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Biking will be better than driving during pope’s visit, but not without challenges

Bike commuters wait for the green light at the intersection of 15th and Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

You’ve heard the tales of the horrible commutes to come next week when Pope Francis visits D.C.: Street closures with potential to make driving unbearable, scores of people crowding Metro stations, unavoidable bus detours.

You might think biking could be the best mode of transportation to navigate around the city during that time. Maybe, or maybe not.

While it might be easier to bike downtown than to drive, cyclists should keep a few things in mind if traveling into the city Sept. 23-24.

  • The expectation is that roads that are officially closed due to papal events or security reasons will also be closed to bike traffic. The closures will impact the bike lane network in some areas of downtown.
  • Finding parking could be more difficult given that there is the possibility that more people could choose to ride, and there would be fewer spots to lock up bikes outside the secured perimeters.
  • If you use Capital Bikeshare, you may have trouble finding an available bike or an open spot to park because the road closures will make it difficult for staff to rebalance the bike network.

Still, some D.C. transportation officials say biking is a better option than driving. Capital Bikeshare will set up bike corrals near three of the public events where thousands of people are expected, providing unlimited bike parking, said Kimberly Lucas, bicycle program specialist with the District Department of Transportation.

Corrals will be at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW from 7 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, Sept. 23 for the popemobile parade, and on Thursday, Sept. 24 for the event at the U.S. Capitol.  On Wednesday afternoon, a corral will be at 10th and Monroe streets NE, from noon to 6 p.m., for those attending the outdoor Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Although Capital Bikeshare operations are expected to be normal, as many as 20 Bikeshare stations could be closed for periods of time when the pope is in town, Lucas said. Those stations are in areas that would be closed due to events or security measures.  Capital Bikeshare also expects that other bike stations could close if Pope Francis makes any unexpected stops.

“Rebalancing will be very very limited. The vans will not be able to get through a lot of the streets that they will need to use,” Lucas said.

[What Pope Francis will do during his trip]

Transportation officials also say they are not sure if there will be bike valets which basically would provide unlimited parking for private-owned bikes. There will be a bike valet at one non-papal event that will also impact traffic on Wednesday evening– the Nationals vs. Orioles game at Nats Park.

Lucas said riders need to be prepared to look outside of the road closure areas and lock their bikes to whatever is legally available. That includes some street signs, parking meters and many of the city’s bike racks.

“It is a lot easier to find a place to park a bike than a car,” she said. “Biking is still the best way to get around. It is going to be the best way to get around.”

If you are going to any of the papal events, please note that bicycles are prohibited and the many road closures will also impact the bike network.

The 15th Street cycle track and other protected bike lanes should be open as usual — unless of course someone decides to park there, which wouldn’t be at all unusual.  And prepare to see more bikers using them.