And some don’t get rained out

There is an old saying in baseball: you win some, you lose some, and some get rained out.

This is a story about losing, getting rained out, and winning. Leave it to me to get things totally out of sequence.

About two years ago the Red Sox were scheduled to play an exhibition game versus the Nationals at Nationals Park to mark the end of Spring training. I managed to get one of four tickets that one of my co-worker’s bought.


As I typically do, I set out on by bike for the ballpark. It was raining. I got about five miles from home when, heading northbound, I was hit by a black SUV on the Mount Vernon Trail. (There goes the no hitter.) The SUV was exiting a condominium complex and failed to stop before making a right on red. To this day I am shocked that I managed to escape from this encounter with only some bruises.

Getting Rained Out

A short time after the crash, I was informed by the Twitter that the game was rained out.


Fast forward 22 months. I am riding southbound on the trail to the exact place where I was hit. There, blocking the entire trail, was a white SUV. I came to a stop and shouted at the driver. “Why are you here? Why are you blocking the trail?” The driver looked at me as if to say “So what.” Then, before I could ride around the front of the vehicle, the driver took off, taking a right turn on red.

I had seen this behavior dozens of times and I finally decided to ask the city of Alexandria to do something about it. I wrote them a short note requesting a change to a sign. Drivers leaving the condo complex at this intersection face a traffic light with a sign that says “No Turn on Red when Pedestrians Are Present.” I asked that the city to replace it with a sign that says “No Turn on Red.” I deliberately kept my request simple thinking it would avoid getting bogged down in analysis and budgetary considerations.

I had no idea that there was an Alexandria City Traffic and Parking Board. My note was referred to them and the issue was placed on the February meeting agenda. My friend Erin Meter provided a statement on behalf of the Friends of Mount Vernon Trail. Her statement, and that of Zack DesJardins, went into details about traffic signal timing, signal delays, best practices on signage and traffic lights and the like. (Judd Lumberjack came and offered moral support.) Erin and Zack did some serious homework on this.

Two representatives of the condo complex spoke. One had several pictures of the scene. (I was half expecting him to talk about the circle and arrows and the paragraph on the back of each one. But I digress.) Finally, I gave a brief statement. (The order was not for dramatic effect. It’s just that I arrived last.)

I explained how I was hit. And that I see the trail obstructed on a regular basis which is obviously dangerous.

The Board then voted unanimously to change the sign and to study the signal and signage issues.

I couldn’t believe it. I actually had to ask Erin if we won.

We won.

A tip of the cap

Many thanks to Christine Mayeur, Alexandria’s Complete Streets Coordinator, for encouraging me to show up and give a statement.

And to Erin, Zack, and Judd for thoughtful statements, support, and photography,

Zack, Me, and Erin (Photo by Judd Lumberjack)

P. S. Teddy Ballgame would not have approved. I put on a tie and nobody died or got married.


Connecting and Extending the Mount Vernon Trail

The Mount Vernon Trail, a facility of the National Park Service, is well known to cyclists, runners, and walkers in the DC area. It extends from Theodore Roosevelt Island in the north to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in the south. Beyond Mount Vernon, there are trails of a sort but they come and go for three miles along the two-lane Mount Vernon Memorial Highway to US 1 where new trails continue south down through Fort Belvoir. (The mega re-design of US 1 to the north of Fort Belvoir will include separated bike lanes. ) The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is planning to connect the existing trail segments along the MVMH to provide a continuous trail that connects Mount Vernon to US 1.

Last night I attended the first public meeting about this project. It was run by Chris Wells, the Fairfax County Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator with significant additional remarks by Dan Storck, the Mount Vernon District Supervisor.

Beyond its local significance the Mount Vernon Trail is part of other much longer trail systems, including the Adventure Cycling Association’s Atlantic Coast Route, the East Coast Greenway, and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

The project is an admirable one, but it has significant shortcomings.

