“Washington isn’t a city, it’s an abstraction” — Dylan Thomas
I have travelled to Washington D.C. countless times over the years, predominantly for business, but also for pleasure. I love the District. As a career public servant, it really is a Camelot of sorts; an extraordinary, vibrant, and sometimes solemn city. Many times I’ve strolled around the national monuments, toured the Capitol, I’ve spent countless hours enthralled at the Smithsonian, wandered through the National Archives, and honored our nation’s heroes at Arlington Cemetery.
On my trip there last week, I tried something I’ve never done. I rode a bike. The weather was gorgeous, my meetings came to a close, and my flight home was hours away. So, I had the perfect opportunity to fully engage the city on two wheels.
I found a BikeShare station close to my downtown hotel, so I rented a bike for the afternoon. For those not familiar with Capital BikeShare, it’s a great program. In 2008, D.C. became the first jurisdiction in North America to launch a bikesharing system. Today, Capital BikeShare is considered a regional transportation provider with over 1670 bikes and 175+ stations.
Ironically, I also noticed that the city just opened a number of “Cycle Tracks” on some of the more heavily-travelled downtown roadways, so I was anxious to try those out as well. A cycle track is an exclusive bike facility that is physically separated from cars and is not associated with the sidewalk. Cycle tracks are usually one-way, and they are usually separated from traffic with some sort of very noticeable delineator poles.
I had a great 15+ mile ride around “L” Street, Pennsylvania, Constitution, and Dupont Circle. The cycle tracks, which were only on certain roads, were wonderful. They seemed very well designed, and the number of locals using them actually astonished me. Most of the other downtown streets that didn’t have official cycle tracks were, however, clearly marked with bike lanes. The traffic, as always, was very heavy, but I found most drivers familiar with bicycles and most (not all) gave wide enough berth to make me feel at least marginally safe.
Washington D.C. is a city built for multi-modal transportation, and bicycles seem to be widely accepted as a realistic, if not necessary mode in the downtown area. The bicycle commuters, many of which used the bikeshare program, were mostly professionals in professional-attire. So, at least from my perspective, they are using bikes as a clear mode of transportation, in a city famous for snarled traffic. One cool thing I did see was an SUV on the side of the road helping a cyclist repair his bike. A sign on the side of the SUV read “Mobile Bicycle Service”, so it’s probably safe to assume that there is enough bicycle commuter-related demand to substantiate a dedicated mobile repair service. Pretty neat!
Anyway, a great new way to see an old stomping ground. For anyone contemplating seeing the District this way, I’d highly recommend it. Having said this, I am an urban-oriented rider and used to riding close to heavy traffic, so my perspective may be a bit skewed.
P.S. After my ride, I did sit down to a pint of Port City Porter at Maddy’s Tap Room on 13th Street. An American Porter that, while somewhat average, was also pretty easy on the palette.