Lately, I’ve taken to rambling bike rides in Virginia. I like crossing the Potomac. Like my coffeeneuring friend Mary G., I enjoy looking at the river. It’s more than just open space in the city – it’s a bright, blue, cheerful respite from trees turning brown everywhere.
I don’t bike too far on my rambles – twenty miles or so. And they have a casual aspect to them that makes using Strava a bit of a joke. Average speed: 10 miles an hour, thanks to frequent stops to backtrack, eat cupcakes, get lost and take photos.
Sunday afternoon is a great time to bike, too. There’s hardly any traffic in DC and, if the weather’s the least bit cool, the trails are largely free of other cyclists and runners. I like exploring new places.
I don’t know much about Del Ray in Alexandria so set out there. I biked over the 14th St Bridge (the Memorial Bridge is closed to traffic) and then to Crystal City, for a mediocre slice of pizza, then rolled through Del Ray on Monument Avenue. It’s a cute neighborhood that has somehow managed to avoid complete gentrification.
I wanted coffee (always be coffeeneuring) but didn’t see any place in Del Ray so, after getting lost for a bit, made a left down King Street and another left on Royal. A cop car at a stop sign freaked me out – was he going to give me a ticket for failing to completely stop with my foot down? But the car was empty, fortunately.
Royal led me to the Mount Vernon Trail Alternate, which I knew would take me right by Buzz Bakeshop. Buzz! The coffee is decent and the cupcakes are photogenic as hell.
Afterwards, I got lost in the development north of Buzz, wondering if it connected back to the Mount Vernon Trail. It doesn’t (I didn’t believe the No Outlet sign). I went back to the MVT and then around the makeshift cyclecross trail that the National Park Service has established around National Airport.
Then I zipped home before the early winter sunset caught me.
Why am I exploring Virginia? Part of me wonders: could I live there? I like DC but I envy those MVT commuters. And it would be so much fun to live near the WO&D Trail.
Northern Virginia seems bike-friendly, from the perspective of a Sunday afternoon trail rider. What it’s like during the week?
The Coffeeneuring Challenge is where you ride your bike to 7 different local coffee shops from Saturday October 4 through Sunday, November 16. Only the weekends and holidays count. You have to ride at least two miles. And you have to record your adventure.
I coffeeneured even before it was a thing. There’s nothing I like better than wandering the city by bike, off to explore some new neighborhood and grab some coffee. I coffee even during non-coffeeneuring season.
Biking and drinking coffee is a lifestyle for me. My motto: Always Be Coffeeneuring.
Where did I go this year?
Killer ESP October 4
Rain was a theme for this coffeeneuring season. There had been a ton of rain the previous day and portions of the Mount Vernon Trail were slightly flooded. But I had coffeeneuring to do! I set off into the drizzle and coasted through the water-logged portions of the trail, keeping my feet up so that they wouldn’t get wet. No one was on the trail except the coffeeneuring and the crazy.
Killer ESP was a disappointment. The cappuccino was fine. It was just that the place was packed with laptop campers and a woman occupying a whole couch with her tiny dog. But at least I didn’t get a $91 ticket for failing to stop at a stop sign. Alexandria is the worst.
Firehook October 11 20 miles
There is no place better to bike during the fall in DC than Rock Creek Park. The trees had just started to change so I rambled over Boulder Bridge and down Beach Drive before returning to have coffee at Firehook. An absolutely perfect fall day.
The Coffeeneuring Challenge has all sorts of different rules and provisos. One of them is “Coffee Shop without Walls” where you can make or bring your own coffee. So I loaded up the thermos and headed down to the mall.
One of the things I like best about coffeeneuring is hearing about new bike routes and coffee places. There’s a Facebook group where coffeeneurs post stories and photos from their adventures. A fellow coffeeneur had mentioned Lot 38 by the Navy Yard so I went to check it out. On the way back, I went for a spin around Capitol Hill. Sunday afternoons are a very quiet time to ride around the city, especially when the Redskins are playing.
Note: one of the coffeeneuring requirements is to rate the bike friendliness of the places visited. None of the coffee shops I went to were particularly bike friendly. I primarily locked my bike to sign posts, as you do in the city.
Room 11 October 25 12 miles
Coffeeneuring gets me out of the house and off to new adventures. It was a rainy and wet Sunday morning. But I had coffeeneuring to do so I biked up to Room 11 for a biscuits and bacon. Then I wandered through Petworth to the Old Soldier’s Home (never been there before) to watch cyclecross (never seen that before). Looked like fun!
Compass Coffee October 31
Trick or treat! Candy doesn’t interest me that much but free coffee? I’m there. Compass Coffee opened a new store off U Street, part of a hipsterville development. To celebrate, they offered free coffee drinks. I had never had a cortado before – delicious! I now have a whole new way of drinking my second-favorite beverage.
