Alexandria – A Bicycle Ambivalent City

I am not one to get involved in bicycle advocacy. I am not good at it and feel uncomfortable doing it. Every once in a while I go to a meeting and speak my mind. Tonight on the way home from work I met two bike advocates from the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. They were handing out materials along the Mount Vernon Trail just north of Old Town.

Randy and Erin of ABPAC

Randy and Erin of ABPAC

They gave me a couple of handouts. One was a plea to cyclists not to blow through stop signs in Old Town. I whole hearted agree with this, although I do think that Old Town overuses stops signs which invites cyclists and drivers to disregard them much as drivers once tuned out the national 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. A few yield signs would not harm pedestrian safety.

Speaking of yield, the handouts would have been more credible if they had not spelled yield as YEILD (in caps). Ugh.

The handouts also suggest using Royal Street as a north/south route through Old Town to avoid congestion. When I head north to work in the morning, I avoid Royal Street for a number of reasons:

  1. To get to South Royal, I have to make a sharp left turn after some bollards at the base of a hill to go under the Wilson Bridge. Also, I have to avoid curbs that are excessively large and perform no apparent useful purpose. In the dark or shade, they are hard to see.
  2. Once I cross under the Wilson Bridge I have to ride up on the sidewalk to follow the trail around a security gate. The sidewalk has a bollard in it, because “In Bollards We Trust” is the official motto of the Wilson Bridge design team.
  3. After the bollard the trail goes back to the street via a curb cut. In the morning this is the end of the drop off line for St. Mary of the Holy SUV School. Kids are getting out of cars, carline helpers are directing them and the SUVs> It’s just a recipe for somebody getting nailed.
  4. Once I clear that mess and get on South Royal I have to deal with a back up of SUVs (and a few mnivans and BMWs). The drivers are in a hurry to get to work and are spread all over the street making biking unsafe. (Not to put too fine a point on it but whoever thought this was a good idea is an idiot.)
  5. The alternative on Union Street involves no sharp turn after the bollards allowing me to maintain speed from the downhill.
  6. The ride under the bridge and over to Union Street is pretty and one of the nicest stretches of the Mount Vernon Trail.
  7. Unlike Royal Street, Union has no traffic, no traffic lights, and only a handful of stop signs. (It does have the occassional speeding car but Alexandria police can’t be bothered with cars in Old Town for some reason.)
  8. You get to see the river and sunrises and the occassional famous person.

In the evening Union vs. Royal is a toss up. On the weekends I prefer Royal because King and Union can be a mess of humanity.

I tried to use the interactive map the city provides for comments but it was not very useful. A good try but no cigar. I tried to send ABPAC an email but alas gmail says the email address they provided me is no good. (Update Sept. 18: my email finally did go through. I have no idea what the problem was. If you have a comment, pet peeve or praise, send it to ABPAC or the city government. They hear from grabby Old Town residents all the time. I am sure they’d love to hear from you.)

Alexandrians who don’t ride bicycles don’t get the concept of riding for basic transportation. They just don’t. And the city officials still don’t. Here are two simple examples. In the 400 block of North Union, homeowners often park their cars perpendicular to the curb so that other parkers do not block their driveways. Sometimes these perpendicular cars block the sidewalk. More often they obstruct the bike lane cause cyclists to merge with car traffic that is not expected them. I have never (and I am talking about over 20 years) seen a ticket on one of these cars. This tells the homeowners that the city condones obstructing the bike lane; that bicycles are second-class.

Approaching 406 South Union Street

Approaching 406 North Union Street

In the 200 block of North Union Street is one of the first sharrows in the city. It is placed on the right of the road, directing cyclists into parked cars. You’d think that after ten years the city would get rid of it.  I like to think of it as a monument to Alexandria’s official ambivalence to cycling.

For these reasons and more I think the League of American Cyclist should take away Alexandria’s Bicycle Friendly City award and replace it with its first Bicycle Ambivalent City Award.

I think progress in Alexandria will continue to be slow and sometimes frustrating but I applaud Randy and Erin for their efforts today. I really do. If you want to help, you can check out the city’s bike ped plan at http://www.alexandriava.gov/pedbikeplan or atttend the public meeting at the Minnie Howard School Library ay 3801 West Braddock Road on September 30 at 7 pm. Ironically, the school is located in one of the least bike friendly parts of town.

