Monsoons, Bollards, and Bald Eagles

What a weird week! My frustration over the absurd mess where the Mount Vernon Trail crosses under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge led to a somewhat contentious online exchange with Mark Blacknell, WABA‘s el presidente. I threatened to stomp his spokes and quit WABA if he didn’t do something to help me with the bollard farm. He threatened to give me alcohol poisoning at a biker bar. Ultimately Mark tired of my obnoxious persistence and foisted the mess on Shane Farthing, who is WABA’s executive director.

After all that fun, I rode home from the office in decent weather. It started to sprinkle but the skies didn’t look all that bad.  At the bollard farm, I stopped to chat with another cyclist (Paul D).  As we went our separate ways, the sprinkles turned to showers. Then the showers became a monsoon. And it stayed that way for over 1/2 hour. After 5 minutes of monsoon, I was as wet as I could be so the only thing that mattered was visibility. I turned on my blinky red light. I was on the MVT so there was little worry of being run over by a car, but I felt better because the back of my helmet was going BLINK every second or so. The real problem was seeing the path ahead. Water was pouring down my glasses. I wiped them with a finger every so often and that seemed to help. Despite the fact that Big Nellie has a big fairing on the front, even my legs were soaked. Another feature of Big Nellie is its foam seat. It was raining so hard I felt like I was sitting on a sponge.Pedal. Squish. Pedal. Squish.

I squished onward. South of Belle Haven Park I encountered two saw horses with a Trail Closed sign on one of them. My option was to turn around and cross the parkway in a monsoon at one of the most dangerous intersections in the area (Belle Haven Boulevard) or ignore the sign. No brainer. I rode around the barrier and kept trucking. To my relief the trail was no worse beyond the barrier.  (I think the saw horses were left over from some flooding earlier in the day. The NPS wasn’t going out in a monsoon to removed them. I don’t blame them.)

The trail zigs and zags for a hundred yards here, so I slowed way down to see where I was going and not hit any other scofflaws coming from the other direction.  I often tell people I could ride the MVT with my eyes closed. Now I know I wasn’t lying.

After the Tulane Drive turn off, I spotted a cyclists standing under a tree trying to stay dry. He wasn’t succeeding. I yelled, “Just ride. You’re already wet.” He just smiled.

As the downpour continued, my concerns turned to body heat. The rain was cold and I had on a t-shirt and shorts.  My mind turned to all those freezing winter commutes.  If I could handle January, I could put up with this. Pedal. Squish

I arrived home and went inside. Water was literally pouring off me as if I had just come out of a swimming pool. Inside, I unpacked my waterproof Ortlieb panniers. They had an inch or two of water in the bottom of them!  Unreal. Water never gets in them.

Thursday was an off day. I traded e-mails with Shane Farthing about the bollard farm and sent my bollard farm blog post to various people who I thought might be able to help. I invited Shane to call me Friday morning and invited him to the Friday Coffee Club gathering of bike commuters and miscreants at Swing’s coffee near the White House.

I chose Little Nellie for my commute today. Big Nellie’s foam seat was still wet and I didn’t want to put a diaper over it.  It’s so undignified to ride on a diaper.  As I rode through the bollard farm, I encountered a giant paving machine under the bridge. The machine was in operation and nobody was directing trail traffic. I do believe the construction crew was breaking new ground in its ineptitude.

I noticed a newbie at Coffee Club as I sat with Ed and Lisa. Ed observed that he prefers to meet indoors.  When indoors we stand at small tall tables that are conducive to mingling. Outside we sit at low tables like potted plants. I felt a bit like a hibiscus today, to tell the truth.

As the confab was breaking up, the newbie came and sat down next to me. It was Shane. We had a long talk in which I learned a lot about bike advocacy and how WABA works. There is simply no way that the expansion of everyday cycling in this area could have happened without an organization like WABA.  With more cyclists, come more cries for help.  So WABA has to do triage. Shane agreed that the bollard farm was a problem that needed addressing. Some sort of short term solution was needed. So he agreed to make a few phone calls.  The bollards are a symptom of a bigger problem that WABA is looking into. There are  many overlapping jurisdictions involved with the Mount Vernon Trail. They don’t talk which means that local cyclists and their advocates play wack-a-mole with these sorts of problems. If fact, two bollard problems were resolved within the last month, one in Falls Church the other in Arlington.  So Shame is working on getting everybody talking.  Ultimately, we agreed that the mess under the bridge needed a re-design.  That could take time.

