Pennsylvania Avenue Bikers Win a Lane Apart

Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:32pm

The next time Rep. Earl Blumenauer is invited to the White House, the president will have to excuse him for being slightly winded. But at least the Oregon Democrat won’t have to sweat the traffic.

The days of dodging cars and popping curbs are over for Blumenauer, who said he has biked the route between the Capitol and the White House “semi-legally” more times than he can count. A new bicycle lane in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol now makes the ride quicker and safer — not to mention fully legal.

“This has been something that I have been obsessing on for years because it’s a wide, straight shot and lots of extra room and no bike lanes,” the eight-term Congressman and staunch bicycle advocate said.

The lane was completed last week and will officially be unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, just in time for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s Bike to Work Day, which is part of National Bike Month.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail, a paved corridor running north near Union Station and illuminated by solar-powered lights, is another new bike path in town.

The District Department of Transportation promises miles more to come around Washington, including an extension of the Pennsylvania Avenue lane on the other side of the White House.

“The city has been terrific in recent years in working on bike facilities,” Blumenauer said. “People are recognizing that we’re better off burning calories rather than fossil fuels.”

Blumenauer, co-chairman of the Congressional Bike Caucus, will reprise that message at a rally in Freedom Plaza at 8:30 a.m. Friday, joined by other local and federal officials, including D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who will cut the Pennsylvania Avenue lane ribbon.

It’s one of several rallies that morning in the D.C. area encouraging cyclists to band together and bike to work.

Greg Billing, events assistant at the bike association, said he’s expecting about 2,000 two-wheelers in Freedom Plaza and as many as 10,000 total 10-speeds, fixies and beach cruisers at “pit stops” in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

The Freedom Plaza pit stop will feature free food, T-shirt giveaways and a bike raffle for people who register at waba.org, and other stops will offer their own activities.

“They’re organized by bike shops and transportation groups … so each of them is organized a little bit differently,” Billing said.

Inexperienced riders can join what Billing called “commuter convoys” to get to the pit stops. Locations are listed on the group’s website.

“Those are led by experienced bike commuters … and they kind of just weave through the city,” he said. “It’s a great way for those who don’t know the way to get there to just hop on the convoys.”

Blumenauer shouldn’t have any trouble, though. He’s one of a handful of Members who already bike to work regularly.

“I cycle rain or shine. It’s my primary way of getting around,” he said. “It’s a chance to get your head straight, fight obesity, protect the air and, frankly, in 14 years of biking in D.C., I’ve never been lacking for a parking space.”

Rep. Jack Kingston takes the Mount Vernon Trail from Alexandria, Va., up along the Potomac River, then hops across the George Mason Memorial Bridge and down Independence Avenue most mornings on his 10-mile trek to the Capitol.

“I can’t emphasize enough what a delightful way it is to start the day,” the Georgia Republican said. “You’ve got your cardio in, and you get some fresh air.”

When he’s not in D.C., he bikes recreationally in his district, too. So does Rep. Pete Hoekstra.

On Tuesday, the Michigan Republican had just finished a 22-mile jaunt in his home state from Hart to Montague with five of his district office interns for a local chamber of commerce meeting.

“It’s healthy. And it just forces you to slow down, soak in your surroundings as you go around,” he said. “But I’ve never got really big on biking in the urban areas. You got all these cars flying around. The biggest thing bikers are afraid of is drivers that are in a hurry.”

That’s a common fear that D.C. hopes to alleviate with its action plan, said Jim Sebastian, DDOT’s transportation planner. At present, 2.3 percent of city commuters bike.

But by 2012, DDOT hopes to install 40 more miles of lanes around the city, adding to the existing 40 miles. This, according to the city’s action plan, should more than double the number of cyclists to 5 percent.