A Ride with the Rookies: 50 States in a Rainy Day

The Fifty States Ride is an event put on each September by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). The ride covers every nook and cranny of Washington DC so that participants can ride their bikes on every street named for a state. I’d done the ride six times: 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2007 and 2008, the ride was held in the swealtering heat of August. WABA moved the ride into September but the 2010 ride had all the heat and humidity of the August rides. Last year it poured buckets for the last hour. No matter what the weather, riders have to be prepared to climb a dozen (probably more, I lose track) hills. Every few blocks, riders come to a stop sign or red light, making for sore hands from so much braking.

When I lived in Boston, I drove a cab during the sunmers. The only part of the city my college friends knew, was the half mile around the subway stops they used. The same happens in every city. DC-area residents know the area near work and home, and a few other often frequented parts of town. The rest is a mystery. Riding the Fifty States ride gives a cyclist the chance to experience the entire city, warts and all.

Getting to know the city is a plus, but the real secret to the Fifty States Ride is the fact that all the starting and stopping all but forces riders to sociallize. I’ve met dozens of people because of this ride and they represent an incredible breadth of humanity. Students, writers, scientists, lawyers, educators, police officers, librarians. Black, white, asian, latino. Young and old. Incredibly fit and not so much.

A Plan Falls Apart

My friend Florencia and I have never done the entire ride together, In 2008 she abandoned me in the oppressive heat of Rock Creek Park. In 2011, she took off after we reached the lunch stop. So the plan was to ride the entire route together. Then life interceded and she had to cancel. Sad face. As it turns out, her friend Emilia had signed up but didn’t know anybody. So I agreed to ride with her.

Family Planning

I drove to my office in Rosslyn and rode the 3 1/2 miles to Adams Morgan in DC for the ride start. While waiting for Emilia, I started talking with Lorraine, a first-time rider who was having some anxiety about getting lost. I invited her aboard the Rootchopper Bike Bus. Next I spotted Emilia. As I introduced Lorraine, she said she was my “daughter” so I introduced Emilia as my wife. Instead of adopting a son, we added Jeremy Cannon, the son of Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon. Bob was marshalling the shorter 13 Colonies ride. I did the Great Pumpkin Ride with Father and Son Cannon last October. Then we added rookies Kristin and Elizabeth with whom I did the Backroads ride last September. Up stepped John Roche, Mr. Hoppy 100. Dave Salovesh, man with the Green Bay Packers bike, joined in. (It had belt drive. You gotta have belt drive in your group!)  We tried to draft Rachel (Don’t Call Me Bob) Cannon, but she had commited to riding with Ursual Sandstorm who was a volunteer ride marshall and her friend Jordan. So we went into the draft and picked a ringer: Friday Coffee Clubber, Michael Brunetto a man who knows DC like the back of his bicycling gloves. From my pix, I can see we were joined by a tenth rider, a woman in green, whose name I neglected to get.

Leading Is Overrated

Kristin decided that we should leave before the formal ride start.  This turned out to be a great idea because it meant that we avoided the usual congrested roads for the first 10 miles. Since I was the grizzled veteran I was dubbed the point man for our group. I nearly missed the first turn, so Michael grabbed the reins and off we went spiralling through DC neighborhoods and downtown.

Making Progress

Despite gray skies, there were smiles all around as we picked off states in quick succession without much effort. We skirted a 5K race near the Mall, and zipped over Capitol Hill and into Southwest DC. The route took us to East Potomac Park where the friskier riders among us sped away. We regrouped at a public restroom and headed for Maine, crossing the path of the riders who had started after us.

Smiles - Before the Hills

Smiles – Before the Hills

We rode past Nationals Park where Emilia proudly told me that three of her Venezuelan countryman (Ramos, Cabrera, and Lobeton) were on the ballclub. Go Nats! Go wife!

I led the posse through the confusion of near Southeast, through an alley, and over the Souza Bridge. We hit the pit stop in Anacostia Park, chatted with some friends and headed out for the first hills of the ride. We climbed Martin Luther King, Junior Avenue. It was a bit of a shock as the climbers among us got their ya yas out. All I could think of was: this ride is going to suck if I don’t get my legs in order. The next climb came a mile later on Stanton Road. By this point my legs were loose and I made a decent showing of things. Our climbing contingent – Elizabeth (QOM), Justin, Michael, and Justin – put us to shame but they kindly waited at the top for the rest of us.

On the way to Texas a woman riding ahead of us almost took a wrong turn. It was the first of many wrong turns we witnessed and thwarted throughout the day. We zoomed down Massachusetts Avenue (a real thrill on the 20 inch wheels of Little Nellie, my Bike Friday) and headed back to Anacostia Park.

My peeps were pretty happy to arrive at the Eastern Market rest stop for lunch. Our rookies were smiling so we knew that the pace was reasonable. We took our time and steeled ourselves for the second half.

