Normally, I’m too busy biking to take many pictures of #BikeDC in action. But once the snow started following on Tuesday, I put the bike away. No way was I going to risk the slippery streets on my little-wheeled foldy bike or get salt and grime on my “nice” Specialized Sirrus.
Instead, I concentrated on getting photos of the cyclists of Washington, DC, braving the streets of the city, weather be damned.
The snow “overperformed” according to weather forecasters. January 6 was supposed to just bring us a dusting of snow – instead, nearly four inches fell. The morning commute turned into chaos, with drivers stuck in the snowy stuff, schools cancelled and a general sense of panic.
Gridlock was the norm on the streets of DC. Except for people on bikes, who kept on going.
After the snow came the brutal cold. Wednesday and Thursday saw high temperatures in the teens – and with the wind, it felt even colder. The streets were icy and only partially cleared – keeping my ice-fearing self off the bike. But the rest of #BikeDC kept riding, weather be damned.
People gonna bike. Maybe they do it because it’s cheap, faster than the Metro or because they enjoy it. Snow is not going to stop them. Cold is not going to stop them. Nothing (short of the end of the world) is going to stop them.
I like biking. I love coffee. I also enjoy writing and photography. I’ve been doing coffeeneuring for years without even realizing it. The Coffeeneuring Challenge (where you bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks) adds structure and purpose to my cyclo-wanderings around Washington in search of java.
I had big plans this year. I was going to go on long bike trips to places I’d never been. But, in the end, I just stayed in DC.
Ever since the Errandonnee Challenge (12 errands by bike over 12 days), biking has become more of a routine activity for me than a special adventure. Errandonnee taught me that it was easier, quicker and more fun to get around DC by bike than any other method.
I bike every day. Monday-Friday it’s back and forth to the Metro, the grocery store, and other errands and activities. On the weekends, it’s to social activities, go get lunch or drink coffee (always be coffeeneuring). On Sunday afternoons, I enjoy taking a spin around the monuments.
When it comes to biking, I don’t want to wear funny clothes. I don’t want to prepare. I don’t want a bike that costs thousands of dollars. I want the simple and everyday – which is why I like my foldy bike so much. I got it used off Craigslist for $300 several years ago. Easy to get on and off, and with a tight turning radius (thanks small wheels), it’s perfect for getting around the city.
I also have a real bike – a Specialized Sirrus. A hybrid (road bike frame, upright position), it’s good for longer distances.
Bike people are like cat people – they seldom have only one. Two bikes puts me on the low end of cycling obsession. I want more. I think it’s time for a new foldy and a mountain bike capable of dealing with DC’s potholed streets.
When it comes to city biking, I like the Dutch approach, where cycling is an ordinary activity that everyone can do. Advancements in infrastructure like the 15th Street Cycletrack have brought this idea within reach of Washingtonians. Building protected bike lanes means people will bike – it’s that simple.
Errandonee convinced me that cycling could be done everyday; Coffeeneuring helped hone my biking philosophy.
But you don’t care about that. Here’s where I ate and drank:
My favorite? Compass Coffee. With a couple of great bars nearby, you could spend a whole day on that block. My second favorite? Peet’s at 17th and L. It’s sunny and you can watch people bike by on L Street.
But, in the end, I don’t think it matters which coffee shop you visit. The most important thing is just to go.
Coffeeneuring 7: Illy Date: November 16, 2014 Distance: 6 miles
It was chilly on the last day of coffeeneuring (where you bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks).
Coffeeneuring is always a learning experience for me. You learn things about yourself – like how I don’t have the patience for hipster coffee. And about biking in the city, like how much design matters when it comes to safe cycletracks.
For my final coffeeneuring experience, I went to Illy in Washington, DC. I was on my “real bike” too – my Specialized Sirrus. It was a gray-skied day and I planned on going on a long ride.
But a cold wind blew right through my fleece. I was chilled so cut my trip short. Coffeeneuring lesson learned: when it’s cold, you always need one more layer.
I’m a fan of Illy because it’s about as non-hipster as it comes. Located in the lobby of a downtown hotel, Illy is a chain out of Italy. They make a beautiful cappuccino with a minimum of fuss for just $3.15. It’s the best deal in the city. And it’s made quickly, by sweet West African women without a weird beard or nose piercing in sight.