The Mount Vernon Trail itself stops at the southern end of a parking lot. To continue south cyclists have two options. They can walk the sidewalk in front of the entrance to Mount Vernon or ride (illegally) on the George Washington Memorial Highway for a few hundred yards. Neither of these shortcomings is addressed in this project.

The GW Parkway ends at Mount Vernon. To continue south, travelers use the MVMH. At this point a new-ish side path exists for about 1/2 mile to a traffic light at Old Mount Vernon Road. After the light, there is an old, narrow asphalt path that is in lousy shape with tree roots and debris. After a few hundred yards that path ends and path users need to cross the MVMH to get to another similarly decrepit path along the MVMH. This path has the added feature of a series of abrupt ups and downs. This path segment ends after about 1/4 mile at Southwood Drive. Local residents report that these three parts of the trail are virtually impossible to ride on a bike and in such poor condition that even running is problematic. Unfortunately, improvements to or realignment of these side paths are not included in the project scope.

The first of the proposed new segments would begin on the opposite side of the MVMH from this last bit of path. It would continue only a few hundred yards to another existing side path that extends from Peartree Landing (a neighborhood street) to the entrance to Grist Mill Park, which contains soccer fields, a large playground, and the area’s free mulch collection. This existing segment is wider and newer than the others describe above. Nevertheless, the local residents I talked with said this segment also has problems with tree roots.

Beyond Grist Mill Park a new trail segment is planned that will cross the southern end of Old Mill Road until it reconnects with a little used, existing frontage road. After the frontage road, the new trail will begin again and cross Dogue Creek on a new steel and concrete bridge.

After Washington’s Grist Mill, the new trail segments will end. Those wishing to continue south on a trail will have to re-cross the MVMH to connect with a new existing trail that continues a couple of hundred yards to US 1.

The project plans include wayfaring signs, as well as improved crosswalks and bus stops.

The project team’s consultants were in attendance. Maps of the project were on easels for review. There were about 40 – 50 people in attendance. Considering the fact that this was a preliminary meeting, this was an impressive turnout. Attendees included people who live along the project corridor and others, like me, who use the corridor for cycling.

Concerns raised included:

  • The design of the Dogue Creek bridge. It will be steel and concrete which will hopefully lessen the crashes that are endemic to the Mount Vernon Trail’s wooden bridges.
  • Crossing the MVMH is dangerous now. Recently, a 15-year old runner was hit by two cars as she crossed the road. (She lived but is in for a long recovery.) Attendees asked for traffic signals of some sort and consideration of sight lines when positioning cross walks.
  • Local residents say that traffic has increased significantly since the military base re-alignment moved thousands of personnel to Fort Belvoir. The residents say that the 45 miles-per-hour speed limit is too high considering the highway traverses a residential area. This is clearly one of those places were Virginia DOT prioritizes moving commuters over residential users.
  • Local residents also decried the condition of the decrepit existing trail segments.
  • The crossing at Old Mill Road is a potential problem. Local residents cut through a neighborhood and a wooded perimeter area to access the park now to avoid this intersection.
  • Drainage is a problem now for one resident whose home abuts a new trail segment.
  • The trail right of way could be 20 to 30+ feet depending on the type of drainage used at the highway’s edge. One resident noted that his driveway is only 40 feet long.
  • Residents clearly would prefer to limit the trail to one side of the highway.
  • Trees will have to be removed to accommodate the new trail assuming it stays in its current alignment.

The next step is for the project team to do a detailed analysis of the corridor and produce a preliminary design for public comment. That process will take six to nine months.

As readers of this blog know, I do not much enjoy doing bike advocacy work, but I have to say that this meeting was actually fun. There was concern without anxiety on the parts of the attendees. I think they had plenty of time to have their say. Chris Wells and Dan Storck did a great job of listening and making thoughtful observations. Project team members and Dan Storck were taking notes. With projects like these the old saying “The devil’s in the details” holds.

