PAUL DAISEY is a lover sorely tried. A biker for as long as he can remember, he has spent years negotiating the streets and bike paths of Washington with the determined ardor of a man who loves to ride.
There are limits to the thing, though. Even a biker as passionate as Daisey encounters places where he pedals while gnashing his teeth.
"Oh, great fun," Daisey will mutter, describing one of these places. His voice lacks a certain tenderness here. "Charming. A real joy."
If you ride a bicycle regularly, you know what Daisey is talking about. Washington is full of little biker war zones - spots where the jolly bike route signs direct you off four inch curbs, into oncoming traffic, over broken glass and through passageways so narrow it's wise not to exhale.
Take Rock Creek Park.
"I've been riding in Rock Creek Park since I was 10 years old," said Daisey, who is now area manager for savings bonds sales at the Treasury Department. From March to November of 1975, when he worked at the Environmental Protection Agency, Daisey zipped through the park to work on his old Dawes 10 speed - 45 minutes down from his home in Silver Spring, 55 minutes or so back.
He rode on the roadway with the traffic. "It was convenient," he said, not to mention aesthetic. "Trees, smooth pavement. I only had one guy ever try to hit me."
Then the police, observing that there was bike path in Rock Creek Park, began to take issue with Daisey's commute route. Gotta get off the road, they said. Daisey said he was riding just as fast as the traffic most of the time, and the bike path was too crowded. No matter, said the police; that's what it's there for.
So Daisey would retire to the bike path, wait for the police to go away, then dart over to the roadway again. This worked until one officer, who had apparently grown wise to the scheme, made of a copy of the bike path rules (officers have authority to force riders from the road if there is a parallel bike path), and said, not altogether charitably, "If I see you riding on the street again, I'm going to take your bicycle away."
Daisey retired to the bike path. Before long he started having flats. Broken glass greeted his morning ride like a welcoming carpet. He squeezed through the narrow spots and rattled over the gravel. The more winding route added 20 minutes in each direction to his trip. Finally he hit a jogger, and that was the end of Daisey's commute through Rock Creek Park.
"It was one of those blind curves," Daisey explained. "He was coming the other way. We never had a chance." Biker and jogger recovered without much damage, but Daisey was shaken and disillusioned enough to move over to 16th Street, where he spent his commute leapfrogging buses, weaving around parked cars and inhaling engine exhaust.
"That's U.S. Route 29," Daisey said bitterly. "I had to get out and ride on a highway instead of in a park."
Daisey's new job requires the use of a car, so he no longer plunges into the 16th Street traffic every morning. But the memories of broken glass and blind curves linger, and Daisey has recorded them for posterity on a kind of shopping list of biker disaster areas that he calls "The Dirty Dozen."
Compiled with the help of the Federal Bicycle Council, a group of bike commuters and recreational riders who work for the government, the dozen lists what Daisey has concluded are the spots most frequently griped about on local roadways. Its purpose at this point is mostly catharsis, unfortunately - there aren't many alternatives to most of these places, but at least it helps to know they drive other people crazy too.
Key Bridge: Narrow sidewalks, heavy pedestrian traffic on bridge. You have to cross four lanes of traffic on the Virginia side to follow the bike route.
Theodore Roosevelt Bridge: Madness. Sidewalk across bridge ends on Virginia side. Cyclist must ride against traffic, lift bike over guardrail, cross a two-lane ramp with no crosswalk and walk across a field to reach local roads.
Memorial Bridge: On Virginia end traffic does not yield to cyclist or pedestrian in crosswalk. To make connections from Rt. 110 at the D.C. end you have to ride up the exit ramp against traffic.
14th Street Bridge: On Virginia side you cross two exit ramps (bumping over curbs) and ride 200 yards along the 195 shoulder to reach a sidewalk leading to local streets. In D.C., you ride 200 yards against traffic past the Jefferson Memorial to reach the Maine Avenue sidewalk.
Lincoln Memorial Circle: One-way traffic; no direct connection between south sidewalk and Rock Creek hike path.Traffic leaving circle does not yield to crosswalks.
Washington Circle: Using right hand lane is dangerous because the traffic turns out of the circle so fast; ditto center lanes because cars don't slow down there either.
Alexandria Bike Path: Unpaved sections turn to mud in the rain, then dry or freeze into ruts and ridges. Bikers blinded by headlights.
Spout Run Bike Path: Mud, tree roots, large gravel.
Rock Creek Park: See saga of Paul Daisey.
Irving Street Bike Path: Diverts cyclist from Michigan Avenue and then ends at Park Road, forcing biker onto narrow, heavily traveled crosstown route.
L'Enfant Plaza: Bike parking prohibited. If you don't lock up in the garage racks, guards will cut your chain and confiscate the bike.
M Street in Georgetown: Cobble stones, streetcar tracks, double-parked delivered trucks, starry-eyed tourists, cars lunging into the roadway.
What to do about places like this, short of collective despair? "Write your congressman," Daisey suggests. "Congresspersons around here are pretty enlightened." Think of it as character-building, when all else fails. You could be in a car, and that would be worse.