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Bike commuting: How to make it happen

By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 23, 2010; C02

Local governments can support this increasingly popular form of commuting by creating the infrastructure that makes it safer and more convenient.

The District has opened a bike center at Union Station, where cyclists can park and get assistance. It recently opened a 1.5-mile section of what eventually will be the eight-mile Metropolitan Branch Trail, a paved route running near the eastern side of the Red Line between Silver Spring and Union Station. And it is carving out a network of bike lanes along downtown streets.

Lanes in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue are almost ready to open. Others are in the works on M Street NW, L Street NW, Ninth Street NW and 15th Street NW. The District Department of Transportation hopes to expand the 45 miles of bike lanes to 80 miles.

Gabe Klein, the director of the District Department of Transportation, says a transportation plan shouldn't deal separately with motorists, transit users, walkers and cyclists.

"If we design well, it's all tied together," he said of the future transportation system. "This is about everybody."

Klein said he hopes to get 5 percent of commuters biking to work over the next few years. Motorists think about that and wonder why a government would take away street space from the them and give it to a relatively small number of cyclists.

Klein said cities need not only to satisfy current demand for this cycling infrastructure but also to create an environment that will produce more commuter cycling.

"It's about changing the way people feel about the city and how they get from point to point," he said.

Employers

BikeArlington and the District's goDCgo are sponsoring a Bike-Friendly Business Workshop from 2 to 4 p.m. June 9 at Arlington Transportation Partners, 1501 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1100. Companies can learn how to make their workplaces more amenable to cycling employees.

What's in it for the employers? I asked Chris Eatough, BikeArlington's program manager. "People who bike to work are healthy and happy, ready to do a good productive day," he said. "They may be the only people who actually enjoy their commute these days."

There are levels of encouragement that employers can provide, Eatough said.

-- Provide bike parking for employees, visitors and customers. It might be a bike rack close to the building or, even better, a bike storage room.

-- Install showers, so employees with more challenging rides can clean up before work.

-- Offer changing areas, possibly in connection with a nearby gym or even in the building.

-- Help employees take advantage of the $20-a-month bike commuter tax benefit.

-- Offer a central location to distribute commuter cycling information, including maps and local guides.

Commuters

Ready to give this a try? You don't have to break completely with the past. Try it once every couple of weeks to see if it's for you. Here are some tips from those who have done it to help you get started.

-- Resist the temptation to acquire every bit of cool clothing and equipment when you're just starting out. But definitely buy and wear a helmet.

-- Learn how to change a flat before you set out.

-- If you haven't cycled for a while, do some recreational riding before tackling the commute.

-- Get a map and plan a route. Google Maps now offers online biking directions, but test the route on an off day to make sure it will work for you.

-- Travel light. You can leave a lot of stuff at work.

-- Leaving home without food in your stomach, tired and without proper attire will distract you and increase your chances of having an accident.

-- Some bike paths and sidewalks are in really poor shape, so stay attentive and be ready to slow down or make a quick stop.

-- Take a bike safety course. Learn about hazards such as "dooring" and "right hooks." The Washington Area Bicyclist Association and BikeArlington list plenty of classes, including Confident City Cycling.

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