As for me, I was encouraged to see that Chris has picked up where Adam Lind (currently cavorting in Santiago, Chile) left off as Bike/Ped coordinator. This was my first interaction with Dan Storck. My district supervisor is an avid cyclist. Obviously, he has to take into consideration all users and constituents but it is a great relief to know that he speaks my language.

As for me, I doubt I will use the new trail. I don’t use any of the existing trails segments. I am comfortable in the road, but I understand that others, most importantly the people in the adjacent neighborhoods, are not. I also doubt bicycle tourists, experienced recreational riders, and commuters will want to meander back and forth across the highway. However, the project clearly addresses many existing shortcomings for walkers and runners and less experienced cyclists.

Finally, I did get a chance to talk to Dan Storck about his annual Tour of Mount Vernon bike ride. When I first heard about it, I thought is was a dinky neighborhood ride. Wrong. It’s the real deal at 36 miles and he’s very excited that it’s catching on after only a couple of years. I didn’t ride it last year because I was already committed to WABA’s 4th Annual Cider Ride. Hopefully, this year WABA and Supervisor Storck can coordinate dates so I can do both.





Just Another Fed Up Boy on the MVT

I rode my inland route to work today. I was going to work from home but the lack of rain in the morning suckered me in. I took this route because the National Park Service refuses to plow my regular route, the Mount Vernon Trail. The inland route makes us of 3 bike trails in Alexandria City as well as a a trail that runs along the edge of Arlington National Cemetery. All of these trails were plowed and are in good shape.

As usual the ride in was fun. I especially like passing the big back ups of cars at traffic lights and stop signs. (I am careful to keep an eye out for opening car doors and abrupt lane changes when I do so.)

A funny thing happened as I waited for a red light at West and Duke Streets in Alexandria. I was on West street facing north. A bike commuter rode to the west on Duke Street through the green light. This exact same bike commuter rode through the light as I was waiting on Monday and Tuesday. What are the odds of that happening?

I made it to work with a smile on my face. I didn’t even mind climbing that last annoying hill near the Netherlands Carillon.

In the evening it was raining. I didn’t feel like fighting traffic in Rosslyn to get to my inland route so I headed to the Mount Vernon Trail. It was finally cl

The MVT in the Rain

ear all the way home. This is not because the National Park Service, which maintains the trail, shoveled it. It is because nearly all the 20 odd inches of snow melted. This took over a week. Furthermore, one short section of the trail was still clogged with snow except for a narrow path shoveled by a couple of bike commuters.

I made it home without incident but decided that waiting eight days for snow to melt is unacceptable. The Mount Vernon Trail is a major commuter route for hundreds of people. So I wrote to my three members of Congress:

“The Mount Vernon Trail is used by hundreds of bicyclists as a commuter route in the DC area. I have been using it to get to work for over a decade. The National Park Service maintains the trail, but, unlike other local jurisdictions, refuses to plow the trail after snow events. The bicycling community has complained for as long as I can remember and still the Park Service has not lifted a shovel. This past week some bike commuters actually took shovels to the trail to clear spots with particularly large piles of snow. I would like you to please contact the Park Service and tell them to stop making excuses and start maintaining the trail during the winter.

I greatly appreciate the fact that the Park Service does an outstanding job of clearing downed trees and fixing damaged bridges on the trail after non-winter weather events. So it is especially troubling to see the Park Service neglect the trail after snowfalls. Your intervention in this matter would be greatly appreciated.”

Today the Park Service announced that it is willing to sit down with stakeholders and begin discussions on how to clear the trail next winter. I have a better idea: National Park Service get off your asses and clear the trail this winter. Just as you clear the GW Parkway that runs right alongside it. No more excuses. No more delays. The status quo is simply unacceptable.

If you are a bike commuter in DC, especially if you use the Mount Vernon Trail, please write your members of Congress.


