L Street Cycletrack (image courtesy Zach Rausnitz)

I normally try to avoid wading into the fray of bike advocacy in the mainstream press, but this article seemed so close to a breakthrough that I felt the need to write. The author, the president of the Washingtonian magazine, basically says that a bike lane has made made it worse to drive east-west through downtown DC. Along the way, she ends up making excellent arguments for the very same bike infrastructure she apparently opposes. The answer is right at her fingertips, yet she lets it slip away. Let’s take a closer look:

I applaud our city for embracing bikes. I, too, like to bike to work on occasion.

Great! Then surely you know firsthand how easy, cheap, and fun cycling in the city can be. And, you know how bike lanes and cycletracks in DC have made it much more attractive to newbies, doubling or tripling ridership.

Ever try to go from Georgetown to Penn Quarter in rush hour? Good luck. And have you tried it lately?

Yes, the trip is pretty easy, actually. There’s a great new protected bike lane on L Street nearly the whole way, and you can safely zip along much faster than the jammed car traffic. I’m surprised more people don’t ride, especially given how bad traffic is.

I’ve sat on the corner of 19th and L and watched each evening as the backup has gotten worse and worse with the addition of the new bike lanes—and I watch as the smog from stopped cars pollutes while nary a bike goes by on cold winter evenings. Only 3% of commuters bike. More than 70% still drive or take the bus.

I agree – traffic is terrible. That’s why I think it’s crazy that so many of us still sit in it, wasting time and polluting the air. Especially when there’s a traffic-free bike lane that goes the same places you want to go, or that can lead you to a nearby transit station. L Street opened a few weeks ago, but statistics show that lanes dramatically increase ridership in a year or so.

Busy Pennsylvania Ave. cycletracks

Many of us drive, but that’s not a reason we shouldn’t change. A century ago we were at 0% car usage, and we adapted our roads to cars. Now, realizing that cars have their drawbacks, we are adapting a small portion of our roads to bicycles. Times change.

I also agree that air pollution is bad and we should do something about it. Encouraging people to take transit and ride zero-emission bikes is a great way to do it.

Are you suggesting we should take away the bike lane to reduce emissions? We have 50 years of experience adding roadway capacity, and in study after study, expanding roads leads to more driving. If you’re arguing that more driving will somehow help air quality, I’m at a loss. Traffic reaches equilibrium – and soon enough drivers will begin to adapt to L and M Streets the same way they adapt to any normal constraint on the roadway network.

One has to wonder if there is any strategy to our bike-obsessed city. Did it occur to anyone to perhaps put the east-west bike lanes on H, N, or I Streets? Streets with significantly less traffic than L or M.

Yes, bike facilities take a lot of careful planning- planning that our city carefully began 8 years ago and has been strategizing since. Also, watch your numbers – DDOT statistics could tell you that H and I Streets move the same or more number of cars than L and M. (L Street moves around 14,000 cars per day, and M Street around 10,000. H and I move between 14,000 and 15,000 per day.) H and I also carry a phenomenal number of buses – nearly a bus per minute at rush hour, or 40% of the people in 2% of the vehicles – meaning they likely carry way more people than L and M.

Is anyone measuring how many bikes use the lanes in rush hour to determine whether they warrant the increased traffic backup?

Yes, DDOT records counts periodically. In fact, they just released numbers on two bike facilities installed a couple years ago, and found that installing bike lanes and cycletracks increased bicycling by 175%. Expanding bike capacity leads to higher bike ridership… sounds kind of like, well, roads, right?

…Except that more bicycling leads to exactly the kind of outcomes you said you wanted – less congestion and pollution. So, you’re making a great case for more bike lanes.

The red light at 15th and Penn. NW, which drivers apparently should be allowed to run?

Recently I came across this signal. I assumed it meant to watch for bikers when turning, which I explained to MPD officer who pulled me over–yet I was still fined $100 for “Disobeying A Traffic Control Device.” No warning, no matter that this is not in the DC Driver Study Guide, which lists eleven other signal types.

I agree that the “Bike” symbol should be included in the DC Driver Study Guide. It’s uncommon, and drivers should learn about it. But if you saw that red light and thought it meant you could go, I don’t know what to say.

Finally, let’s keep things in perspective here. The vast majority of our city remains paved for the the nearly-exclusive use of cars. D.C. is home to 3,500 lane-miles of roads for cars, and about 60 miles of bike lanes. The L Street cycletrack is 1.3 miles of one lane – that’s less than one tenth of one percent of the total roadway network. Even the next 10 or 20 miles of bike lanes signal neither the end of days, nor “bike obsession.” Frankly, they’re a drop in the bucket.

To the author: next time you drive from Georgetown to Penn Quarter at rush hour, you’ve got some great reasons in your article here why you, and your fellow drivers sitting in traffic jams, should ditch the car and ride a bike. It’ll get you there faster, reduce air pollution, cost less, and who knows – you might have fun too.