There was a line of people who had come in to get out of the chilly day. But, within just a couple of minutes, I had my cappuccino and was ensconced in the early-2000s era lobby of the Renaissance Hotel.
With its mod furniture and piped-in lounge music, the Renaissance is an attempt at cool from another era. There are no distressed menu boards. Nothing is made out of hemp. You don’t have a table salvaged from a demolished building. Instead, the slick surfaces and high-tech feel of the lobby make it look like a set from Sex and the City. Lean back and you can imagine Samantha drinking Cosmos and talking dot-coms.
No fixie-riding hipster with a Civil War-era beard would be caught dead in such an establishment; it would be like going for drinks with your mom’s friends.
Coffeeneuring 5: Starbucks
Date: November 3, 2014
Distance: Ten miles
Why do you go to Starbucks? You go because you know exactly what you’ll get. From the logo on the cups to the layout of the bathroom, a Starbucks in San Diego is just like a Starbucks in New York. You can travel across the breadth of this nation (and around the world) and you can count on Starbucks to deliver the same coffee experience, no matter the location. This ability to deliver uniformity is a uniquely American talent.
Why can’t our genius for standardization be applied to bike lanes?
The thought occurred to me as I was at a Starbucks. Combining coffeeneuring with errandonnee, I was on my way to the Apple store in Georgetown. After taking the 15th St Cycletrack and and the M Street Cycletrack, I stopped at Starbucks for coffee. I went there because I knew what I would get.
But biking around DC, you never know what you’ll get. This city’s bike infrastructure is a wildly chaotic mess that changes by the day.
The DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) started out so well. The first cycletrack, on 15th Street, is perfectly designed. Bikes are protected from traffic by a line of parked cars. Lanes are marked, signage is good and it’s clear to everyone how the protected bike lane works, thanks to the efforts of reforming Mayor Fenty and DDOT Director Gabe Klein.
In contrast, the M Street Cycletrack was compromised from the start, by Mayor Gray, who sold out to the politically-connected Metropolitan AME Church. There would be no bike lane in front of the 1500 block of M Street, so that they could double-park cars all over street.
Heading west, it gets worse, as the cycletrack weaves in and out of bollards and parked cars. It leads you into traffic and cars merge into the track, blindly, as they attempt to turn right. This poor design has made it worse for cyclists and drivers. M Street before the cycletrack was safer.
Later in the week, as I returned to the Apple store, I discovered something even more dangerous than the M Street Cycletrack – the M Street Cycletrack at night. Navigating the serpentine cycletrack in the dark, as cars nip at your wheels is an experience only for the most daring of urban cyclists. Hope you have good health insurance.
Why can’t DC have cycletracks with the consistency of Starbucks? Why are they all chaotically different and hopelessly compromised? Why are they so poorly designed and so obviously unsafe?
This is a country that gave the world Apple and Google – we know and appreciate good design. We can create uniform cycletrack experiences, no matter the environment. And a good design already exists, on 15th Street. Take that template and apply it across the city. Give us safe cycletracks, DDOT.
Coffeeneuring 3: Uprising Muffin Company Date: October 12, 2014 Distance: Ten miles
It was one of those days that you never wanted to go inside – a warm Sunday with fall leaves at peak color.
For Coffeeneuring #3, I decided to check out Uprising Muffin Company on 7th Street, right next to the Shaw Metro. I was up at an absurd hour – good thing they open at 7 AM. And the muffin selection is truly impressive. Their “everyday selections” include cranberry orange and lemon poppy-seed while they have daily specials including maple pancake muffins and even some kind of muffin egg sandwich.
I kept it simple with a banana walnut muffin, which was delicious, and coffee, which was okay. If you just want coffee, Compass a couple blocks away is a better choice.
Coffeeneuring suits me because there’s nothing I like better than wandering the city by bike. Coffeeneuring gives these ramblings a purpose. After breakfast, I crossed town using the R Street bike lane, then turned south on the 15th St Cycletrack and headed for the National Mall. I ran into this sight on Freedom Plaza:
It was The Intro to City Cycling class by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, designed to teach “confident control of the bike in all situations.” The class took advantage of the wide, car-less space of Freedom Plaza to learn how to brake, corner and other necessary skills. Looks like they were having fun.