Pictures of the Year 2015

Pool Noodles for the Win: Sam got us organized. We were going to occupy the Pennsylvania bike lanes to get barriers installed between 13th and 15th Street to keep cars from making illegal u-turns. Somebody got the idea of using pool noodles as props, to indicate where the barriers would go. Afterward, Dave carried them off. I think they took him to the nervous hospital later.


We all had a blast. Human bollards come in many shapes and sizes. Here’s the Katie Lee model. It’s generally impervious to u-turning cars, but can be moved aside with tickets to Packers games and Phish concerts.


Here’s Sam, the mad genius behind #biketivismdc. It’s funny what getting run over by a car does for your determination to make streets safer.


Kelly Biked to Work!: Kelly sits across from me at work. She had hip surgery which meant she couldn’t run for weeks. So she took up bike commuting. The smile means it was a success.


To her credit she really got into the bike commuting thing. Here she poses at an underpass on the Four Mile Run Trail. A few days before rising water during a downpour caused her to abandon shelter and head into the maelstrom. She survived and added a snorkel to her bike commuting gear.


Like Father Like Daughter: I went to a bunch of baseball games this year. Katie Lee and I attended a couple of games together. She is a meticulous genius at scorekeeping, an art she learned from her late father. At one game, there were two little boys in the row in front of us attending their first baseball game. They were trying to figure out how to keep score. Katie moved down and gave them a game long tutorial. It was an act of kindness that just knocked me out. Somewhere her dad is smiling.


Posh Bike Parking: For some inexplicable reason, our office building started getting all environmentally conscious this fall. Without telling anyone, they replaced their absolutely crappy bike racks with a pretty awesome, secure bike room. Combined with the gym and showers one floor above, it’s a pretty darn bike friendly place to work.

Here’s the before shot.

Bike parking

Here’s the after.

Bike Room

No Wrong Plan: Ryan, Kevin, and I rode from Pittsburgh to DC. It was my first bike tour in a decade. Here we pose in Georgetown’s Waterfront Park at the end of our trek. Any resemblance of me to Hoss Cartwright is entirely coincidental.


In Williamsport, Maryland, we stopped at the Desert Rose Cafe for breakfast. They made us sandwiches for lunch. Inside the bags they included napkins. Each one had a personal message. Such nice people. Such good food. Eat there. (They speak veggie and vegan too!).


Going Up: I did quite a lot of day hiking this year branching out to Shenandoah National Park for several exceptional hikes. All my hikes were solo except for this one with Ultrarunnergirl. She kicked my ass all the way up to Little Hawksbill, the highest point in the park. Then the mountain kicked my ass all the way back down.


On my 60th birthday, I hiked Old Rag. It was a tough hike and convinced me that rock scrambles are for the young and frisky. Also, the thin.


Glory Days: Mrs. RC is a very talented quilter. When I had to quit running about 25 years ago we talked about using my race t-shirts to make a quilt. Nothing came of it until she made the quilt as a surprise for my 60th birthday. What an amazing gift. Oh how I wish I could run like that again.


Around the World in 19 Days: My kids were living in Sydney, Australia and Phuket, Thailand. We decided to go visit them. While in Australia, Mrs. RC and our daughter Lily went to Uluru for dinner under the stars. Here we enjoy a drink just before sunset.


After trips to Melbourne and the north island of New Zealand, we headed for Phuket. The island is very hilly so everyone rides a motorbike like this one my son Eamonn uses.


We paid a visit to Big Buddha. He was aptly named.


Lily made friends with a baby elephant.


Cookies and Cider: I did a bunch of event rides this year. The Cookie Ride had a good hook. Cookies at every rest stop. Here I pose with a human cookie along with Paris and Lisa.


I missed my two favorite rides of the year, the Backroads Century and the 50 States Ride, which both occurred while I was traveling. I swore off the Cider Ride last year but decided to give it a go after they moved it into November. Finishers got this cool mug. Thanks to Michelle for her event magic on behalf of WABA.


Sunrise: The year is nearly over but I am pretty sure that the new one will start something like this. Thanks for reading.