La Colombe (Philadelphia)
I wanted to do something big for the grande finale, so I took a bus and then a bike share to the Philadelphia Bike Expo. Yo, Adrian! While there, I ran into the Coffeeneur herself! And I looked at all sorts of bikes before going to La Colombe for an awesome cappuccino.
Truth be told, there was a lot more biking and a lot more coffee. But these are the highlights. Always Be Coffeeneuring.
I learn something new every coffeeneuring season. What did I learn this year?
I don’t like getting my bike dirty. As I biked up to Room 11 on a rainy morning, I was annoyed at all the grit that my bike accumulated until I saw all mud at DC Cyclecross. That put things in perspective. But I still don’t like it.
There are still places in the city that I have yet to discover, like the Old Soldier’s Home.
Walking the halls of the Philadelphia Bike Expo, I realized that biking is a hobby that can consume all your time and disposable income. With only two bikes, I’m far from a cultist. I’m not ready to sell all my possessions and hit the road on a bike – at least not yet.
Why doesn’t the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) protect the bike lane in front of the Wilson Building?
That was the subject of the recent protest, Stop U-Turns on Pennsylvania Avenue. Local cyclists (including me) created a human shield to protect those using the bike lane that runs down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue. While DDOT has installed “park-its” (little curbs) to discourage drivers from making u-turns along most of Penn, it has declined to do so along the 1300 and 1400 blocks of the avenue.
DDOT says it’s studying the issue. Coincidentally, the 1300 block is home to the Wilson Building and a gaggle of DC Councilmembers, known for their reckless driving and park-anywhere attitude. They enjoy making u-turns on Penn, among other, greater offenses.
It’s dangerous to make a u-turn across a bike lane where people are riding in both directions. There have been three reported incidents of cyclists getting hit by cars just on this block.
The park-its have made a huge difference on the rest of Pennsylvania Avenue, where I used to see cars making u-turns across the bike lane every time I rode it. That’s largely ended, thanks to the park-its.
At the protest, we formed a human shield of about fifty riders to protect the unprotected blocks. We lined the bike lane where the park-its should be. Police officers on bikes and in cars were there to keep everyone safe.
Surely, no driver would attempt to make a u-turn through the protest, right? Hah! Crazed DC drivers aren’t going to let people on bikes get in their way, even with cops all around! I saw at least three illegal u-turns in just thirty minutes, demonstrating a shocking disregard for traffic laws and human life.
Someone even made a u-turn through the protest! There was a ten-foot gap between protesters so the crazed driver nosed his SUV through the line of people and across the bike lane. If you’re this reckless, you should not be allowed to drive in DC.
As a member of the crew, I get to take three free day trips this summer courtesy of Enterprise. Anywhere within 100 miles of DC is within my domain. In return, I have to take photos and share them on social media. I’d do this all on the iPhone, of course.
For my first auto excursion, I went to beautiful downtown Frederick to have lunch with my talented photographer friend Mary-Kate McKenna.
Here are some pics from the trip:
Look for more adventures in carsharing coming this summer!
There’s a perception that biking is something that’s only done by men on expensive road bikes aka MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra).
But, if you bike around DC like I do, you see just about every kind of person in the bike lanes – female executives on red Bikeshare bikes, bearded hipsters on fixies, Salvadorans on beat-up mountain bikes, students on vintage cycles, eccentrics on Bromptons and even whole families on cargo bikes.
For an all too-brief spell, we had an enlightened city government that invested in bike infrastructure, such as the 15th Street Cycletrack, a bike lane protected by a line of parked cars. This made biking safe for everyone – I even see little kids in the cycletrack. And during rush hour, there’s a traffic jam of bikes in the bike lane.
“You’d have to be crazy to bike around DC.” I heard that regularly twenty years ago, when I biked. You only biked on the weekends, and on trails like Rock Creek Park – but you’d never think to bike during rush hour, because it was way too dangerous.
Protected bike lanes, Capital Bikeshare and other advancements normalized the idea of biking in the nation’s capital, turning an activity once done only by crazed bike messengers into something that even tourists could do. Washingtonians and visitors discovered that biking was the fastest way to get around town – and the most fun.
Capital Bikeshare deserves a huge amount of credit for this development, making biking easy – you don’t even need to own a bike anymore – and commonplace, as hordes of the ubiquitous red bikes spill out onto the streets every day.
Biking in DC is no longer just the province of fit young men. Everyone rides now, a change that has been documented in the excellent Women of BikeDC series, which profiles female bike riders. There’s less racing and more slow riding. Fewer road bikes and more upright Dutch-style city bikes.