Later in the day, I learned that through an act of divine intervention a chronic problem with a dangerous at grade crossing of the GW Parkway was finally getting some action after years of complaints. Hope springs eternal.  Soon after Shane emailed me to tell me that VDOT was going to paint the black blogs yellow, add reflective material, put up some warning signs and add some lighting.

Man vs. Bollards

With such good karma, I was not surprised to have a tail wind for the ride home.  Little Nellie and I made tracks and survived the bollard mess. I stopped to take a picture since traffic cones were now placed on one side of the bollards in a lame attempt to add a little visibilty. A cyclists rode through the bollards and, as he passed me said, “More God damned bollards!”  Don’t blame me, buddy.  I don’t want them either.

I stopped at the Morningside bald eagle nest. I haven’t seen much of anything there in a week.  After a minute, I was about to leave when I heard this outburst of squawks coming from then nest. Then, coming in from the river on the opposite side of the nest, a massive bald eagle swooped in. I’m guessing it was the adult male bringing dinner.  The eaglets went crazy. I couldn’t see them but they making all kinds of noise.  As they started to come down, another smaller bald eagle exited the nest through the trees in front of me. This was an adult female. (Bald eagles don’t get their white head and tail feathers for a few years so the adults are easily identified.)

Next week will be calmer. I’m going college hunting with my daughter. I hope I don’t see any bollards.

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Bollard Farm

How can you tell that a bike trail is poorly designed? One tell tale sign is literally as sign that says, “Dismount – Walk Bike.”  When was the last time you saw a road sign for motor vehicles that said “Stop Your Car and Get Out?”  See my point?  The trail designer fundamentally does not understand what using a bike for transportation is.  He or she should be doing something else for a living.

Three black bollards at base of hill – Next stop: the ER

Which brings me to bollards.  Bollards are columns of steel or concrete intended to stop a motor vehicle.  They are unforgiving by design. If you hit one while passing on a bike, the bollard will win and you will lose. Every time. Certain trail designers have a bollards fetish like they are lingams. They put them everywhere. Sometimes they are the lesser of many evils.  Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House has bollards.  They stop truck bombs. This is a good thing.

This raised manhole cover is in the shade.
Top of ramp leading to bollard farm – Put one here instead
The black bollards should be rotated 90 degrees – off the trail

The Mount Vernon Trail (MVT) goes underneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at the south end of South Royal Street in Old Town Alexandria Virginia.  The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is a massive 12 lane structure that takes I-95 and the Capital Beltway across the Potomac River. It is an essential part of the infrastructure on the east coast. If a truck bomb went off underneath it, the entire east coast economy would be crippled for years.  (Not to mention a few hundred people dying.)  It absolutely needs to be protected. (Two notes: First, I’m not telling evil doers anything they don’t already know. Second, the underside of the bridge has been wide open for most of the bridge’s existence including the more than 10 years since the truck bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. in 1993.)

The underside of the bridge has been under development as part of the rehabilitation of the adjacent Jones Point Park. While this work has been underway, detour after detour has been built for the MVT, every last one of them has been unsafe, and some downright treacherous. Many trail users, including myself, have called to complain. Within weeks the troublesome detour is replaced by another equally treacherous one.  It has been simply unbelievable.

These new bollards are more visible and narrower.

A few weeks ago, the direct routing of the trail under the bridge was closed. A detour directed cyclists through a gravel strewn curb cut onto the sidewalk. In the middle of the sidewalk was a telephone pole. Right next to that was a utility box cover that protruded from the pavement by about an inch. Dodge one obstacle and hit another.

Once you made it around the detour you exited the sidewalk back to the trail. The transition from curb to trail was one long irregular gap, perfectly suited for a bicycle tire.  To add to the mess, gravel was strewn about here as well.  Once clearing this hazard you had to make a sharp turn to avoid a jersey barrier and some orange barrels placed mid-path. This was followed by a raised man hole cover (actually the pavement had been lowered, but the result is the same) situated in the shadow of the bridge.  Once beyond the northern side of the bridge, trail users encountered a raised curb protruding into the trail.  The trail takes a 90 degree right hand turn at the southern end of the bridge. 