The Marine Corps Marathon was going on. I saw on Twitter that the winner had already crossed the finish line. I went down to the National Mall to see if people were still running. In fact, they were. Thousands of them. Somewhere in these hordes was the Queen of Coffeeneuring. It’s not enough that she has to bike everywhere – she runs marathons too, just to make me feel like a slacker.
The course went around the Mall, across the river, and basically all over the city as runners racked up 26 miles. In front of the Capitol (now covered in scaffolding – weird), a marching band played to cheer them on.
Watching this endless stream of jogging humanity, it was impossible not to feel inspired. But I was also very glad to have my bike. That running stuff looks exhausting.
Imagine what history would be like if the Greeks had bikes. It would’ve been much easier to get word back to Athens. The first marathon wouldn’t have ended in a cry of “Victory!” and death. Instead, a bike messenger would’ve brought the news of the Persian defeat. He might be sweating a bit after twenty-six miles. And Greece would be celebrated as the birthplace of the bike (and democracy).
As the runners trailed off, I headed home, passing the White House and one final fall scene:
Fall is ephemeral. These colorful leaves will be gone within days. Winter is coming once again – cold temps are rolling in. If you weren’t out last weekend, you missed the best fall weekend of the year.
It was a lovely, warm October day. I was on my way to western North Carolina when I made a little detour up I-64. I wanted to check out the Jackson River Trail outside Covington, VA.
The terrain looks more like West Virginia than the Old Dominion – it’s tree-covered mountains broken up by narrow, winding streams. Covington is an old factory town, with a towering paper mill surrounded by closely-packed houses.
A couple miles outside of town, I parked at Intervale, where the trail begins. On this Friday afternoon, my car was the only vehicle in the lot.
I took the foldy out of the trunk – it’s a Breezer Zig7, basically the same thing as a Dahon. I bought it off Craigslist seven years ago. Other than changing the occasional flat (foreshadowing), it’s needed little maintenance.
The trail follows the Jackson River up into the hills. The day was warm, the leaves were at peak color, and I hardly saw another soul on the trail. The surface is crushed gravel and is very soft and smooth. I meandered and took photos with my iPhone.
Along the trail, I passed rocky cliffs, gurgling rapids, a crossroad called Petticoat Junction, a gaggle of little barky dogs (behind a fence) and even some miniature ponies.
Seven miles in, the trail turns from gravel to dirt. I decided to turn around. It seemed like I had been going uphill for the last couple of miles. Then I noticed my rear tire – it had gotten dangerously deflated. Pressing my thumb into the tire, it had lost half its pressure over the course of the ride.
Did I have a pump and a spare tube? Of course not. I am the unprepared cyclist, one that relies on serendipity to guide me.
I didn’t want to walk seven miles back to my car so I decided to outrace the slow leak. I would pedal as hard as I could to get back to Intervale before my tire went completely flat.
Is this logical? Can you really outrun a flat? Is a flat a function of time, distance or weight? Wouldn’t riding the bike make the tire go flat even quicker?
These were academic concerns. I hopped on my bike and took off, racing past the miniature ponies, crumbly cliffs and colorful leaves of the trail.
With relief, I made it back to the car. The tire still had some air in it. By the next morning, it would be totally flat.
Did I learn my lesson? Maybe. Maybe not. The joy of having a bike is the ability to just go. If I had to plan things, it wouldn’t be as much fun. The downside, of course, is the possibility of a long walk home. But I can live with that.
Coffeeneuring 1: Peet’s (17th and L)
Date: October 4, 2014
Distance: Five miles
Coffeeneuring has returned! The rules are simple – bike to seven different coffee shops by November 16. Check out Chasing Mailboxes for all the details of this coffee-fueled, bike adventure.
For my first coffeeneuring trip, I took my Specialized Sirrus to the Peet’s at 17th and L NW in Washington, DC. Peet’s is a coffee chain from Berkeley that recently replaced all the Caribou Coffees in DC.
