Bicycle program makes District easier place to get around, residents say

After his primary loss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is noting his successes, like last month's initiation of a bike-sharing program.
After his primary loss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is noting his successes, like last month's initiation of a bike-sharing program. (Bill O'leary)
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 2010; 10:51 PM

It wasn't easy for Kate Jordan, a 30-year choreographer who lives in Logan Circle, to give up her beloved Volkswagen Beetle.

But after moving to the District from Philadelphia two years ago, Jordan said she quickly discovered that it was far easier to get around the city on her bicycle, a choice, she said, that gets easier by the day.

"I am finding which roads have the bike lanes and choosing my paths like I would with a car," Jordan said. "On a couple streets, it's now like the morning rush-hour commute on the bike lanes."

District officials are reporting a surge in the use of bicycles to commute or for recreation, helping Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) realize a key goal as he prepares to leave office in January.

With the city adding bicycle lanes and storage facilities in recent years, officials say more residents are discovering that getting around the city on two wheels is becoming safer and easier and is even adding a bit of coolness to a city that has long battled its stuffy reputation.

"A lot of what we're doing is back-to-the-future type stuff," said Gabe Klein, the city's transportation director. "People are demanding more and more, and we are just trying to give it to them."

According to census data, the number of Washington residents who commute to work by bicycle has nearly doubled, to 2.2 percent, in the past 10 years. Official hourly "bike counts" conducted by the D.C. Transportation Department suggest much of that growth has occurred since 2007. An average of 72 bicycles now pass 18 designated counting stations during an average "peak hour."

But residents and city officials say the statistics do not tell the full story of how quickly District residents are taking up bicycling for fun or their primary mode of transportation.

Jordan said that mini-bicycle backups are becoming the norm during the morning rush on routes such as 14th Street NW.

Many outdoor bike racks downtown are at capacity during the day, a scenario that replays itself at night at racks near some popular bars in Northwest.

And officials say they are stunned by the immediate popularity of Capital Bikeshare, a network of 1,100 communal red bicycles scattered around the District and Arlington County for residents and tourists.

"There are a number of things coming together very quickly to cause bicycling to go up in the District," said Michael Farrell, a planner at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "And I think much larger increases are very possible and even likely in the District."

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