D.C. area employers offer incentives to bike commuters

An early morning bike rider on Pennsylvania Avenue.
An early morning bike rider on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Tracy A. Woodward/the Washington Post)
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By Dimetrius Simon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010

Bob Patten's morning routine is different from most commuters'. With a helmet, special shoes and a yellow reflective vest, he bypasses the frustrations of stop-and-go traffic and Metro delays as he bikes the two miles from his home in Takoma Park to his job in Hyattsville.

He usually travels up Riggs Road, zigzags through a green meadow and pops out on a path near Home Depot before heading up East-West Highway to Toole Design Group.

"I spend a lot of time in the morning thinking of road and trail improvements that would make my commute route more safe and pleasant," Patten said.

But the difficulties don't stop him. And companies such as Toole are using incentive programs to encourage employees to bike to work. Cycling enthusiasts hope the idea gets a boost as thousands of people take two-wheelers to the office Friday on Bike to Work Day, a national event that encourages bicycle safety and awareness.

Organizer Doug Franklin said 35 relief stations will be scattered across the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia to help the expected 8,500 riders complete their trips.

"This event is truly a regional effort," Franklin said. "I think it's great because it gives bicyclists empowerment and encourages a lot of new people to bike that never have done so before."

According to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 1 percent of residents in the area cycle to work, and communities are encouraging more people to ride.

In 2008, the federal government began a financial-incentive program administered through the Internal Revenue Service to encourage biking to work. Companies can receive a tax benefit for providing employees with a subsidy of as much as $20 a month to buy, repair or store bicycles.

In the District, the 2008 launch of the city's first bike-share program, SmartBike, also helped. The city plans to expand the program from 10 bike stations to 100 by December. Three percent of D.C. residents bike to work, said Jim Sebastian, who manages the city's bicycle program and bikes to work three times a week.

"We are doing our own marketing to reduce the amount of people who drive, provide facilities and encourage people to bike or walk," Sebastian said.

The District, which has 45 miles of bike lanes, plans to expand the network to 80 miles across the city. Officials expect to open bike lanes along the center of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol in the next few weeks.

In Alexandria, the City Council has approved $7 million over the next 10 years for pedestrian and bicycle safety, including bike lanes, markings and trails.

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