Working: Bike commuting on the rise in D.C.
By Vickie Elmer,
Carol Goodloe occasionally used to sneak into staff meetings at 8 a.m. Mondays still wearing her biking attire and carrying her helmet. Her bicycle is equipped with a light so when she works late in the winter months she can still ride home in the dark. She loves riding along the Potomac River, but dislikes the squirrels that dart out in her path.
Goodloe is a confirmed bicycle-to-work enthusiast — the Agriculture Department senior economist skips only the days when it’s snowy or icy. She rides the eight miles to work all summer, no matter how high the humidity or temperature.
“It does everything: You save money, you get exercise, you’re outside — and you’re not messing with traffic every day. I like all of those things,” she said.
The Washington area has seen an 86 percent increase in people bicycling to work from 2000 to 2009, double the U.S. growth rate, according to the League of American Bicyclists, which draws from U.S. Census data. That means about 2.2 percent of D.C.-area workers use pedal power, double the average of the 70 largest U.S. cities. The Census data do not include all the bikers, since they do not count the occasional biker or those who combine biking with Metro or buses.
Higher gas prices are expected to drive more people to pedal to work. And that could put more pressure on employers to provide shower facilities, changing rooms and safe parking places for bike commuters.
Goodloe says her employer now accommodates bikers, but that was after they “complained and lobbied.”
Officials at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association said the group may consider approaching the District about providing tax incentives for employers who install showers and other biker facilities, an idea they acknowledge could take years to gain support.
The increased road hazards from dodging cars and pedestrians can cause frayed nerves on the commute to and from work.
Bike traffic peaks around 8 or 8:30 a.m. on trails that suburbanites take into the city, such as the Mount Vernon Trail, said Daniel Hoagland, bike ambassador for the bicyclist association. A second spike around 5 p.m. hits the region’s three main bicycle trails and along 14th Street and 16th Street, prime feeders for bikers and cars.
Architect Samson Cheng said he knows all the lights and how long they stay red on his 10-block trip to Wiebenson & Dorman Architects, not far from Howard University. He uses the timing to look out for what cars and other bicyclists may do: “I’m anticipating all the time,” he says.
Some days, “it’s so nice outside you’re just glad to be out on your bike,” Cheng said. He and the others at Wiebenson sometimes bike to lunch together and his boss, a longtime biker, goes to business meetings that way. “It’s just the easiest way to get around.”
Goodloe agrees it’s the best transportation mode, but unlike Cheng, she knows its hazards first-hand. After a jogger stopped right in front of her on the 14th Street Bridge, she hit her brakes, knocked down the runner and flipped over her handlebars onto the concrete barrier. “I was laying in a heap,” she said, and her bike crashed down on top of her. Yet she managed to ride the remaining seven miles home. “I had some award-winning bruises,” she recalled, noting: “I can’t tell you how many near-misses . . . you see every red-light runner, every door that gets flung open.”
Yet when she sees the sun coming up over the Potomac or she spots beavers or great blue herons on her ride to work, she believes she has “the best commute in the world . . . a little solitude, a little quiet, a little Mother Nature.” She arrives at the Agriculture Department happier and more awake: “I”m a little more lively.”
If you want to encourage bicycling to work, consider these ideas from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association:
l Convert a couple of car parking spaces in your garage to bike parking, or lobby your landlord to create more secure bicycle parking.
l Bring in a bicycle shop to offer free or discounted tuneups.
l Offer a free bikers breakfast once a month to build camaraderie.
l National Bike to Work Week is May 16-20.
Check out the League of American Bicylists ’ bicycle-friendly businesses for ideas; consider applying for recognition.
l The Washington Area Bicyclist Association offers a brown-bag lunch at workplaces to provide basic information for beginners.
— Vickie Elmer