Beginning a few weeks ago on Bike to Work Day (I kid you not), construction crews blocked the trail after the right hand turn. The detour took you over a gravel transition to pavement then through a hard right turn back to the trail. This might be good for cyclocross but not a bike trail. In fact, on Bike to Work Day, a cyclist hit the gravel transition and blew out a tire.

At one time or another cyclists have complained about various aspects of these detours. Most recently a cyclist whom I met only tonight as I took pictures in the rain, complained about the mid path telephone pole. He was assured that it would be removed in a couple of weeks. Four weeks later it was replaced with three black bollards. About the same time three black bollards were placed across the trail on the southern side of the bridge. These three bollards are at the base of a long ramp and would be encountered at speed. 

These bollards replaced the telephone pole.

About a month ago at the base of a ramp leading to the MVT near Rosslyn, a cyclists clipped a bollard and ended up in the hospital.  It is simply astounding to me that just 9 miles away, six black bollards would be installed on the trail.  I wonder if the city can be sued if someone hits them. And the chances of someone hitting them are 100 PERCENT. How many people will have to be taken to a trauma center before this mess gets fixed? What will it take for officials from the City of Alexandria to find someone competent to monitor future work.

When I complained about this for the umpteenth time online today (yes, in the past I have contacted authorities to no avail), the president of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA), the biggest bike advocacy organization by far in the region, told me that I should advocate for myself as WABA can’t possibly deal with such trivial situations. They have bigger fish to fry elsewhere. In essence, he told me (albeit politely) when I clearly was frustrated and sick of the situation, to pound sand.

I have been a member of WABA for longer than I can remember. I donate to WABA through the Combined Federal Campaign. I even re-upped my membership two days ago for two years. On WABA’s website are the following words:

“Since 1972 the Washington Area Bicyclist Association has been fighting hard to ensure that you can ride wherever you want to go safely.”

Paul – the cyclist who complained – crosses a wet metal plate at today’s detour

Later today I received this tweet: Working on these issues. Email if you want to discuss.  Instead I am sending them a link to this blog. I am discussed-ed.

For my complete set of pictures of this monstrosity go to my Flickr page:

Many thanks to for posting many of my older detour pictures over the past year.

A Kinky Saturday

Alright get your heads out of the gutter.

After the scary, scary thunderstorms that hit Friday evening and night, we here in the DC area were left with the kind of day that Spinal Tap fans would call an 11.  Just perfect. 75 degrees, low humidity, comfortable breezes, bright blue skies with wispy clouds dabbled about.

After riding something like 170 miles over the course of the last five days, it was for what Dave Davies of the Kinks sang about back in 1969: lazing on a sunny afternoon.

After reading the newspapers, I did about 6 miles of biking to various shops in my neighborhood. The first couple of miles was to and from the local hardware store.  Village Hardware is tucked into a small shopping center in Fort Hunt. It thrives because people hate going to Home Depot. (Coincidentally, it’s owned by a cyclist who I see every morning on the Mount Vernon Trail.)  Village Hardware sells shelled bird seed treated with cayenne pepper.  Squirrels don’t like it and it doesn’t leave a big mess on the lawn.  So, even though its pretty expensive, I use it. Oh, and I forgot to mention that woodpeckers and goldfinches love the stuff.  I get a free nature show every morning at breakfast as the birds chow down on the seeds outside my kitchen window.  

Getting back to the bicycling part of our program, I returned home with a 25-pound bag of bird seed in one pannier and two light bulbs in the other. It sounds like this would make the bike ungainly but bikes are little engineering miracles. I had no trouble getting home.

After dropping off the seed and putting a bulb in an overhead fixture, I took off for my bank which is embedded in a supermarket on US 1.  You’d be hard pressed to design a more hostile environment for bicycles than US 1. There are parallel separated lanes that provide access to the stores lining the highway so Big Nellie and I used them instead of the main roadway to get to and from the bank.  On the way back I rode to a big box store to get stuff to replace the gross shower curtain and curtain rod in my bathroom.  (I use the downstairs bathroom because the upstairs has been taken over by the ladies of the house and their mass quantities of incomprehensible personal beauty, cleansing, and hygiene products.)

