A month after Veronica Davis got her driver’s license at the age of 17, her parents gave her a 1996 Dodge Neon. Five years later, she bought herself a 2001 Toyota Camry she named “Platinum Whip” — “Platinum” for short. “We’ve been through thick and thin together,” says Davis, wistfully recalling the road trips, the accidents and the vast number of parking tickets.
Last Saturday, the 33-year-old Hillcrest resident said goodbye to Platinum for good, and she won’t be replacing her wheels with a new car. Davis recently became the first local winner of the New Belgium Brewing Co.’s Tour de Fat contest. The main rule: Promise to hand over your car, title and keys in exchange for a $2,250 stipend to buy a bike that you’ll use instead.
Riding around on two wheels isn’t exactly foreign to Davis, who last year founded Black Women Bike D.C., a group that now boasts 530 members. The fastest way for her to get to her office in Anacostia is to bike, she’s been an avid user of the Capital Bikeshare program and she’s lobbied hard to get bike racks in her neighborhood. As a civil engineer who co-owns the sustainability consulting firm Nspire Green, it’s essentially her job to be a cycling expert. “What I do professionally is think about how people move,” she says.
That doesn’t mean the switch is going to prove easy for someone who recognizes that she’s always had a car as a crutch. “The biggest challenge is going to be the hills. I live on a hill on top of a hill,” Davis says. Although she’s allowed to rely on public transportation as part of the deal, it’s often not a good option if she’s traveling to spots in Wards 4, 7 and 8.
Part of the reason Davis entered the contest was to prove that living car-free is possible east of the Anacostia River, but she also wants to highlight the obstacles that prevent her neighbors from making that choice. A transportation system that’s designed to move people from the edges of the city to downtown doesn’t do much for folks who are just trying to get around their neighborhoods, she says.
Davis hopes whichever bike she winds up choosing can handle the terrain better than her current hand-me-down with a busted back wheel. She’s still deciding what to spend the cash on — maybe a Pashley, a classic beauty, or perhaps a Brompton. “That would allow me to be multimodal,” Davis notes, since she’d be able to take a folding bike with her on the Metro at all hours.
And she’s going to try not to think about poor Platinum, which she took for one final spin on Sunday. “I wanted to burn the gas I’d paid for,” Davis says. “I’m that cheap.”