Staying Off Track

The route took is through the eastern side of Capitol Hill which combined flat roads with numerous turns. As we headed northward, we encountered a closed road. I took us down H Street which has trolley tracks right where we would be riding. At the next cross street, I dismounted and walked across the tracks, fearful that our entire posse might catch a rail and fall. (This is not a good road design, folks!)

The climbers took off up the steep hill on Mt. Olivet Road. They waited for the rest of us to pull up the rear. We crossed over the railroad and US 50 in pursuit of scary North Dakota Avenue. The gray skies had given way to a light rain. I was grateful that the traffic was light and we made it unscathed to Taylor Street. Soon we were riding busy Michigan Avenue and lucked out again with light traffic.

After riding past Catholic University we were treated to Hawaii Avenue, another big climb. We plodded on undaunted. The rookies were holding it together. The rabbits were humoring by waiting at the top of each climb.

Hail Rootchopper!

Zig, zag, pedal, pedal. We made good work of long stretches in Northwest, as the rain started coming down hard. Jackets came on. Lorraine and a bunch of other riders from other posses headed back home. The rest of the crew plowed ahead, thankful to reach the Tacoma rest stop at the home of Mike and Lisa. For some reason, Mike gets a kick out of my Twitter name, Rootchopper. Last year he stood on his porch shouting ROOTCHOPPER as I rolled in. This year, he had a banner up that said “Hail Rootchopper!” It’s nice to be loved.

Hail, Rootchopper!

Hail, Rootchopper!

As I walked around at the rest stop, a funny thing occured to me: this is the best I have felt after 50 miles of biking ever. I felt like I could have ridden for hours and hours more. This soon would fade into memory.

The Rookies Start to Work

After the rest we climbed to Alaska and flew down into Rock Creek Park. On Beach Drive we saw a woman rider on the ground with several riders looking on. They had called an ambulance so we left her in their hands.

On the west side of the park we rode into Chevy Chase, the high rent district. Yes, there were more hills. The Rookies were starting to ask, “Are we there yet?” Shut up and climb.

The route differs from year to year. One of this year’s new wrinkles was 36th Street. It is a pretty little windy street with dense tree cover. And bumps. And a steep hill. Ugh. My wife wanted a divorce. When she reached the top of the hill she had a big smile on her face, but then she said “My legs were gone.” Fortunately, the final rest stop had coffee which seemed to revive her. For the climb up Wisconsin Avenue. Ugh.

Is Arizona a State?

After riding past American University, we rode downhill, picking up newly paved Arizona Avenue, and giving up all our climbing work from 36th and Wisconsin. After a flat stretch on MacArthur Boulevard, it was payback time. With five miles to go we rode up Ashby, up 49th Street, then up the sadistically steep Garfield Street. My wife had given up pn divorce; instead she wanted to kill me in my sleep.

After recoveinrg, we forged ahead. This neck of the woods is called Cathedral Heights. To get there you have to go….up. Emilia was one hurting unit but still she climbed. What a warrior. Finally, we crested the heights and made the gradual ride back down to the start. Of course, it wouldn’t be loads of fun without riding on busy Connecticut Avenue. A ride marshall (Rod Smith, perhaps) had taken the left lane in preparation for the left hand turn onto Calvert Street. We followed his lead.

Happy Campers

We arrived at the after party with big smiles on our faces. We were triumphant. Photo ops with our hard-earned ride shirts were taken. Beer was imbibed. Other riders arrived. Rachel and Jordan and Ursula appeare with had big smiles. Fists were pumped. Riders were hugged. Faces wore satified smiles.

Acknowledgements

Very big thanks to the folks at WABA, especially Michelle Cleveland, who works for months putting this ride together. Thanks to the volunteers, especially Mike and Lisa, who literally opened their home to us.

Thanks to Flor for getting me to ride this again. I missed you.

Thanks to the posse. To Lorraine, Dave, John, Justin, Kristin, Elizabeth, and Jeremy. Thanks to Michael who refused to let me get us lost! And special thanks to my new friend Emilia, mi esposa por un dia. Muchas gracias, senorita.

Emilia Shows Off Her Trophy

Emilia Shows Off Her Trophy

 

Turn Left at Greenland

During the press conference scene in “A Hard Days Night,” a reporter asks the Beatles “How did you find America?” John Lennon replied, “Turn left at Greenland.” I was curious as to how people find my blog. Lucky for me the WordPress software provides a list of search terms.  Here are a few choice ones:

Racher Godshave (What I would be called if I were a Game of Thrones character)

Feel shy when I moan boy (Must have been an interesting night or my next hit single)

Queen no more rack (The b side)

Where can you buy bicycle spokes in Sweden (Turn left at Malmo)

Why does my blockhead have wheels above her head (My blockhead would be a she, now, wouldn’t she?)

