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Biking in the District
With Jim Sebastian,
City Bike Coordinator

Thursday, May 24, 2001

With its vast flat stretches, shaded streets and mild weather, Washington should be a biker's heaven. Yet for decades, bicyclists say, the nation's capital has ignored the needs of the biking community. Less than three of the city's 1,102 miles of streets have bike lanes. The last time the city published a bike map was 1982, and a bicycle transportation plan drawn up in 1975, envisioning a 75-mile network of continuous bikeways, has been in a drawer for a quarter of a century.

Last month, Jim Sebastian became city bike coordinator in the Department of Public Works, a post that had been vacant for nine years. A former transportation planner at the Metropolitan Council of Governments, Sebastian, 36, bikes to work from his Takoma Park home "at least once a week."

Sebastian has more than five years of bicycle, pedestrian and trail-planning experience. Before joining the District government, he worked as a transportation planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and also was with the Montgomery County Department of Parks and Planning.

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washingtonpost.com: Thanks for joining us today, Jim Sebastian. To start, can you tell us a little bit about what your goals are as the new city bike coordinator?

Jim Sebastian: We have big goals:

Build 10 miles of bike lanes every year for the next five years.

Install 500 bike parking racks over the next five years

Develop the metropolitan branch trail from union station to silver spring

Identify crash locations and causes and try to reduce them

Update the 25 year old bike plan

The main thing is to integrate bicycling into everything we do in the district.

Fortunately we have support from the mayor and people in district government, and the city's cyclists.

Washington DC: I commute to school and work on a bicycle within the city. What rights do bicyclists have on the streets? Can we ride in car lanes, or sidewalks?

Jim Sebastian: For the most part, bicyclists have the same rights and cars and are safest when they obey all the same traffic laws. They are required to stay to the right. In DC, you can ride on sidewalks outside the downtown area - roughly Conn. Ave to North Cap and Mass Ave to Constitution.

Olney, Md.: There used to be, maybe a decade ago, a map of the great DC Metro area that highlighted all the bike routes. My old copy of that map is in too sad a shape to be of much use anymore, but I haven't been able to find it in bookstores. Any suggestions? Any plans to update it?

Jim Sebastian: The regional bike map is still published by the ADC company. You can get a cap at bike shops or adcmap.com. It was put together with input from area bike planners through cog. It was last updated in 1998.

Washington, DC: Mr. Sebastian:
Welcome to your new position. I look forward to your making a difference (over a reasonable period of time).

I would like to be able to send you notices of bicycling hazards that I encounter as I ride around town. Can you supply an e-mail address that I can send such notices to?

Two that I am especially concerned about, since I live in Ward 7 and bike downtown, are that Suitland Parkway's bike path is getting covered with mowed grass, which is already decomposing into dirt and beginning to cover it in places; and the South Capitol Street Bridge sidewalk, which is often strewn with trash (glass, hubcaps, even a pickup truck gate). Its southern exit needs major improvement also. It is a hairpin turn mostly covered in grass.

Thank you for any consideration, and welcome again to your position.

Marc Ferrara

Jim Sebastian: I will look into it.

Arlington VA: I have a question about etiquette on the bike paths. Is it polite to say 'passing on the left' when you are passing another biker or a pedestrian? I thought it was, but when I said it to a pedestrian, he cursed and shook his fist at me.

The bigger issue is that the paths are too crowded. You have pedestrians, casual bikers, competitive bikers, and roller bladers using the same 5 foot wide path. Is there a possibility of getting another paved path next to the Mount Vernon bike path (or other popular bike paths) -- one for pedestrians and one for people using skates or bikes? That's how it is in California.

Jim Sebastian: Notifying someone that you are passing is nice. The Mt. Vernon trail is managed by the national park service. Call 202 619 6389 with your concerns

Washington, D.C.: Over the years I've commuted by both bicycle and motorcycle, and find that I face more frightening and life imperiling situations on a bicycle. It seems that as little as cars respect motorcycles, they respect bicycles even less. Is there anything your office can do to change the attitude of drivers towards bicyclists and make it a little less scary out there?

Jim Sebastian: We hope to include education and outreach in our plans about safety and courtesy for both cyclists and motorists.

Aspen Hill, Md.: One Saturday, many moons ago, I biked from home all the way down to Alexandria, figuring I could ride the Metro back. Found out down there that I had to get a permit (following a 2-week safety class) to take a bike on the Metro, so I had to call the "parental units" to "rescue" me--I couldn't do that whole distance again uphill. Has the "bikes on Metro" policy been changed, and what is it now.

Jim Sebastian: No more pass required. You can take your bike on the Metro before 7am, between 10 and 4 and after 7pm, all day on weekends and most holidays.

Fairfax Co., VA: It is possible to bike to Harper's Ferry? What is the approximate distance and suggested route?

Jim Sebastian: Yes, it's roughly 60 miles to Harper's ferry on the C&O Canal, a great trip.

Washington, DC:
I live in Columbia Heights but work and attend church west of Rock Creek Park. I would like the city to make it safer for bicyclists to cross the park east-west. One way is to rebuild Klingle Road with a bike lane or a separate bike/pedestrian path. Another is to widen Park Road, or at a minimum to paint stripes for a bike path. The same goes for Tilden Road, although at least there the road is wide. Porter Street could also use a bike path, if possible, especially on the narrower eastern side. Do you think the City would take these steps?

Jim Sebastian: Our bike plan update will look at rock creek crossing. I will look into the possibility of a bike facility on porter street.

a consultant study on Klingle road will be released in the next few months. it includes options for bikes.

washingtonpost.com: Are there any plans to put a map of bicycle paths online?