Posted by: jdantos | December 18, 2012

The Key to Winter Bike Commuting is Hot Coffee

Thermoses and cupholders for everyone!

Hot coffee: the cornerstone of any cold morning bike commute.

Bike commuting this time of year, when the cold morning winds make my eyes tear up, I am reminded once again of the awesomeness that is hot coffee. In a thermos, stashed in the water bottle cage, and always easily available at any red light.

The days haven’t yet gotten too cold, so the afternoon ride home has been pretty tame so far, but the mornings have been chilly. But seriously, the warmth of a hot bevvy on a cold commute dramatically improves any winter morning.

Oh yeah – and while you were enjoying that sip of java, it was so tasty that the idea of running that red light never even crossed your mind. Well done, you.

Posted by: jdantos | December 14, 2012

Track of the Night: Engine Trouble, by 10 Ft. Ganja Plant

This band has a pretty funny name, but the music is a lot better than the band name, in my view. While I wouldn’t recommend trying to grow one, I would recommend listening to their music!

Made up of members of John Brown’s Body, 10 Foot Ganja Plant is a modern reggae group with a good instrumental sound, and great studio productions. This track is a mix of spacey reaggae, and a steady groove music that keeps it plodding along all the way through. It reminds me of commuting home on my bike from Arlington to DC along the Custis and Mt. Vernon Trails.

Enjoy the  vibes – and if you like it, check out “Invincible Butcher,” “Shake Up the Place,” and “Hillside Airstrip” by these guys, among others.

Yonder Mountain String Band is a great outfit transitioning from traditional string-pickin’ bluegrass to a more appealing mix of jamband, great songwriting, and maybe even folk – all the while increasing their accessibility to new audiences, in my view.

This song is a very upbeat track, a mixture of chord progressions moving up the scale, plus hard-pickin’ banjo, plus gleeful upper-register strings. It reminds me of running down the National Mall on a chilly midday jog in winter – energetic, calming, and triumphant all at once.

Off the same album, I’d also highly recommend “Belle Parker,” “Fine Excuses,” and “Steep Grade, Sharp Curves.” These are the standouts in the album, in my view. Well, that, and “Midwest Gospel Radio”!

Posted by: jdantos | December 12, 2012

Track of the Night: Troublemaker, by Green Day

At the risk of dating myself, I remember listening to Green Day’s Dookie in my 7th grade years – around the same time as I was trying to figure out alot of things, including rebellion and girls, if I remember correctly. So Green Day has always been a bit of a throwback for me. Like, “Ha ha, remember the Meat Puppets? They were awesome” – that kind of reminiscing.

But even as they will ever be imprinted in my high school brain, Green Day has consistently put out some really top-quality quality through the years since then, and I really respect their versatility. Sometimes they sound a lot like their old selves, and to a certain extent their music is a bit formulaic. And sometimes they invent something new and great, like Boulevard of Broken Dream. But despite the repeat formulas, I am totally drawn in to their music every time – something so infectious, so upbeat, that it just makes you want to get up and go. American Idiot, for example, I thought was really good.

This track, Troublemaker, is a pretty simple punk song with a super irresistibly high-energy drum part. The chords are basic, but their timing and interspersal with the drums is addictive. The well-blended harmonies a third-up only makes it more upbeat.

This is a great get-pumped tune, with a bit a of 7th-grade nostalgia thrown in for good measure.

Green Day is apparently releasing a bunch of tracks in sequence – uno, dos, tres. Looking forward to the next!

Posted by: jdantos | December 3, 2012

Bicycling as Lazy

Bike on Hains PointWhen people find out I ride a bike to get around, and to get to work, they often respond with some mix of incomprehension, wonder, or even awe – like as if I am performing some impressive feat of stamina or courage. “More power to ya, man!” I hear, or “Wow, that’s great for you, keep it up!” Or my favorite, “wow, but you must be crazy!” Sometimes, I take some perverse pride in comments like this. I think, “yeah, I am really tough, all right, go me.” Or “it’s a great way to stay in shape

But on the inside, I know it’s all a sham. Because bicycling to get around a city is yes, one small part craziness, and yes, part really fun, but mostly? I’m just kind of lazy. Biking is simply the quickest, cheapest way to get from point A to point B, while expending the least amount of energy. Walking is kind of slow and tiring, but riding takes like a dozen pedal strokes and you’re at the next block already. Appealing to people’s inner laziness may be the genius behind Bikeshare’s short trips. Most utilitarian city bike riding is not hardcore, not masochistic, and not a crazy feat of courage. It’s just the easiest, laziest way.

When I walk out my door to go somewhere – to work, to get a gallon of milk, to run to the hardware store – the main question I ask myself is, “what’s the easiest way to get there?” Stopping global warming or racking up the miles doesn’t really enter the picture. The bike is sitting right there: it’s faster and requires much less effort than walking, it’s free, there’s unlimited free parking basically everywhere, I can carry anything on it, and there’s no traffic ever.

