A year ago I decided to become a bike commuter. I live on the east side of Washington, DC and we just opened our new office on the edge of the Potomac river on the west side of DC. Inspired by my colleagues in Portland that constantly tout the wonders of bicycling their fair city, I believe that DC has an adequate and continually improving bike accessibility.
Over the year I have commuted every day that I was in town, rain or shine, and did not have to be dapper in a suit, which was about 1000 miles. In those miles I came to prefer biking as the best mode of commuting and would dread days that required a metro ride packed to standing room, concrete, lights, and stations floating by the underground wormholes.
Daily, Historic Rides
By contrast, my surface excursion could take one of several routes. Either a scenic trip along the national mall, cruising past the Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Reflecting Pool, Lincoln Memorial and skirting the rolling hills of Arlington Cemetery. Or the shortest route along the obscure but great H Street corridor that is actually home to numerous global institutions.
My preferred route along H Street took me past Union Station, through China Town, over the newly constructed 'City Center', past the American Academy of Sciences and the World Bank Headquarters, the White House lawn, and finally through historic Georgetown or even along the small canal. It was those quiet mornings as the sun was rising and the fog burning off the Potomac that are only possible when you can stop on a whim to enjoy the city.
Besides the unique aspects of DC, having a bike gave me ultimate flexibility to detour through cafÃ©s in the morning, or to meet ups throughout the city in the evening without worrying about metro stop locations or bus routes.
Even travel estimation was simpler, where my times were consistent regardless of non-homogenous traffic. My trip from house to work was almost exactly 30 minutes, and one of the best parts was cruising past the traffic jammed cars that would have easily made a car trip 45-60 minutes over the same route.
Beware the MD
Of course, urban biwheel transport is not without its threats. Coming from the east side of the city if I left close to an hour mark (e.g. 8am or 9am) I was sure to encounter Maryland drivers running late, speeding through lanes and annoyed by the bicyclist that was sharing the road. Again a secret pleasure is seeing them speed past to immediately arrest at a stop light where I would pull up next to them again.
This highlighted and oft criticism of DC, where there are numerous bike lanes yet little connectivity between them. It is not uncommon to follow a cycle track for a few blocks to have it merely stop at an intersection with no identified way to continue along other than by occupying a car lane. There is continued efforts to add more bike lanes and signs that I hope will result in a better and fully connected urban bicycle network.