Commuting in the Capital: Cycling in D.C. from a cyclist in Chicago

bike columnI ride on LSD. The mayor told me to.

This t-shirt slogan might have you a little confused if you don’t hail from the streets of Chi-town. LSD is the acronym for Lake Shore Drive, the major road that runs between the shores of Lake Michigan and the city. Every last Sunday in May, LSD is closed to automobile traffic from 5 to 9 a.m. for a cycling event called Bike the Drive.

The 30-mile ride attracts the entire spectrum of age: from tots with plastic Mohawks jutting from their helmets to grandpas in spandex they should have ditched two decades ago. Regardless of appearance, all come out to bike the magnificent Chicago skyline and do a solid for their bodies and the environment.

Bike the Drive being one of my favorite Chicago events, I was disappointed to learn that the D.C. derivative—Bike D.C.—was cancelled this year. The event mirrors Chicago’s: occurring on a Sunday and closing major roadways for bikers. Bike D.C., however, had to receive approval from five agencies, due to a route that traverses from Capitol Hill to Arlington, finishing on the Mall.

The event organizer Rich Bauman was thwarted by D.C. and the National Park Service. Mayor Vincent Gray’s Special Events Task Group ultimately denied Bauman approval, after making him wait three months for an appointment and sending him to Metro Police for another serving of red tape a lá D.C. The cancellation of the ride was a hard hit to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which uses Bike D.C. as a major fundraiser.

WABA advocates for the increased use, ease and safety of bicycle transportation in the D.C. area. Thus, it is interesting that Gray’s Task Group annulled the event, as Gray has spear-headed major bike initiatives, discussed later in this post. Bauman speculates simply the hassle of paperwork motivated the cancellation: “There are certain players who find this event a pain in the rear.”

Back in Chicago for the summer, I recently was confused as I approached the red light at Dearborn and Van Buren. I worried for the condition of my eyesight as the light appeared to have a strange, foreign shape to it. As I inched closer in the standstill traffic, I realized I was looking at a bicycle-shaped traffic light. That’s right. A stoplight for cyclists.

Dearborn is the first street in Chicago to have a two-way protected bike lane complete with stoplights, and all of this in the Loop – the congested heart of the business district. These developments are the fruits of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan, intended to complete a 645-mile bike network by 2020.

This initiative shares similarities with Gray’s Sustainable D.C., a program with the ambitious goal of comprising 75% of commuter traffic with biking, walking, and public transportation by 2033. Impetus for the aggressive 75% target stems from the city’s forecast of 250,000 new residents in the next 20 years. All of these newcomers driving, Gray said, is “unsustainable.”

Hope for Sustainable D.C.’s success is bolstered by the fact that cyclist commuters have doubled since 2007, to comprise 3.5% of all commuters. Sustainable D.C. will construct a 100-mile bicycle network throughout the city as well as install 200 more Capital Bikeshare stations. The program will also accrue and analyze data of non-motorized travel patterns.

Moreover, Chicago and D.C. are official partners in the cyclist movement, as both are participants in the Green Lane Project. GLP is a two-year campaign of six major U.S. cities to engender “world-class bicycling facilities.” Green lane is the moniker for bikeways: any lane designed to specifically cater to cyclists. Some even are paved in the titular hue. The Dearborn lane, while not colored, is a shining example of a green lane.

D.C. currently has green lanes on 15th Street and Pennsylvania Ave; bicycling here has purportedly tripled since the GLP arrival. This summer D.C. will add 5 miles of bike lane and 5 miles of shared lane to the network. GLP will be expanding a west-bound lane to M Street. M Street will act as the sister route to the east-bound L Street lane. Currently, some cyclists have treated the L Street lane as a two-way, which is counteractive to GLP goal of safe travel.

Both Chicago and D.C. are pioneers in urban bicycle transportation. Both are well on their way to creating dynamic and sustainable metropolises in the 21st century.

Photo: Laura Kurek/Georgetown Voice

4 Comments on “Commuting in the Capital: Cycling in D.C. from a cyclist in Chicago

  1. Pingback: Commuting in the Capital: Cycling in DC from a cyclist in Chicago | River Plaza

  2. What do DC and Chicago have in common? Gabe Klein, transportation director, who put DC plans in place before moving on to Chicago.

  3. Pingback: Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog Chicago

  4. “Both Chicago and D.C. are pioneers in urban bicycle transportation.”

    Anyone who believes this has never been to cycling cities in Europe. The bike mode share in Chicago and DC is around 1-2%, in Copenhagen it is around 50%.

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