After installing the shower stuff, I went to work on Little Nellie whose shifting has been problematic.  After only ten minutes I think I had everything sorted out so I went for a 1 1/2 mile ride around the neighborhood to make sure.

For the next six hours I sat on my ass reading magazines on my deck. It’s the closest thing I can do to sleeping in a hammock – since I don’t have a hammock.

Late in my lazing, I realized that the Moonlight Memorial Monuments ride started in just 3 hours. I sent out reminders to bicycling friends on Facebook and Twitter, ate dinner, and drove to DC.

Despite being poorly promoted due to computer problems, about 50 people (a guess) showed up and, as night fell, left in two waves under a full moon to tour the famous sights along the mall and Potomac River.  Hoping to meet up with Friday Coffee Club member, I intended to leave with the second group, led by Larry Black, the organizer of the event. Somehow a small group of us missed Larry’s departure and were left to navigate our way using a cue sheet. Our group was anchored by Greg and Peggy on a Hase tandem bike that was half recumbent and half conventional.  We left without the FCC rider who decided not to come after all and headed down to Pennsylvania Avenue where we rode straight toward the beautifully illuminated Capitol.  The ride wound its way across Capitol Hill, down the mall and over to the White House. Then we went to the WWII and Lincoln Memorials.

Somewhere along the way, Jeff Dahloff, pulled up along side me. Jeff’s a very experienced urban bike warrior and has endured my company on many a bike ride. Welcome aboard, Jeff.
I had somehow become the leader of the small group that had missed Larry’s departure. I did my best to call out all the buildings as we passed.  The Commerce Department nearly put our group to sleep but the bollards near the White House got everyone refocused.  We even rolled by Swings House of Java, site of the world famous Friday Coffee Club meetings.  My group ooh’ed and aah’ed.

I took a wrong turn at the Lincoln Memorial and we had to do some back tracking, but we were back on course without much ado. We ran with the tour buses along Ohio Drive, then made a break for East Potomac Park. On the way to Hains Point, Jeff and I got to talking and found a rhythm.  We weren’t going all that fast, but the folks behind us were apparently eating chips and dip as they rode. A ride organizer zoomed up to us and asked us to slow down and to stop and wait for the group to catch up at the next stop sign. No problemo. 

About this time a group of really drunk people on the grass next to the road noticed us coming and came out to run along side us and cheer us on.  They yelled something like “BWAA LOOK, HA. Damn!” It’s hard to run without spilling a drink.We were by them pretty quickly.

At the stop sign, we met up with Larry’s group, now 1 1/2 miles behind us on the ride. Larry’s group had somehow gotten lost on Capitol Hill.  As we commiserated with them, the first group that had left 15 minutes ahead of us pulled up.  After comparing notes we all rode off.   My group headed to the Jefferson Memorial. I think the other two groups headed down to Hains Point. After a photo op at the Jefferson, we headed back into East Potomac Park briefly, following the cue sheet back  to the starting point and the ride’s end.  As we left East Potomac Park, we passed the other two groups clustered on an island in the middle of the road. 

We rode back to the start only to find that the cluster of bikes had become an informal finish line. So many of the riders had biked to the start that they decided to head for home from East Potomac Park. My little group did the entire ride. We were impressed with ourselves. Chuffed even. Larry showed up with a few riders and we all went out for a post-ride drink at Capitol City Brewing Company, two blocks from the start.

The Moonlight Memorial Monuments ride is only 15 miles, but it is one of my favorites. It’s very low key affair.  My group was very chatty and we all had fun watching Greg and Peggy cruising along on their frankentandem. 

I got home at 1:30.  The weather is perfect again today.   I think I’ll get out and go for a ride.

Freaky Friday

Everyone knew that this evening was going to involve severe weather.  The ride in on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday, was actually kind of nice.  At Constitution Avenue along the mall, I could see the blue lights of a pair of police cars blocking traffic one block away at 14th Street. Traffic was a mess. The drivers were all irate. Dudes, get a bike. I rolled across Constitution and up 15th Street unimpeded. At Pennsylvania I could see more police cars and more closures.  (Later I learned that there was a suspicious car parked down the street.  They knew it was suspicious because the driver wore a top hat, had greasy dark hair, and had a long waxed mustache that he twirled in his long bony fingers.)

