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Bicycles and D.C.: How cycling has grown into a legitimate transit option for the nation's capital

Don’t forget your helmet!

Photo via Shutterstock/jorik

Most D.C. residents get hot and bothered about their commute, but not Rachel Maisler. As a cyclist, she has the pleasure of getting to work in a way that’s both timely and fun.

“When I commuted from Petworth to L’Enfant [Plaza], if I drove, it would easily take me 45 minutes because of traffic, and then I’d have to deal with parking,” said Maisler. “If I took the Metro, it was a 10-minute walk … a half hour on the train, and then another minutes walk to work, and that was if the Metro was working and not delayed. Biking, I can get there on average in 25 minutes consistently.”

Maisler is a member of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) as well as a columnist for Greater Greater Washington and Petworth News. She’s been a cyclist her entire life, starting around the age of four or five, and has lived in the Beltway since 2005.

Once she started working in D.C., she said, “It was a no-brainer to start riding my bike.”

Since she started cycling in the District, road conditions have definitely improved, according to Maisler. This is in part thanks to former Mayor Adrian Fenty, who was known for being an avid cyclist who worked to expand bike lanes.

When bike lanes first opened on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in June 2010, Fenty said, "We believe there is room here for everyone—on four wheels, two wheels, and on foot.”

DC Mayor Adrian Fenty Launches Capital Bikeshare Program
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty rides on a bike for a media photo-op during the launching of the Capital Bikeshare program September 20, 2010.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Capital Bikeshare has also been a proponent in making government officials more focused on making D.C.’s streets safer. Since Capital Bikeshare launched in 2010, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) reports that the company has expanded from 400 bikes to over 3,700 bikes in December 2016, an 825 percent growth.

“I think Capital Bikeshare has helped bolster the infrastructure for cycling in the city because it’s thousands more bikes on the road,” said Maisler.

In total, there are now over 100 miles of bike lanes and trails in the area with popular routes that include the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

The nation’s capital even ranks well in annual reports. Every year, Bicycling.com analyzes Census and department of transportation data on over 100 cities in the nation in order to come up with a list of the 50 most bicycle-friendly U.S. cities. In 2016, Washington, D.C., ranked in ninth place.

The city was praised for having one of the country’s first widespread bike share programs, Capital Bikeshare, as well as the D.C. Public Schools program that teaches every second-grader how to ride a bicycle.

The city even celebrates an annual 20-mile bike ride, called D.C. Bike Ride, that allows the public to join together and cruise the streets and sites of the District. It’s a popular event, too. In May 2017, over 7,000 bicycle riders participated.

While there are still pedestrian and cyclist injuries every year in the city, Maisler described cycling as “no more risky than taking the Metro.”

In 2016, there were 439 people seriously injured in crashes on D.C.’s roads, while that same year there were 632 reported injuries in the Metro system.

D.C. doesn’t take these reports lightly, though. In February 2015, Mayor Muriel Bowser committed to implementing the Vision Zero initiative, which is a system-wide effort to end all traffic-related fatalities and injuries for pedestrians and cyclists by the year 2024.

It’s a lofty goal, one which Maisler says she’s “cautiously optimistic” about.

“I think it would be great to live in a city where there are no fatalities or serious injuries for pedestrians or cyclists as a result of drivers,” said Maisler.

In April 2017, Bowser released a 66-page report that stated that all fatalities and serious injuries will have to reduce by 35 percent each year to achieve the goal.

While still optimistic, Maisler said, “I think we’ll get pretty close [to the deadline].”

In order to improve D.C.’s streets, the District has already installed seven HAWK signals, filled in 22 blocks of sidewalk gaps, and added five new traffic signals at “high-crash” intersections. This year, a new fatality task force will also launch with the goal to investigate every fatal crash. This task force will work with the Metropolitan Police Department, District Department of Transportation (DDOT), and other public stakeholders.

There’s more that needs to happen, though. Maisler said, “We could be more aggressive … with driver education,” while also adding that there are some cyclists who certain don’t follow the rules of the road.

For cyclists who need some safety tips, she suggested always using lights, wearing a helmet, and never wearing earphones or headphones. Drivers, too, should understand that bicycles are vehicles, so they have the same right to the road.

Either way, Maisler is ever optimistic about being a cyclist in a city like the nation’s capital. For others, she suggests, “Go out, and ride your bike. And wear a helmet.”

The 50 Best Bike Cities of 2016 [Bicycling.com]

All D.C. public school students will learn to ride a bike in second grade [The Washington Post]

Thousands of cyclists turn out for Mother’s Day DC bike ride [WTOP]

Washington, D.C., Bicycle Map [PDF]

• D.C. opens Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes [The Washington Post]

Metro injuries up slightly for riders, employees [WTOP]

Mayor Bowser commits to implementing Vision Zero [WABA]

The Vision Zero Initiative [District Department of Transportation]

Behind the Handlebars: D.C. Cyclists Speak on What It's Like at the Wheel [Curbed DC]

D.C. needs 35 percent yearly reduction in traffic-related deaths, fatalities to achieve Vision Zero by 2024 [Curbed DC]

Since launch, Capital Bikeshare has expanded by 825 percent [Curbed DC]