My first guest post on Tales From the Sharrows! Reprinted here, with permission of course, for safe keeping.
Some days, my daily bike commute blends into the background of life, becoming simply the way I get from place to place. On a few bad days, my commute can make me frustrated at the selfish ways other road users can act. But most days? My bike commute usually is the absolute highlight of my day.
My bike commute is the single most variable time in my weekday routine. Every day is something different. During those short 3.2 miles in the morning, and then joyriding back in the afternoon, this city shows me all kinds of sights, sounds, and spectacles – from urban wildlife, potholes, delivery trucks, hail, rain, dazzling sunshine, cherry blossoms, turning leaves, birds of prey, sunsets, snow, other bicyclists, joggers, buses, dogs, protests, presidential motorcades, and street musicians, to name a few.
Today was one of the good days. It was colder than normal, but not too bad. I started out, as usual, swinging onto Kentucky Ave. SE towards Lincoln Park. Kentucky is a quiet, residential street that’s great for biking. My favorite block is the even-quieter 100 block of Kentucky, where on summer evenings the little kids and dogs all play together on the sidewalk and the parents sip wine in the front yards.
The bike lanes around Lincoln Park are great, and make it really pleasant to ride around the park. I passed the Bikeshare station, which was surprisingly not empty of bikes today. Normally it’s empty by the time I roll by at 8:45, and I’ve even seen people waiting there for the re-balancing truck.
At the northwest corner of Lincoln Park, I glided to a stop at a red behind a couple on bikes, who spoke for a bit before giving each other a quick “have a good day honey” smooch, and rode off along Mass. when the light changed. It made me smile – a couple who bike commutes together…
Mercifully, no one honked us cyclists in the bike lane at the light, waiting for the green left arrow. This always makes me happier. Honking in the morning can really be a bummer if you’re not encased in glass and steel. It’s like, hey, does honking ever really help you get to work any earlier? Does honking activate some magical power to make the obstruction before you disappear? Not usually. Most honking is just you transforming your frustration into a loud noise that does nothing to help the situation. But does make me cringe. Kind of like the comments sections on newspaper sites. Anyway, no one honked, which does happen sometimes because there’s this ambiguous left turn thing at this intersection. Here’s a brilliant idea about honking.
The ride down East Capitol was free and easy. Other riders shoaled me as I waited at red lights, but what’s new. The sun was shining, and it felt like spring. And I had coffee, ahhh.
Here’s my idea for how to entice bikers to stop at red lights: cupholders and thermoses for everyone. In the winter, I ride with a thermos filled with hot coffee. It fits snugly in the water bottle cage, and a little button keeps it watertight. Come to a stoplight? Coffee break! Try it with tea, juice, beer, whatever suits your fancy. Main thing is, make it something you really like, so you stop for that red light just so you can take a swig. This would be total Pavlovian positive reinforcement, just like training my dog. Don’t just punish them for doing the wrong thing, show them how to do the right thing. Stop for a red light; treat yo self. Cupholders and thermoses, I’m telling ya.
Around the Supreme Court and the Capitol, there was a minor circus happening over the Affordable Care Act hearing. Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself how lucky I am to ride past such amazing, beautiful sites each and every day. Heck, people come from miles away to see Washington, and I get to ride by it every day. And it all kind of makes me proud – you know, the Capitol, heart of democracy, and all that. I’m happy that people can protest stuff, regardless of the cause.
People sometimes ask me if it’s dangerous to ride a bike in DC. My answer is I don’t think so – I’d say you should always be cautious, but riding a bike around town is no more dangerous than any other form of transportation. In the last 5 years, I’ve carefully ridden over 12,000 miles in DC with zero crashes. You should know the rules of the road, written and unwritten, and have a mental map of which streets are bike-friendly vs. not, but mainly just get out there, be safe, and enjoy the ride.
Riding up and over the Capitol, and down to 3rd St. NW I passed another rider with a real, honest to goodness #TFTS pin attached to his black Timbuk2 bag. For real! First time I’ve caught one in the wild! I caught up with him and chatted for a bit; he told me he was one of the folks who got his delivered by Brian in full tuxedo. He turned left to cross the Mall before I could catch his name, and I continued down Penn.
Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself how lucky I am to be able to ride on nice bike infrastructure, like the lanes and cycletracks on E. Capitol and Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Paint and bollards really go a long way to making me feel safe and welcome on city streets, and I usually go out of my way to ride on them. It also made me wish for the rest of the bollards back on Pennsylvania soon.
I got to the office, parked inside for free, and plunked down at my desk, caffeinated and happy.