My Top Ten of 2015

The year began with a paper lantern rising in the post-midnight sky over Old Town Alexandria. I hoped it was a sign of good things to come. Here in no particular order are the highlights of what followed:

Around the World in 19 Days: When your kids move to the other side of the world, you have a perfectly good excuse to go visit them. We flew via LAX to Sydney to meet up with our daughter who was studying abroad at Macquarie University. We explored Sydney, Uluru, and Melbourne in Australia and Rotorua in New Zealand. Then we flew to Thailand where our son now lives, teaching English at a school in Phuket. We flew back via Abu Dhabi and JFK, completing our trip around the world. Speaking of travel….

Six Days without a Plan: I did my first bike tour in ten years, riding 370 miles from Pittsburgh to home, nearly entirely off road in six days. Kevin and Ryan made for good company. The Meth Man not so much. Earl and Anne, two friends from my years in Boston,  met up with us for Mothers Day brunch. And we saw the Pirates execute a triple play at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Speaking of baseball….

Where’s My Ring?: I pretty much went all in as a Washington Nationals fan this year. I attended 8 or 9 games (one was a rainout) and watched dozens more on the tube. In the process I discovered the wonderful bike valet service at the ballpark, bottles of ice water (mostly ice) sold outside the stadium, and SeatGeek, a web service for cheap seats. Sadly, the Nats completely fell apart in August and September ending with the sad display of a bad apple reliever choking the eventual league Most Valuable Player. Speaking of things surly…

Getting Surly: My bikes were getting old. And so was I. So I decided to buy a new one, just for riding events and such. I bought a Surly Cross Check on the enthusiastic recommendation of a half dozen friends who own one or wish they did. I’m still working on giving it a name. My fleet of now four bikes carried me over 7,000 miles this year. Speaking of mileage….

Turning the Odometer: I hit 60 in August. My brain still can’t believe it but my body does. Denial only gets you so far in life. I celebrated by hiking Old Rag. My advice is to do this hike long before your 60th birthday. Mrs RC made me with a quilt  from my old running t-shirts. This totally surprised me with it even though she made the thing right in front of me. Still, turning 60 was inescapably depressing.  Speaking of depressing…

Goodbye Blue Mondays: I started the year dealing with rather severe depression, not the “I’m sad” kind but the clinical kind. It’s a drag just thinking about it. I forced myself to socialize (see below), ate vitamin D supplements (I had a severe deficiency), and began daily meditation at the repeated suggestion of a friend. You could say that when it was over I had become comfortably numb. Speaking of numbness…

My Right Foot: I also started the year with a mysteriously numb right foot. I saw a neurologist who was incredibly enthusiastic, competent, and beautiful about my case. She sent me to a physical therapist who gave me a set of exercises including bird dogs, side planks, and nerve flossing that I still do every other day. On a whim, I went for a Thai massage. It didn’t do a thing for my foot but it was just about the most relaxing 90 minutes I can recall. “Use your third eye, John.”  I also went to an acupuncturist who didn’t do a thing for my foot either. He did fix a pain in my upper arm and recommended some orthotics for my shoes. Speaking of shoes….

Ramping Up My Hiking:  After each of my hikes last year, my back and knees were killing me.  The second I put the orthotics in my shoes, my back felt better. I did ten hikes this year, most of them in Shenandoah National Park and a little further north on the Appalachian Trail. All but one were solo hikes. The exception came when Ultrarunnergirl kicked my ass all the way to the top of SNP and back. My knees and back hardly protested. Speaking of protests…

What’s a Park It?:  Bike riders in DC had been getting hit by cars turning illegally through the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. I attended a protest that was designed to bring awareness to the fact that new barriers called Park Its had not been installed on two blocks of the avenue. The protest was successful (the Park Its were installed a few months later) and was a great opportunity to get together with friends old and new. Speaking of new friends…

Do I Even Have a Fusiform Gyrus?: Three months after apparently meeting me at a December 2014 holiday party, a woman walked up at a post-ride reception and said “Hi John.” I had no idea who she was. She later said I needed to have my fusiform gyrus checked out. So began my improbable friendship with Katie Lee. A few days later we spent four hours in a booth in a downtown tavern. Two peas in a pod, pod people you might say, engaged in an incredibly intense conversation. I felt as if I had caught lightning in a bottle of Shiner Bock. On my way home for the first time in months the fog of my depression had lifted. Like a paper lantern. I know a sign when I see one. Thanks for showing me the score, KL. 

