HEALTH & FITNESS: Pedal power

HEALTH & FITNESS • BY CHELSEA BOONE

Increasingly, residents are trading in their automobiles for another set of wheels.

Bicycles are gaining ground as the preferred mode of transportation in the D.C. area, with the support of Capital Bikeshare, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and other cycling-friendly organizations.

Bikesharing in the D.C. metropolitan area began in 2008 with SmartBike DC, a pilot program that had 120 bikes across 10 stations in the District. When Arlington County, Va. began to plan its own bikeshare, the county paired up with D.C.’s Department of Transportation to develop Capital Bikeshare with the help of Alta Bike Share, Inc. The program has expanded to more than 1,200 bikes and 140 stations in D.C. and Arlington, including five new and upcoming locations on the National Mall.

Capital Bikeshare provides users with different options of renting bikes, either through extended annual or 30-day memberships or shorter 24-hour or three day rentals. Whether the rider is a temporary renter or an extended member, each bike must be returned within 24 hours. Prices vary from $7 for a day to $75 for a year, and additional rates are added for bike usage beyond half an hour. Bikes can be checked into and out from any station an unlimited amount of times within the span of the rental.

Soon the benefits of this program will be offered in Montgomery County, according to a Washington Post article, and if grant applications pull through, the shiny, red three-speed bikes will also be seen in Silver Spring, Takoma Park and other local spots.

One area organization in support of the bikeshare program and the increase in cycling is the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, a group working toward raising awareness about safety, infrastructure and legislative issues as well as advocacy and promoting education about cycling. The group is working toward a transportation network so people can cycle to and from wherever they choose.

“We want to have all the components in place so anyone who wants to bike from their homes to any destination in the region can do so comfortably and safely,” said WABA Executive Director Shane Farthing. “We want everyone to have everything they need for bicycling to be a viable transportation option.”

WABA bike parking

Washington Area Bicyclist Association parking at the Takoma Park Folk Festival. Photo by Julie Wiatt.

WABA was created in 1972 by Cary Shaw with the mission to create a healthier, more livable region by promoting bicycling for fun, fitness and transportation. Shaw noticed a lack of support for cycling as a transportation option, particularly in urban areas, and wanted to advocate for bike lanes and cycling-friendly streets. Today, roads are becoming better equipped to handle cyclists as well as motorists.

“We’re seeing that planners and designers and engineers are making space for bikes and we’re seeing enough people taking up biking that it’s leading to more awareness,” said Farthing, “and with that awareness comes greater safety and accommodation for bicycles on the roadway.”

To this end, WABA has been lobbying the various jurisdictions in the D.C. metropolitan region to develop a fully integrated transportation system, linking transit and trails to the places that people in the community go to daily so that people can ride anywhere safely, whether they have a three-mile commute like Farthing or an eight- to 12-mile trip.

“There are a lot of folks who bike to a metro station, take the metro the rest of the way, or metro downtown to a convenient stop and then use bikeshare,” said Farthing. “All of these modes can be integrated, with bikes included to be a meaningful part of that.”

Takoma Park residents Jay and Anna Keller both commute to D.C. on the main roads, taking 3rd Street to Kansas Ave, then up 11th Street downtown. “I love biking to work, said Anna. “For me, it’s built-in exercise coming and going. By the time you’re done you have 45 minutes of good exercise.”

Jay Keller

Jay Keller gets ready for his morning commute. Photo by Julie Wiatt.

“It’s faster, cheaper and gives you a nice endorphin rush,” added Jay. “It’s a great way to see parts of the city you normally wouldn’t see. I’ve met neighbors I wouldn’t have met otherwise, who also are bikers.”

Some of WABA’s priorities include ensuring a bike-friendly transportation center in Silver Spring, construction of the Anacostia Trail and the Metropolitan Branch Trail, improving the training of police officers and bus drivers, and increasing miles of bike lanes throughout the region.

WABA promotes and partners with different biking events in the area.  Some of the upcoming events include the Congressional Bike Ride, Bike DC and the 6th Annual Lymphoma Research Ride being held in Montgomery County.

Some benefits of cycling as a main form of transportation are greater mobility, little to no fuel expenses, better health and less guilt about polluting the environment, according to Farthing.

“Bikes can fit into most lifestyles relatively easily – it’s a tool, it’s another mode of getting around,” said Farthing. “It’s not that cyclists are somehow magically different people – they’re just people who use a different tool to get from point A to point B, and in many cases enjoy it.”