Speeding turtle (okay, this one is pretty descriptive of my riding style)

Neil Finn dyslexia (His new CD? Features the song “Dream Don’t Over It”)

Kirsten Holin Vernon (Possibly the best supergroup ever)

Name of the slowest bike in the world (Now wait a minute!)

Shy Naked Caged Woman (I’m speechless)

and, perhaps, the title of my next post:

Mount Vernon Man Blows Trail

 

 

 

 

Stuff to Do: Squeezing in 46 Nearly Perfect Miles

Kirstin and I had stuff to do in the afternoon. Sunday stuff. The kind of stuff that just has to get done. There was no time for riding a bike all day. The was no time for getting lost. So we decided to do the a ride as part of the Southern Maryland Century festivities.

The Southern Maryland Century is put on by the Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club. I’ve done the metric century (100 kilometer) ride many times but never the 100-miler. The weather today just begged for a long ride but there was the aforementioned stuff to do. Kirstin and I decided to ride the 46-mile route.

The morning was cloudy and cool. We took off from Indian Head following the freshly painted green arrows on the road. This time we also had a cue sheet. Cue sheets are really useful when you don’t want to get lost. We tried to get lost but alas we done failed.

We spun along the country roads. Cars and pick-em-up trucks gave us plenty of room. The roadside alternated between soybeans, wildflowers, and modest rural houses. Along the way we passed a topiary horse (what every front lawn needs, if you ask me), a box turtle on a rail trail (saved by fearless Kistin), a hill of kudzu that was trully impressive, and a very noisy pileated woodpecker.

(Did you know that Saint Kirstin is the patron saint of defenseless animals? It’s true. You could look it up, because, if you did, you’d find out what a liar I am.)

The wind seemed to be at our backs for much of the ride but this makes no sense on an out and back route. We joked about how we are suckers for a tailwind. Normally I am a hill hater down to my chamois but this time I took to the few challenging climbs without complaint. Kirstin did all but one of them without resorting to her chainring of shame. And not a howl did she shout.

The only really negative aspect of this ride was the simple fact that it was too short. Witrh such perfect conditions the two fo us could have ridden for hours longer, but stuff calls.

We answered.

Some pix from a pretty darn nice day on the bike can be found on my Flickr page.

August Recap

As is usually the case, the month of August is a bit of an off month for bike riding. There just seem to be too many other things that crop up. In the middle of the month we spent five days driving to/hanging out/driving home from Indiana. I managed to squeeze in a 34 mile ride among the corn and soy.

Early in the month I spent a day exploring the trails in Rock Creek Park. The distance was something like 11 miles and I have to say it was a bit beyond my comfort level. I am eager to do more hiking. I sure wish I had some footwear that was more appropriate to the task though.

I commuted by bike all 16 days that I went to the office. Many of these were short commutes from car mechanics in North Arlington. It gives my legs a rest to do these 4 to 6 milers instead of my usual 28 to 32 milers. Also, the car mechanics are infinitely better than the ones near my home.

Thirteen of the bike commutes were aboard Little Nellie, partly because it’s easier to fold her up and plop her in the trunk of the car when going to the mechanic. The other three were aboard Big Nellie, my cushy recumbent. All that commuting added up to 379 miles.

I tacked on another 280 miles doing fun rides and errands on the weekends. I did a 37 mile ride into the city on Big Nellie but the rest was aboard Little Nellie which passed 13,000 miles and is starting to show signs of fatigue. The long ride was a 70-miler that included the third Hoppy 100. did two 64-mile rides. One was a repeat of the Vasa ride plus a side trip to Meridian Hill Park with Flor. Saturday’s ride with Kirstin among the farms of the Piedmont added another 64 miles.

For the year, I’ve racked up 5,203 miles including 108 bike commutes. Little Nellie leads the pack with 54 bike commutes, twice as many as Big Nellie and the Mule which each clocked in 27 commutes. Little Nellie has 2,405 miles this year which is remarkable especially in light of all my back problems in the spring. Those little wheels can be hell on my back but somehow I’ve become dialed in to the ride. I really like the fast accelerations and the quick handling. The pothole jolts not so much. Big Nellie accounted for 1,694 miles. The Mule has been all but ignored (by me at least, my son has been riding it) this summer but still has 1,104 miles, mostly in the cold of winter.

The month of September promises to hold lots of miles. I have signed up for two rides: the 60+ mile Fifty States Ride and the Backroads Century. I may also throw in the Southern Maryland 100 next weekend.