And with these changes has developed a tremendous sense of community, where cyclists get together at events like DC Bike Party and rides organized by BicycleSpace and others. You can also find them sharing information virtually using #BikeDC on Twitter.
Biking has changed in DC. The face of biking is changing as well. Nelle Pierson was recently appointed as interim director of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. If someone is going to represent #BikeDC, than I can think of no one better than Nelle Pierson. She’s creative, outgoing, rides every kind of bike and is great at expanding the bike community, like with her Women and Bicycles program which matches up new cyclists with mentors.
I first met Nelle a couple years ago at a WABA happy hour. She was there with her mom and the two of them had rode over on a tandem – how cute is that?
The great thing about biking in this city is the chance to run into your #BikeDC friends. You meet people at events and then see them biking around town. Sometimes, you even stop and chat for a moment, something you could never do in a car.
All this amazes me. Protected bike lanes, Capital Bikeshare, #BikeDC – I never would’ve imagined this and I love every bit of it.
This progress was possible due to the efforts of WABA. A strong WABA benefits everyone who bikes in DC. If you haven’t joined already, join! Help Nelle and WABA make biking easier and safer in DC.
I can’t wait to see what happens next as the biking community in DC grows and expands. We may never be Copenhagen. But we can aspire to be a city where biking is safe, normal and fun.
May 15 was Bike to Work Day, a nationwide celebration of bicycling as a clean, fun, and healthy way to get to work.
It’s a huge event in DC, with 79 pit stops around the region to receive refreshments, swag and a free commemorative t-shirt! I had shirts from the past three years – no way was I going to break my streak.
One problem: I was scheduled to fly out of National Airport at 8:35 AM. Could I attend Bike to Work Day and make it to the airport in time for my flight?
I was determined to find out. And I would do it by bike (of course).
That meant taking a backpack. Can’t exactly bike with a suitcase. But I was going to Florida so didn’t need much more than shorts and a swimsuit. And a Kindle. And sunscreen.
I prefer to travel light, anyway. Who wants to check a bag, pay a fee and then have to wait for it when you reach your destination? Not me.
Bike to Work Day dawned with perfect weather – sunny and in the low 60s. I hoisted my backpack, hopped on my Specialized Sirrus and hurried down the 15th Street Cycletrack.
My Bike to Work Day pit stop was Freedom Plaza. Located at 14th and Pennsylvania, it’s a great open-air plaza where you can see the Capitol in the distance. I got there about 6:45; they weren’t scheduled to open until 7. Pretty sure I got the first t-shirt issued – they had to open one of the boxes for me.
I made a quick walk around the plaza. WABA was there, ready to advocate for biking in DC. Whole Foods was passing out granola bars and bananas. Riide Bikes offered me a test ride on an electric bike. Sadly, I had to decline – I had a plane to catch!
It’s a lovely ride to the airport. I went around the Ellipse, looped around the Lincoln Memorial, crossed the Memorial Bridge and then rode down the Mount Vernon Trail as bike commuters headed the other direction into DC.
Twenty minutes later, I was at National. It’s very easy – you just veer left off the trail as it goes by the airport. Then follow the service road to USAIR baggage claim. I rolled my bike into the airport – no one paid me any attention – up the elevator and across the pedestrian bridge to the Metro. Around the right of the Metro entrance are a couple of bike racks.
And I mean a couple – just two, which were already occupied with bikes. I couldn’t squeeze my bike in there so locked it to a fence instead.
After going through security, I was at my gate with a good thirty minutes to spare. Biking to the airport is so easy that I’m surprised more people don’t do it. Good thing they don’t – DCA doesn’t have enough bike racks. And it would be nice if they had someplace a little more secure than some racks by the Metro.
But even better than biking to the airport is biking home. By doing so you miss the worst of the airport experience – luggage and taxis. My packed flight from Florida arrived Sunday night. While everyone trooped downstairs to wait for their bags, I headed for my bike. I wheeled by passengers plaintively staring at the carousel. Then I passed a line of broken-down cabs waiting to gouge people desperate to get home.
The Mount Vernon Trail was dark and buggy and gorgeous. There were plenty of people out. Kids clustered at Gravelly Point to watch planes land. Joggers huffed and puffed. I passed a couple of women on a long-haul excursion, their bikes loaded with panniers and lit up like Christmas trees.
It’s a good thing that I know the Mount Vernon Trail like the back of my hand because there are no lights on it. I might’ve ended up in the Potomac if I didn’t know where I was going. The headlight on the front of my bike seemed inadequate for the task.
I was glad to reach the streetlights of Memorial Bridge. I stopped at the Jefferson Memorial. It was calm and quiet, with just a few school groups climbing the steps. I took my time coming home.
