My doctor’s office is in an office building near an interstate highway in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s 10 miles from my house. I rode there for my 10:30 appointment. The first half of the ride was on the Mount Vernon Trail. Then came some city streets in Old Town Alexandria. I climbed the hill in the bike lane on King Street. The installation of the bike lane created a big ruckus, with one of the homeowners along the street actually raging about it in the Wall Street Journal. From what I can tell, the bike lane works fine.
I turned onto Janney’s Lane which becomes Seminary Road. I followed painted bike lanes and sharrows for a couple of miles, sharing the road with vehicles big and small.
Not one of these bike lanes is protected. They are just paint. It’s a wonder that when I pulled into the parking lot at the doctor’s office building I saw a bicyclist leaving. He told me that the only place to park was at the railing in the front of the building. And so I did.
Errand No. 7
Category: Personal Care (1st use)
Place: Doctor’s office (I’m gonna live!)
Observation: The League of American Bicyclists calls Alexandria a Bicycling Friendly City at the bronze level. I think it should be called a bicycling tolerant city, at best. Over a month ago I gave some remarks to the Alexandria Traffic and Parking Board about a dangerous intersection. The Board voted unanimously to remove a sign and replace it with a No Turn on Red sign. The old sign is still there.
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.
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,
P. S. Teddy Ballgame would not have approved. I put on a tie and nobody died or got married.
Last week a cyclists from out of town took a bike ride through Old Town Alexandria. He was headed for the southern part of the Mount Vernon Trail. His ride ended in an ambulance. He is in a local hospital in critical condition.
When the Woodrow Wilson bridge was being replaced, I bitched up a storm about the detours and the design of the trails that went beneath it. Both reflected a complete lack of understanding of bicycling. I focused on bollards that were painted black. And I described treacherous detours that changed by the week. One week there was gravel. Then next asphalt that gave way under the weight of a bike. There were sharp 90 degree turns in the dark. And on and on.
The Washington Area Bicyclists Association and folks from the Alexandria Bike Pedestrian Advisory Committee gathered officials from a number of agencies who were responsible for various aspects of the project. These included Alexandria city, the National Park Service, VDOT, and DHS. They walked these officials through the project and pointed out safety concerns and discussed design changes. Many changes were made including painting the bollards bright yellow and putting reflective material on them.
The bollards are part of an extensive security perimeter that is designed to keep vehicle bombs from blowing up the bridge. The bridge carries I-95 and the Beltway across the Potomac River so this perimeter is obviously justified. (The old bridge had no such protection. ) Other features of the perimeter include huge boulders, stout fences, significantly, a movable gate across the southern end of South Royal Street.
The gate is a metal bar that spans the width of the street. When a driver wants access, he enters a code into a keypad at the gate. The metal bar then descends into a metal slot in the pavement. Both the top and bottom of the gate and the area along the slot are painted yellow. When the vehicle has crossed the gap, the metal bar rises to block further access.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. After they installed the gate, it was often out of commission. Crews worked on it on and off. Every so often I’d see the gate was open and I’d ride through it. The alternative is a 20-yard-long side path that has three bollards across it. Why got through a narrow path when you don’t have to?
The cyclist from out of town rode toward the bridge. He saw an open gate. He rode through it. Either the bar was sitting above the slot or it was rising as he reached it, perhaps visually obscured by the yellow paint of the bar and the slot. And potentially shaded by the bridge or two large trees to either side of the street.
He hit the bar and went flying. He broke two vertebrae in his neck. As of this morning, a week later, he was still in critical condition at a local hospital. His wife was following him. She also hit the bar and fell but her injuries were not as severe.
Note that there are no warnings to cyclists that the open gate is a road hazard. No paint on the road surface or signs direct cyclists to the side path. Long story short, you might want to use the side path.