Attendance at Friday Coffee Club was about half of last week’s, even with my old commuting buddy Charmaine making her first appearance.  As we chatted, I drank an extra large coffee and inhaled a sugar encrusted pastry bomb.  (Most people call these fritters.  Fritter sounds like something small. These babies are huge.)

Fortified with manifestly unhealthy food, I took a direct route down G to the Kennedy Center as suggested by @lkono, a Friday Coffee Club regular.  (We missed you today.)  It was an easy straight shot until I got stuck behind a cement truck.  The cement truck pulled over to allow a fire truck and ambulance come towards us, going the wrong way on our one-way street.  I bailed onto the sidewalk and avoided the whole thing. 

I hopped on a bike trail in front of the Kennedy Center and headed across the TR Bridge. The side path here is ridiculously narrow. I had to stop three times to let DC bound bike commuters by. I still made excellent time. So, a tip of the helmet to @lkono.

My boss also bike commutes. Several members of the staff like to provide him with weather updates. Today he was peppered with them.  At a gap in the storms he left the office and made it home to NW DC with no problems. I checked the radar and realized that the storms were tracking along my route down the Potomac River.  There was no avoiding them. I guessed that I could maybe ride the gap between two cells and make it home okay.

The first cell hit between the TR and Memorial Bridges. Lots of rain and a rumble of thunder or two but nothing too scary.  Under the Memorial Bridge the trail narrows. I had to slow to a crawl to get by a runner who was taking shelter.  On the south side of the bridge, the rain had almost stopped. Sweet!

Once I cleared the shelter of the 14th Street Bridge I could see trouble ahead. Dark clouds loomed. White caps on the river. A clear sheet of heavy rain tracking straight for me.  In seconds I was soaked all over. The rain was coming down diagonally. The winds were picking up. The planes at DCA were on a ground stop. Pedal, pedal, toil and trouble.

In about 5 minutes the rain abated and the winds calmed.  For the rest of the ride I was treated to a sprinkle or two, and a pocket of cold air from time to time.

South of the Beltway the trail was littered with fallen branches. I rode over and around them without incident. At Belle Haven Boulevard I saw a serious two-car crash, one car t-boning the other.  Passersby had stopped to offer assistance. No emergency personnel had arrived yet. I hope the driver on the receiving end of the crash is okay.

By the time I arrived home I was almost dry. Another batch of storm clouds loomed in the distance. Go ahead and loom; I’m heading inside.

Freaky Friday was over. I’ve been bike commuting in DC and touring elsewhere for more than a decade. I’ve ridden through much worse than today.  I’ve had trees fall near me. I’ve sought shelter with a dozen other people in the Belle Haven Park bathroom. I’ve stopped at the Torpedo Factory because of lightning. I’ve ridden through flooded streets in East Potomac Park and in Old Town Alexandria. And once, in Ohio, I unknowingly rode during a tornado warning. (Massive tailwinds and blinding rain made for an amazing ride.)

I hear the weekend calls for perfect biking weather. Yes.

May Daze

May is in the bag. It’s semi-officially summer. I’m biking my ass off.

I rode 788 miles in May.  My longest ride was 70 miles.  I commuted 16 times. And rode on 9 other days.  I’ve ridden at least 5 miles every day for the last 20 days.

The Mule, my Sequoia, covered 416 miles and 8 commutes.  Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, bagged 355 miles and 7 commutes.  Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, got one ride, a commute of 17 miles.

Year to date I’ve ridden 2,631 miles for a daily average of just over 17.3 miles. I’ve ridden to work 52 times.  I’m on a pace to ride over 6,300 miles for the year.

Just looking at these numbers makes me tired.  So, I’m going to bed so I can get up early and ride to the Friday Coffee Club tomorrow morning. If it rains, I’ll probably go straight to work  Tomorrow evening’s forecast calls for the possibility of small tornadoes. (Can Dan Quayle spell tornadoes?) I will ride my smallest bike just to be safe.

Mount Vernon Trail Detour Update

For the past month or so, this detour had a telephone pole right in the middle. It’s finally gone. Hopefully, the construction project will be wrapping up soon and the trail will be better than ever. More likely, we will be left with an absurd obstacle course that will contribute to s spate of bicycle accidents until they decide to spend another chunk of money getting this right.