It was a long and punishing winter, a season of cold that had me reaching for every layer that I owned. I still biked, but only for short trips, like to the Metro and back. It wasn’t just the subzero temperatures – it was the snow and ice that covered bike paths like the Mount Vernon Trail, owned and operated by the recalcitrant and unresponsive National Parks Service.
But then it all changed. The temperature skyrocketed to the mid-50s. Everything melted. And the end of Daylight Savings Time brought a delightful Wednesday evening with blue skies and the trails clear of snow.
The return of good weather arrived just in time for Errandonnee! It’s a bike challenge where you bike to 12 different errands over 12 days. I wasn’t going to let this weather go to waste so I hit the Mount Vernon Trail after work and headed to Good Stuff Eatery in Crystal City.
After visiting Good Stuff, I checked out Wednesday Night Spins (an underground bike race) and the Lincoln Memorial to check off three errands off my Errandonnee list.
But let me tell you: this burger was delicious. Being able to eat outside again – amazing! I forgot what that this feeling was like. May winter never ever return.
It was a very interesting discussion but one point stood out for me as a government communicator: good federal agencies know that social media is customer service. They realize that Twitter and Facebook are more than just broadcast vehicles; they exist to help the public get answers. Social media is a chance to change the perception of Big Government by providing information to the public in a timely manner.
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Smart federal agencies like the VA and USGS have teams in place to respond to public inquiries. They’re setup as customer service centers and pride themselves on letting no question go unanswered.
For example, the bike trail (you knew this would come back to bikes, didn’t you?) along the GW Parkway is one of the most heavily traveled bike commuter routes in the region. It’s essential for people coming from Alexandria to get into the city.
Does NPS plow the bike trail like Arlington County does? No, they let the trails turn into ice-covered ruts that endanger walkers, runners and cyclists.
What’s worse is that they never ever respond to anyone (and there’s been a lot of people) who ask them about it on social media. Do you think the phones at NPS go unanswered? No, of course not. They have people to answer the phones. But when it comes to social media they let it ring and ring, the public be damned.
Not responding to the public is one of the cardinal sins of this age. Agencies with budgets much smaller than NPS will reply to your tweets, like the DC Department of Transportation. We in #BikeDC forgive their lapses in snow removal because we know that they’re trying.
How do we know this? Because there’s a real person who answers their Twitter! You can get angry at a big agency but when there’s obviously a human being on the other end of the computer – you feel empathy for them.
The National Parks Service has a budget of $2.6 billion. They have a staff of 21,798. You can’t find a couple folks to answer tweets?
If the National Parks Service cannot maintain their social media accounts, they should shut them down. Their poor customer service is embarrassing the rest of Big Government – and that’s saying something.
Now this is exciting! MARC is a cheap and easy way to get to Charm City and now I can take my bike there. Moreover, the MARC official who accepted the award revealed that they have plans for MARC train Bike Cars going out to West Virginia. That means you could take the train out to Harpers Ferry and bike back on the C&O Canal.
Best New Bike Infrastructure in Virginia in 2014: Winner: King Street bike lanes in Alexandria, VA
The transportation officials who fought to get this done against a tide of wealthy NIMBYs deserve a hundred more awards.
Bike Friendliest Neighborhood or Business Improvement District Winner:DowntownDC BID
Bike Friendliest Bar, Restaurant or Coffee Shop Winner: District Taco, various locations in DC and VA
District Taco is good but I voted for Swings, since it’s home to Friday Coffee Club, where bike people meet every Friday morning.
Bike Friendliest Developer or Property Manager Winner: Nationals Park
Best Bike Shop Winner: BicycleSPACE
Bike Friendliest School
Winners (tie): School Without Walls High School, DC and the Washington & Lee High School, Arlington, VA
Bike Friendliest College or University Winner: University of Maryland at College Park
Best Shop Ride Winner: BicycleSPACE Hills of Anacostia
Biggest Advocacy Win of 2014 Winner: Snow Removal on Arlington County Trails
Plowing the bike trails for the local citizenry doesn’t seem like a radical notion but the fact that Arlington County does it makes them unique and remarkable among local governments. Arlington County is innovative and amazing. They not only cleared their bike trails of snow they have cool videos and the best scarves.
Best Overall Trail or Bike Lane (anywhere in the region)
It’s easy to overlook this amazing trail, which stretches some 45 miles across urban, suburban and rural Virginia.
WABA also handed out special WABA Awards to honor bike advocates. See the complete list on their site.
It was a great evening, like the Oscars but without all the awkward patter (okay, there was some of that). They should call them “The Bikeys”next year.
And as someone who works in government myself… trust me, awards matter. If you’re a local official, being honored by the people you serve provides a cachet that you cannot get in the office. It will motivate you in the future. It’s a big deal. The WABA Awards may be in their infancy but they will prompt the development of Washington as a biking city.