commute daily by bicycle to downtown D.C. I also own three cars that I occasionally use on the weeknights and weekends. Though I am a AAA member and love cars, this kind of false claim from AAA was extremely disheartening, and I am considering canceling my membership.

Bottom line is that we need bicycles and we need bike paths. We need a network of paths that are linked throughout the region so that bicyclists of all levels can get around safely and efficiently.

Jim Sebastian, the District Department of Transportation bicycle program manager, is making D.C. a better place to live and work. But this work merely scratches the surface of what must be done. We need many, many more bike lanes. This small investment will only reduce the amount of cars on the streets.

Maybe D.C. should consider removing cars altogether and creating bus/pedestrian/bicycle only zones downtown.

-- Sebastien Guilmard, the District

AAA Mid-Atlantic is worried about the reduction in lanes for motor vehicles on Pennsylvania Avenue NW as the District Department of Transportation prepares to open bike lanes. The department feels the same way about the Pennsylvania Avenue project as it did about creating the bike lane on 15th Street NW: Some roads are wide enough to accommodate everyone.

I think the District has been making good choices as it expands opportunities for commuter cycling through a network of new lanes, the biking center at Union Station and the SmartBike DC rental program.

Friday is the annual Bike to Work Day. Thousands of people, many of whom don't normally ride bicycles to work, will be on the roads in the D.C. area. Watch out for them, or join them. Many people who don't normally cycle to work use this as an opportunity to see what it's like while traveling in the security of a group.

I asked Guilmard to offer some tips for commuters contemplating cycling. Here are a few:

-- When you decide to make the leap and commute to work by bicycle, the golden rule is to start slow. Many times, I would suddenly decide to bicycle to work. It started out great. But then it would take longer than expected, I would take a wrong turn, start getting cramps, sweating, and by the time I got to my destination, I was late, exhausted, a little on edge. The return commute would be a little better, but by the time I got home, I would be really sore and spent. The bike would be shelved for another year.

-- The first day is critical. Try out your route on the weekend, when you have no time constraints. Take your time and explore different routes. If you have not biked in a while, start out with a few miles, then gradually build to your full commute.

-- Bring water and snacks to keep you going. I also find a small mini-pump, a couple of tire levers and an inner tube patch kit critical in case you get a flat tire (about twice a year for me).

-- Always carry a little cash in your patch kit.

-- Start early to avoid the sun and heat and bring sun protection for your return home.

-- Check the weather before leaving home. On your first day, make sure it will not rain and that it is not the hottest day of the year.

-- Dress in layers so that you can remove clothing if necessary. You generate heat on the bicycle, so you will generally require less clothing than if walking.

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