Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Washington DC

I'm writing from a coffee shop near 13th and G streets in Washington DC, watching the buses drive by outside and feeling the trains rolling directly beneath me. More importantly, I'm watching the bike lane painted on G St. and after 90 minutes here, I have yet to see a cyclist using it. Now I admit it is cold here today (27 degrees) and I have a limited view, but it is sunny and there is little to no wind, perfect conditions for cold weather biking.

The thought occurs to me, which comes first, the cyclists or the ability to reach your destination via bike? Minneapolis, where I currently call home, seems to have reached a critical mass of bike interests so that it seems rare to hear of a project that does not account for bike paths or pedestrian safety concerns. I'm not saying bikes are prioritized over automobiles there but they do get higher priority than I see in many places. Anyway, this critical mass of bike culture in the Twin Cities means that recognition of issues surrounding bikes is much easier to achieve when redevelopment projects are proposed. Here in DC, it seems to be well below that critical mass and I'm trying to figure out how bike culture develops to that point and how best to support more appealing and safer biking.

If a certain level of bike-friendly infrastructure must occur before a cultural threshold is reached, then a large burden is placed on the relatively few bike 'pioneers' of a region to advocate for that infrastructure. If widespread desire to bike comes first, our cities are downright negligent regarding safety for not reacting faster to implement safety features to match the demand. This may be a pointless mental exercise resulting from too much coffee and free time, but I indulged myself anyway by conducting it.

DC is a very easy to navigate city. It's streets follow very regular grid patterns, it has a well-used transit system (trains at least) and a level of density that makes short distance trips possible and not car-dependent. To me, these are helpful indicators of a city's appeal to bikers, not necessarily direct factors but rough correlates. DC is a progressive place and the facts strongly indicate the need for smarter and stronger transportation and transit options (Transportation for America-DC). Why not start with the low-level improvements to create safer walking and biking? If Minneapolis can hold the #2 ranking for most commuters by bike while being the coldest major metropolitan region in the country, there is no reason that our capital city couldn't be more bike friendly.

P.s. I did just see a biker go by, but on 13th street, which has no bike lane.

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