I found a wet parcel on my doorstep after a storm yesterday. Inside was a new Kryptonite U-lock. I had first bought a Kryptonite literally decades ago. There was a bit of a scandal when some YouTube dude showed you could break the lock with a Bic pen. So Kryptonite re-designed the lock and gave owners a new one. That happened about 8 or 9 years ago. The lock mechanism on my replacement lock started failing a few months ago, so I contacted Kryptonite and they sent me a new lock. For free. Awesome.
I decided to go on a long-ish ride to reach a milestone on Big Nellie. I stopped at Canal Park along the Mount Vernon Trail. My friend and fellow bike commuter Linel had taken a picture at this park a few days ago. I have been riding past it daily and never knew it was there only a short walk from the trail. (Bike riding is not allowed.) It is a wonderful place to go to contemplate your navel, read a book, or just hang out. (There are plenty of benches and very nicely maintained lawns.) There is also some odd public art.
I rode to Key Bridge (basically my commute) and then into Georgetown. Traffic was very light. Turning left on Wisconsin Avenue I rode up and up and up to Cathedral Heights. I turned downhill and found my way to the new Klingle Valley Trail, over 20 years in the making. It’s only 0.8 miles long but it is worth checking out. I only took one picture because by now anybody can search for it on Flickr and find dozens of better pictures. One you get past this barrier you descend down a curvy paved path into woods. Sweet.
I got home after 42 miles in increasing heat and humidity. Big Nellie reached another milestone, 41,000 miles. She will get a rest now. Well done.
We are preparing for the arrival of the polar vortex. Whoever is in marketing in the weather world is brilliant. POLAR VORTEX just sounds like DOOM. It’s right up there with DERECHO!!!
Basically, the polar vortex is a few days of cold air and wind. It’s not the end of the world, particularly if you grew up with this sort of thing. When I lived in the northeast we called it January.
So we endure.
As luck would have it there are three days of events coming up that will all but require me to drive to work. I haven’t driven to work three days in a row since last winter so this should be nerve wracking.
Last night’s ride home featured a near full moon over the monuments in DC. It was a thing of beauty. I stopped to take a picture.
I wasn’t alone. Flogini, the erstwhile spiritual adviser to the Rootchopper Institute, has become a passionate bike commuter with her return to DC. Just like me she was stopped in her tracks by the sight and took a picture of her own. Proof once again that she is part of my karass.
The ride into work was graced by another amazing sight. Unfortunately I did not have a camera at the ready. As I rode along the Mount Vernon Trail, a great blue heron flew just a few feet above the surface of the Potomac River near the river bank to my immediate right. The heron was going much faster than me. It buzzed a gaggle of geese bobbing in the water as it flew out of sight. A few minutes later I spotted it on the river bank. As I approached it took off in the opposite direction.
Did I say I love my bike commute?
Today after I “liked” Flogini’s DC moon picture on Facebook I received an errant private message from Gladys, the mother of her friend who was run over by a bus two years ago. This kind of “wrong number” has never happened to me before. In any case, I regarded it as a surreal reminder to go to the Rally for Rose tonight on the way home.
Thank you, Gladys.
Blowing Up the Karma Bridge
I rode to the market that Rose worked at to give my donation. A couple of folks were waiting by the door collecting. So I explained the story of the $140. (In retrospect the whole thing sounds a little Alice’s Restaurant. Perhaps I should have waited for it to come around on the guitar.) So it turns out that donations are rewarded with tickets to a raffle. They gave me about six feet of raffle tickets and sent me down the street to the barbecue place where the raffle was being run. There were several different containers to put your tickets in, each container representing a different set of prizes. It took a while to dispense with the tickets. Now my problem is this: if I win do I undo the karma from the donation? Have I blown up the karma bridge that I was crossing? If I win a gift certificate, do I put it on the street where the money came from? (Was I raised Catholic or what?)
I’ll figure something out.
In all seriousness, there were several other people with big cables of raffle tickets. The restaurants that participated in the fundraiser were packed too. (If you ordered certain menu items, all proceeds from the purchase went to Rose’s fund.) And the gofundme website is making real progress as well.