Encore, you say?….

Sitting in the Lap of the North Wind: A year or so ago, Mrs RC bought me a CD of celtic sounding music by a Quebec folk group called Le Vent du Nord. As luck would have it, they played very small venues near DC twice this year. We were in the second row for both performances, practically in the lap of the foot drumming, song singing, fiddle player. Even though I studied French in high school and college I can’t really follow their lyrics but I have no trouble enjoying their hurdy gurdy fueled music. Tres bon.


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 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.

My First LTTE

I never feel comfortable doing bicycle advocacy but once again I have entered the fray. The local newspaper down here in Mount Vernon published a huge letter to the editor complaining about the new bike lanes on Sherwood Hall Lane near my house in Fairfax County.  After living in this community for 25 years, my car-obsessed county finally threw me a bone! The gist of the letter writer’s argument is that the bike lanes are incomplete and poorly designed putting bicyclists in harm’s way. Don’t chew on that bone you might choke!. 

How a bike lane makes things worse is beyond me. Here’s the response that I emailed tonight:

I read with great interest Queenie Cox’s letter to the editor opposing the new bike lanes on Sherwood Hall Lane in the Gum Springs neighborhood. As an everyday cyclist who lives ½ mile from Sherwood Hall Lane I think Ms. Cox makes some very good points. Sherwood Hall Lane in Gum Springs is a challenging place to ride a bike or walk. The problem is not bicycles, pedestrians, or bike lanes; the problem is too many cars and trucks going too fast. The problem has only grown worse as overflow traffic from US 1 spills into our neighborhood. The bike lanes and other markings on Sherwood Hall Lane are intended to help calm this vehicular traffic.


A little over two years ago I rode my bike on Sherwood Hall Lane on a beautiful spring day. Not a cloud in the sky. As I turned onto Parkers Lane, I could see police activity at the intersection of Sherwood Hall and Schelhorn Road. A pedestrian had just been taken by ambulance to Fairfax Hospital after being run over by an SUV driven by someone in too much of a hurry. That pedestrian was my wife. It was many painful months before she could return to work.  She wasn’t hit by a bicycle or bike lane. She was hit by a motor vehicle. What kind of community do we have where we accept this sort of thing as normal? That walking to the Post Office is literally death defying.


Ms. Cox concern about the safety of cyclists like myself is interesting. I doubt very much that she rides a bicycle to run errands or go to work. I do.  I am a 59-year-old who has been riding a  bike and paying taxes in this area of Fairfax County for 25 years. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see me riding to work and  to the stores on US 1 and Fort Hunt Road.  I suppose Ms. Cox would prefer it if I drove everywhere, putting yet another car on the roads. This sort of thinking is a dead end for Gum Springs and Fairfax County.


What Fairfax County needs is more, interconnected, high-quality bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, not less. It is my hope that the Fairfax County Bicycle Plan is implemented and expanded so that we may have a safer, healthier community.

Looking Backward 2012

In a lot of ways, 2012 was a very difficult year. My mother passed away of old age, my wife worked hard to recover from being hit by a car in 2011 only to have to endure cancer surgery, radiation treatments and a long slow recovery that is still ongoing. My son cut his leg open in an accident at work. Somehow the lightning bolts missed a direct hit on me.

Exercise is my coping mechanism. When I don’t ride (or, in the past, run) stress wears on me. It’s probably a blessing (and no coincidence) that I cranked out 7,350 miles in 2012.

