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D.C. wins gold in bike-friendliness

Bicyclists ride in the 15th Street bike lane as they make their way through downtown Washington. Bicycles have become a more visible form of transportation as many are turning away from cars. (Keith Lane for The Washington Post)
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The District’s investments in bike-share, bike lanes and a wider trail system are paying off. Not only does the nation’s capital have the second-highest share of bike commuters among major U.S. cities, it now holds gold status as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country.

The District joins a group of communities that have embraced biking as a form of getting around and earned Gold Bicycle Friendly Community status. It also is the only major city on the East Coast to receive the designation, awarded through a rigorous application and vetting process by the League of American Bicyclists.

“This award is a testament to how far the District has come,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said in an announcement Monday afternoon.

More than 400 communities across the country are recognized with the bike-friendly community award, but only 30 have earned gold, a level earned by communities that have made gains in various areas, including bike infrastructure, bike laws and enforcement that protect riders, and educational campaigns.

Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, said the District moved up from silver status by showing commitment to adding miles of bike lanes and offering bicycling education, including ensuring that every second-grader in the city gets bicycling classes, and by integrating bike-sharing and working to making biking accessible in every neighborhood.

The growth in the number of people biking is a reflection of “the bicycling culture” in the city, said Nesper, who presented the District’s Bicycle Friendly Community award at the annual National Bike Summit on Monday.

The city has a lot of work to do to make bicycling a safe, comfortable and accessible option for all, Nesper said, but it “stands as a model for other communities.”

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The District was designated bronze status in 2003, and then silver status in 2011. Now, bike advocates and city transportation officials say next is platinum, an honor achieved by only five communities, including Portland, Ore. And, then there’s Diamond, the ultimate level of bike friendliness, which no community has reached.

For now, they say, the city should savor the gold.

“This acknowledges our long-term commitment to make bicycling safer and more accessible,” said Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

“It also shows that we have work to do. … We have to keep building the bike network. That is the number one thing that is going to move the needle,” he said.  “We need to be building miles and miles of protected bike lanes every single year.”

And, he said, it shouldn’t be that difficult because the city no longer is trying to prove that people will bike.

The city’s fascination with biking has jumped in the past decade as it has built bike lanes and other infrastructure and spearheaded one of the nation’s most successful and largest bike-share programs. Nearly 5 percent of D.C. commuters make their trips on two wheels, according to census data.

Last year, the District became one of the first U.S. cities to embrace the dockless bike-share concept, allowing five private providers to bring in hundreds of bikes to test the new technology. Meanwhile, the region’s Capital Bikeshare system is slated to widen its reach this year with the addition of more than 100 stations, hundreds more bikes and  investments worth more than $5 million.

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Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation, said reaching gold status recognizes the city’s transformation into a bike community in the past decade. From 2008 to 2018, he said:

  • The number of people biking to work more than doubled from 7,000 to 17,000.
  • The city’s SmartBike DC system, the first municipal bike-share system in the country with 10 stations and 100 bikes, became Capital Bikeshare, with 270 stations in the District alone, 400 stations throughout the region and 4,000 bikes. And, there are hundreds more bikes through the dockless bike systems.
  • The bike lane network grew from 30 miles to more than 80 miles, including eight miles of protected lanes.
  • New bike racks in downtown went from 700 to more than 3,500.

And this year, he said, plans are to add more protected bike lanes in multiple locations, including Virginia Avenue SE and in Georgetown.

“In 2008, we were number six in the country for biking to work by city residents. Now we are number 2,” Marootian said.  “That’s really just the beginning. We are not even close to done.”