Jim Sebastian: Yes, we are working on a new bike map, which we will put on line. Perhaps by the end of the year.

DC: Many of the most serious bicycle safety problems in DC fall under the jurisdictions of the District, the Park Service and the Park Police, either all at the same time or in some confusing way. Are you be in a position to address some of these problems, which none of those agencies has wanted to deal although they affect hundreds of bicyclists (and pedestrians) every day. The most obvious example is the bike/pedestrian crossing beneath the Connecticut Avenue bridge over Rock Creek Park.

Jim Sebastian: Iwill work with the other agencies on these problems.

Washington DC: Do you have any plans to work with the Metropolitan Police on a plan to work on deterring and prosecuting bike theft, and recovering stolen bikes?

Jim Sebastian: not yet, but I will look into it

Washington DC: What are some problems that you encounter while biking to work?

Jim Sebastian: I don't have any big problems on my ride (down 14th street and up Kansas Ave). Occasionally I get behind a bus, but generally a good commute - better than driving. Some days I dread the uphill on the way home :)

Alexandria, VA: Is there a bike map in the planning? I moved here from northern California in 1997 and have been looking for one since. Please, please, please try to find a way to publish one!

Jim Sebastian: Try the 'Washington DC regional bike map' at bike shops or adcmap.com

Washington, DC: Is it definite that the Metropolitan Branch Trail will be fully integrated into the New York Avenue Metro Station?

Jim Sebastian: Yes, we are close to a formal agreement with WMATA to integrate the trail into the station design and have already worked with them in the early design stages.

Washington DC: Do you already have money available to meet your goals? Where is this money coming from? Will/could DC consider applying for transportation enhancement funds?

I look forward to seeing the new trails/bike lanes.

Jim Sebastian: We have some funding now and more is committed when we have our plans in place. Much of the work will be leveraged with other projects, such as putting in bike lanes when streets are resurfaced (i.e. free bike lanes).

we will use federal enhancements program money for those types of projects (trails, etc)

Washington DC: I recently purchased a high end bike to commute around the city. How can I register it with MPD? Will this help in case of bike theft?

Jim Sebastian: You can register it at any police station. it will help track and possibly recover your bike.

Fairfax: I commute from Centreville to Fair Lakes almost every day. There's a portion of my commute (Stringfellow) where the bike path is virtually unusable due to some work that's been done by VDOT and some construction companies. And this has been a dangerous situation for the past several months. Is there anyone I can contact to complain about this?


Jim Sebastian: The phone # for the VDOT bike coordinator is (703) 383-2231.

McLean, VA: My friend and I are training for the AIDS ride and we want to bike our first seventy mile run this weekend. Any suggestions for interesting trails (or sequence of trails) with a nice picnic spot?

Jim Sebastian: The best book on bike rides in the area is the greater Washington area bicycle atlas, available at waba.org

some less crowed trails are the Anacostia tributary trails in PG County (College Park, Hyattsville) with lots of great picnic spots. see the ADC regional bike map for details.

or you could go further out on the wood trail or south on the Mt Vernon trail in VA

70 miles might require roads, which are in the Gwaba atlas

Washington, DC: Do you have an e-mail address available? If we need to get information about bike routes, future routes or enforcement of current lanes how can we contact you?

Jim Sebastian: You can reach me at jim.sebastian@dc.gov.

Washington, DC: Hi Jim,
As someone who believes that the bicycle is the fastest, and most efficient, form of transportation in the city, it's great to once again have a D.C. bike coordinator.
My question is this:
Is it possible to work with the police to help crack down on motorists who refuse to give bicyclists the right they have to the road. This is also a pedestrian issue, with motorists frequently not yielding to walkers who have the right-of-way at crosswalks.

Jim Sebastian: Yes, I'll talk to MPD.

rockville, MD: Sorry for the general question here, but do you know if bicycles are regulated under vehicular traffic laws in all 50 states, or are there any exceptions?

Jim Sebastian: I think so. A great site for info like this is Bicycling Info

Bethesda MD 20816: Any hope for the North Bethesda Trail being completed in the near future? The big holdup is two bridges crossing I-495 and I-270. Last I heard, one was being constructed, and the other was mired in Mont. Co. Public Works politics, funds being diverted to other priorities.

Finishing this trail would provide a nice bike commute for people like me who live/work in Bethesda and Rockville.

Jim Sebastian: Contact Mont. co bike coordinator for an upate: (240)777-7194

Washington DC: None of our 9 bikes are licensed. We live in the District. Can we and should we register them? What are the requirements for bike registration?

Jim Sebastian: You can go to the police stations. Bring a receipt if you have one and keep the receipt the police give you with the registration number.

DC: Are you aware of the bill in the House to reimburse employees who bike to work $65.00 per month? This program is modeled after Metrocheck.

Jim Sebastian: Yes, we're also hoping to establish other employer incentives for better bike facilities at work (parking, showers).

Washington DC: Hi Jim,

The mayor has pledged to stripe 10 miles of bike lanes a year. Do you know where the lanes will be, and when they are supposed to be started?

Jim Sebastian: we have to approaches:

1. Include them in resurfacing projects where appropriate, and

2. Update the bike plan to determine where they should be installed over the long term.

Stay tuned.

WDC: I heard a rumor that Mayor Williams rides a bike, or at least used to before he became mayor...is this true?

Jim Sebastian: He rode to work with me (and thousands of others) earlier this month.

He bicycles when he can and supports a bike friendly DC.

Arlington, VA: For the person inquiring as to a route for a 70 mile training ride, check out the ride schedule for the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club, at www.bikepptc.org. They have many rides each weekend at all skill levels, and they welcome new riders to join as guests (and hopefully then join, which is only $25/year).

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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