There have been many times when I have errands and meetings and I just don’t have time to travel any other way – only biking can get me to so many places fast enough.

There are days when life happens, and I don’t have time to both commute and exercise – so I ride and get to do both simultaneously. I’m not trying to win the do-gooder award, I’m just trying to economize the hours in the day – since at heart, I’m kind of lazy.

I have been known to hop on and ride a quarter-mile to the Harris Teeter to get some butter, just because it’s a few minutes faster than walking. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve ridden a Bikeshare bike a whopping 2 blocks to get Dunkin Donuts coffee, out of sheer, unbridled laziness.

So, next time you think that riding a bike around the city is some unattainable achievement reserved for crazy hardcore people, think again. Most riders are probably far from crazy. In fact, they may be bicycling because they’re a little bit lazy.

 

Soulive is one of my favorite jazz outfits – frenetic, jazzy, intricate, and complex. Here they team up with Talib Kweli for a nice jazzy rap tune. The acidic improvisation takes a back seat and (mostly) vamps underneath the vocals, and the result is a steady jazz groove, with an almost–walking quarter-note bass line.

Posted by: jdantos | November 28, 2012

Track of the Night – Leaders, by Nas & Damian Marley

Tonight’s track is a fantastic blend of reggae and rap. I admit to not really knowing much about Nas’ other stuff, but I really like this one. Damian Marley is, of course, son of Bob Marley. This track is a slow mellow groove that you kind of have to slouch into, with a sharp-edged rhythm guitar. The bullhorn effect on the chorus vocals works pretty well against the rapped verses. The tempo seems to struggle to restrain itself, moving forward purposefully but always holding a little back… beseeching patiently.

What do you think?

Meandering along the Mall in the Midwinter

Sometimes work can drag on me, especially in winter. Long hours, pitch black darkness for the commute home, wondering what’s it’s all for. Two things help – exercise and music. In winter I usually re-jigger my schedule to go for a lunch-break jog on the Mall, and then work late into the evenings. And when I do run, I admit I often don earphones for an accompanying soundtrack. (I try my best not to be a zombie, though, #bikedc-ers!) This song is a new addition to my running mix, and is a perfect antidote to wintertime blues.

This track by Eric Hutchinson’s is lilting, airy, boppy, and happy. I stumbled across this guy because iTunes said he resembled Jason Mraz. Kind of like bubble gum, or a Coke.  In any case, it’s “lite” in every way – upbeat, not too deep, and puts a quick in your step. Reminds me of jogging aimlessly around the Mall and hoping the sun will never set.

Posted by: jdantos | November 16, 2012

Bicycling into the Winter

As the days grow very short and the temperatures drop, the opportunity and allure of long bike rides seems to fade.  The stretch of cold and dark from November to March, about “Fall Back” to “Spring Forward” is the toughest part of the year for me, especially during the week. Does anyone else have trouble this time of year?

  • I am a year-round cyclist, but I tend to withdraw into my shell a little bit between now and March. My daily riding sometimes retrenches back to a 6-mile round trip commute, and no more.
  • To motivate, I tell myself I have no excuse but to ride to work anytime the high temperature is above 40. If the high doesn’t crack 40, I cut myself some slack. The top left corner of the Washington Post front page becomes my “commute horoscope.”
  • Winter is a time to focus on other pursuits – reading, music, analysis, work, cooking. The holidays are a welcome distraction.
  • Good gear helps. Someone wise once said (probably) “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” – or something like that. So I try to bundle up for winter riding when temperature and sweat regulation are key.
  • Lights help.  I’m in the “Christmas Tree” school of thought when it comes to bike lights. I don’t care how silly I look, or how many batteries I have to change or recharge, I want as much visibility as possible.  Especially in the winter if you want to ride after 4:45pm. I run two front handlebar lights, two rear blinkies on the seatpost, glow-lights stuck into my spokes, and a ReelLight rear blinky at the axle.
  • Cold toes and fingers, especially on long rides. I hate, hate ‘em. On my short commute, no proble, but on long rides, everything else can be icky sweaty but the tips of my toes and fingers can be numb. Has anyone found a good solution to this problem? Moose Mitts? Toe warmers?
  • Cold-bike whistling. Whistling a song as I pedal definitely helps keep warm. Singing also works.

Once you’re out, biking in the dark and cold can be a peaceful, calming thing. Pedestrians and other cyclists have thinned out, and you have the trails and lanes to yourself. The creak of a chain and the rattle of a pannier can seem downright loud on a cold dark ride home. Dark and cold brings it own kind of quiet, which I have trouble putting into words. Ride up the Mount Vernon Trail as the moonlight glints off the Potomac, cruise along the Mall on Jefferson or Madison, or pedal down the W&OD under the stars, and you’ll know what I mean.

The trick is just getting up the motivation to get the right gear, and get out there.

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