I’m a firm believer in feng shui. Some places have good chi energy. With its big windows and corner location, this spot has the plentiful light and ample people-watching that’s perfect for reading, writing or blogging. In fact, I wrote part of my novel Murder in Ocean Hall here when it was a Caribou.
Peet’s is an improvement. The coffee is better and the baked goods are delicious, especially the amaretto brownie.
Located on the L Street cycletrack, and with the White House just a couple blocks away, the Peet’s at 17th and L makes an ideal coffeeneuring destination. It’s also close to National Geographic and innumerable bikeshare stations.
Do not bike on H Street NE under any circumstances! That was the consensus opinion at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) summer happy hour at Vendetta on H Street. Everyone present seemed to have a story of injury and woe.
The reason? Streetcar tracks, which are dangerous to cyclists and impossible to avoid on H Street. There’s a small gap between rail and pavement that’s the perfect size to ensnare a bike tire.
I speak from experience. Two summers ago, I was cruising down H Street, in between the tracks. I had heard of the danger but thought I was being safe – I knew I needed to cross the tracks at a right angle to avoid peril. What I didn’t count on was the tracks veering off to the right as they approached Hopscotch Bridge. The front tire of my Specialized Sirrus got caught in the gap between track and pavement and I flew sideways off the bike, scraping along the pavement for ten feet or so. The tracks left me a bloody mess, with road rash all along my right side.
To add insult to injury, the streetcar isn’t even running yet. The tracks have been there for more than two years. But not a single passenger has been delivered. All the tracks have done is upend cyclists.
So, don’t bike down H Street! Take G or I instead. They’re pleasant neighborhood streets and free of the streetcar menace.
There was a time when the media considered itself a fourth branch of government. They were the ones responsible for “keeping them honest” and “speaking truth to power.” Objective arbiters of the truth, journalists were an elite class charged with communicating the news to the rest of us.
No organization embodied this high-minded civic sentiment more than The Washington Post, the paper of Woodward and Bernstein, the paper that brought down a president.
Today, the Washington Post published a poorly-written, factually incorrect, hate-filled screed advocating violence against cyclists. The author was Courtland Milloy, a Washington Post columnist, who writes:
It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.
Believe it or not, but this piece (with its factual errors, stereotyping and threats of violence) was reviewed and edited by editors at the Washington Post.
Several commentators (including me) had a tweet-exchange with one of them, asking how this could pass the Post’s supposedly rigorous standards. His reply:
@sharrowsDC Not saying I agree w/ him. Just saying Courtland is pretty good about airing widely held but not widely discussed opinions.
You know what other views are widely held? Millions of people believe that Obama was born in Kenya. Others think 9/11 was an inside job. And a big chunk of the US population is certain that UFOs exist. But you don’t see their views in the Post. Why not?
Because the Post has editorial standards. They do not allow the beliefs of violent, racist crackpots on to their pages.
Unless you’re Courtland Milloy. He’s kept on staff because he’s supposedly the voice of black Washington – though he no longer lives in the city. Lacking a black perspective on the op-ed page, they pay him handsomely for the odd column, though his hate-filled rants would not be tolerated from a white writer. It’s patronizing liberalism at its worst, literally the soft bigotry of low expectations, and occurs despite the fact that there are plenty of talented black voices in this city.
Why not look for an African-American Ezra Klein rather than hanging on to this relic from the Marion Barry era?
Bikes have a way of revealing biases. For example, gentle-voiced Scott Simon of NPR, also hates and stereotypes cyclists. What other strange views does he hold? Are there other groups he thinks should be singled out for punishment? How do these biases influence what NPR covers?
Reporters say nasty things about cyclists because they can. Slurs against cyclists are acceptable while stereotyping other groups is not. Reporters give voice to this hate because there is no punishment for it. These biases exist and influence what stories get covered – and what stories don’t. Anti-cyclist hate is acceptable in the pages of the Post while the birthers are not.
The media is not objective. Do not believe what The Washington Post says. The Internet and Twitter provide wonderful real-time fact checking. We no longer have to blithely accept what our self-appointed guardians write, especially if they disgrace themselves by publishing hate-filled rants.
The media is not a fourth branch of government – the Internet has assumed that role. Read critically and make up your own mind.