Where did I go? What did I see? Who did I meet? Here’s a list:

Bike Commuting: With my daughter driving herself to school and limited school functions to deal with, I rode to work, a lot. 162 times, in fact, I figure that I did somewhere near 4,800 miles just getting to and from the office. I saved around $650 in gas. Other than family commitments, I missed only a handful of opportunities to ride.

Odometers Gone Wild: The odometers on my bikes are getting insane. I broke 32,000 miles on The Mule and 31,000 on Big Nellie. I am almost at 9,000 miles on Little Nellie. That $650 in gas savings will go toward lots of bike maintenance this winter. I do tires and brakes. I’ll leave the new drive trains for the pros.

Bike Crashes and Calamities: During the late winter, I was running errands on my bike in a fierce wind. I put my head down and, in an amazing act of stupidity, I proceeded to ride The Mule into the back of a parked car. A few weeks later I lost control of Big Nellie on a slick section of bike path and wrenched the heck out of my right knee. (I still have a big red welt just below my knee cap.) I was nearly run over three times by red light runners while riding through the Rosslyn Circle of Doom. In separate incidents, I broke the chain and had the rear tire blow out on Big Nellie. I bent the derailleur hanger on Little Nellie. I also had the usual array of flat tires but that’s pretty much it. All things considered, not a bad year.

Friday Coffee Club:  Ed is an espresso junkie. He and his stoker/spouse Mary started going to Swings coffee house near the White House on Fridays before work and invited others to join them. Word of mouth and Twitter took it from there. I started going and was welcomed into a motley crew of cycling ne’er do wells comprising journalists, economists, lawyers, graphic artists, librarians, university administrators, students, bike sellers, police officers, bike advocates, Segway tour guides turned bike rack installers, and policy wonks. We even have a naval meteorologist. We are still looking for some arc welders and lobstermen to join. Long story short, it gets my ass moving on Friday mornings, the people are impossibly nice, and the conversation is always interesting.

Rides with Friends: About 15 years ago I hired a guy to paint the house. About two years later, the paint was peeling off. I thought, “I can do better.” Over the course of the next decade I did two laps around the house. And the paint is still peeling off. Fuggit. Riding on the weekends is infinitely more enjoyable than futile house painting. Suffice it to say, my next expensive bike-related purchase will be a vinyl siding job.

So you might ask, “Where did you ride when you should have been doing something productive around the house?” Here’s a list:

  • The Utilitaire of Ignominy: The Utilitaire Challenge was the brainchild of Mary the Mad Randonista. As a willing participant, I rode trips to the store, the barbershop, the car dealer, the dry cleaner, and, as mentioned above, into the back of a parked car. Fail.
  • The Quest for Blueberry Soup: Every March WABA and the Swedish embassy collaborate on a ride that culminates in a cup of warm blueberry soup. My name is Rootchopper and I’m a soupaholic. I did a little over 30 cold miles and had 2 cups of hot soup.
  • Default Day:  Most people call it Bike to Work Day. I feel a bit like W.C. Fields on New Years Eve. Still, it was nice to see all the newbies out on the trails and roads. As a bonus, I ran into Ed, Mary, and Laura (and her buddies) at the Rosslyn pit stop.
  • Bike DC: There is something about this event that is always FUBAR. This year was no exception. I wasn’t expecting much and I got what I was expecting.
  • The Hoppy 100: Friday Coffee Clubber and craft beer lover John Roche designed a route that would traverse 100+ miles of hill and dale, a ride on a cable ferry across the Potomac, and some snorkeling through torrential rains all for a few cold glasses of craft beer. The man is brilliant. Kevin, Chris, Crystal and Lisa, Coffee Clubbers all, joined in for the day-long festivities.
  • The Indian Head 100: I did this metric century alone and it made me realize that it’s not the rides you do, it’s who you do the rides with that makes them memorable. Still, the route is an interesting one and it’s the closest rural ride to my house.
  • The 50 States Ride: I used to have a love hate relationship with this ride. I’ve grown to love it. It’s hard, but, what can I say, I am a sucker for a gimmick. There’s no better way to understand the place you live than to ride it on a bike.  This ride proves it. And, as usual, the company was excellent.
  • The Backroads Century: This was a tough one. This metric century is my favorite ride around these parts. Unfortunately it was the day after the 50 States and the 5 a.m. wake up call didn’t help. After some logistical snafus, I ended up riding with Lisa from the Coffee Club, her friend Jane and their hubbies.
  • The Tour Du Port: This is Baltimore’s intracity bike ride. I planned on doing it solo but, thanks to the SharrowsDC pin I bought from Coffee Clubber Brian, I was id’ed by Bec and Alex, two DC-based cyclists. We rode together for most of the ride, got lost, and experienced lots of underfunded bicycle infrastructure.
  • The Great Pumpkin Ride: Another early morning wake up for a ride in the exurbs. I met Veronique, an old friend who works at a bakery in Warrenton, then rode 70+ miles of the Virginia Piedmont alone. It was quite a slog, but the late autumn scenery was so pretty. After the ride I met up with Friday Coffee Clubbers Rachel and Kate, and their friend Katie Ann for vittles and grog. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the after party as much as the ride.
  • The Coffeenuering Challenge: Not content to nearly get me killed with her Utilitaire Challenge, Mary the Mad Randonista drew up another cycling contest. I managed to survive this one intact by riding to eight coffee shops for coffee and cookies and one kick ass muffin.
  • Hubs and Pubs – DC has recently given birth to three microbreweries. My friend Crystal decided to organize a social ride that connected three of the breweries. Although I only made it to one of the breweries, it was fun to ride to DC and see areas of the NE quadrant of the city that I had never seen before. Oh, and the beer was tasty, too.
  • Chocoride – Beer isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak. So Crystal and Lisa put together a ride within DC that rode from one hot cocoa place to another. The ride took place on December 30 nearly guaranteeing cold temperatures would lead to warm liquid refreshment. It was a blast, and so was the wind. This was my fourth ride of the year with Lisa, so she wins the Rootchopper Sidekick Award for 2012. He prize is she gets to call me Kemosabe for all of 2013.

The Woodrow Wilson Bollard Farm: Bike commuters and other users of the Mount Vernon Trail endured one dangerous detour after another during the rehabilitation of Jones Point Park and the MVT underneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. As the project was about to be completed, it became obvious to frequent users of the trail that the final result was an incredibly dangerous design featuring an obstacle course of poorly placed black bollards, sharp turns, and high curbs. After much bitching, local advocacy groups stepped up and got some very useful last-minute modifications made. Thanks to Mark Blacknell and Shane Farthing of WABA and Jonathan Krall and the other folks at the Alexandria Bike/Ped Advisory Committee for their efforts. Ironically, the rest of the project turned out to be pretty darned awesome.  

Car Hell: I spent a week driving my daughter among six colleges in the Los Angeles area. I have seen hell on earth and it is Los Angeles. Over 30 years ago, I spent a week in Davis CA. Even back then, Davis had bike infrastructure out the wazoo. I am very happy to see DC and Arlington making major strides to support the use of bikes as transportation with bike sharing, cycle tracks, bike lanes, and, most importantly, an evolving attitude.

Be Careful Out There: One of the most experienced bike commuters/riders I know, Charmaine, was run over by a pickup truck while riding to work. If it can happen to her, it can happen to anybody. Here’s wishing Charmaine a speedy and complete recovery in the new year. As for the rest of you, may the odds be ever in your favor.

I thought about including links to all these events in the blog but ran out of gas. It was a busy year.  You can find posts about all these things in the list on the right. Or if you’d rather look at some pix, check out the bike-related sets on my Flickr page.

See you in 2013. And thanks for reading.