And once again the city of Alexandria is pledging to get serious about pedestrian safety. It’s too late for Rose Cruz, but maybe some good will come of this tragedy.
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
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.
It was supposed to be a flat recovery ride. I got a bit carried away. Within a mile and a half I was riding up the hill on Sherwood Hall Lane. Then I rode up the grade on Fort Hunt Road, descended and rode another hill past the golf course to the Beltway.
Okay, I’ll be good. I’ll ride the new Alexandria bike trail all the way to Crystal City.
It was flat. So I continued on to the Pentagon.
It, too, was flat.
I worked my way over to the Mount Vernon Trail and the Humpback Bridge, mostly because the Humpback Bridge sounds cool.
Over the river on the 14th Street Bridge and up Maine Avenue past the incredibly big Wharf construction project. First phase set to open in 2017. Yes, it’s that big.
M Street took me to the 11th Street Bridge across the Anacostia. Whoever decided to put a bike path on this thing is a frickin’ genius. (Is “frickin'” even a word?)
Now the fun begins: the long slog up Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. If this is junior, I don’t want to know about senior. I had multiple flashbacks to my seven 50 States Rides during which I admired the fit behinds of all the riders who can climb faster than me. Which is to say every entrant ever!
One thing I noticed during my climb, it matters what pants you wear. Pants that are tight around the hips make it harder to climb. Today I wore loose mountain bike shorts under baggy wind pants. Claudio Chiapucci I ain’t but the climbing was not so bad.
It goes up and up. Then it goes down conveniently stopping at South Capitol Street so that all that downhill momentum is lost. Then up some more for a while until I plunge down the steep hill to the Police Academy complex. Every time I see the sign for Police Academy I think of the dreadful movie. At least it had Bubba Smith in it.
Of course at the bottom of the hill there was a stop sign. I stopped. A police cruiser noticed and gave me a friendly toot on the horn. (Take note Alexandria Virginia Police!! You don’t have to treat cyclists like criminals.)
What goes down must go up. After a meander through the messed up Oxon Cove Park I confronted the beast. I don’t mean this apparent imperial star destroyer under construction. (It’s a trap!)
Side note: Oxon Cove Park could be a local jewel. It has the misfortune of being located in a poor, out of the way section of Prince Georges County Maryland. The few people who live near it rarely use it. What a shame.
The beast was the long, ever steepening climb at Oxon Hill Farm. I HATE this hill. It starts with the indignity of a false flat. Then a true hill emerges in front of you. And emerges and emerges.
I made it to the top without calling for my mommy.
Across the Beltway on Oxon Hill Road and down the side path to the river. Up the spiral ramp (I love this spiral) to the deck and back across the Beltway. Somehow I now had legs and rode over the Wilson Bridge actually accelerating as I made the climb.
I headed home on the Mount Vernon Trail but after a few miles I bailed out to take on one more hill: Westgrove Boulevard, as suburban street that also steepens as it rises.
Okay, I made it. In pretty decent fettle. I made my way back home once again riding up the Sherwood Hall Lane hill. For the life of me I can’t figure out why riding up the steeper part going west is so easy. I just thrash it every time.
So 31 1/2 miles. On a rest day. When I couldn’t help myself. If it rains tomorrow, I spy a museum. (If I get out of bed.)
Today I had the day off for Veterans Day. I still kind of like the original name, Armistice Day, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and all that. It’s a decent Paul Simon song too. No disrespect to Veterans, mind you. My father was an amused Veteran. He used to tell the story that medical school students were drafted and left in school. The army would take them out to a base on Long Island and march them around. My father said they were pathetic, skinny, pale, uncoordinated. Gomer Pyles but with brains. My father stayed in the reserves through the Korean War. All this was before my time.
Having the day off, I decided to do one of my favorite rides, from my home in Mount Vernon Virginia to Bethesda, Maryland with a stop at Rock Creek Trestle. The temperature was in the mid-50s when I left with a strong northwest breeze, a headwind. You don’t get many windy days in the DC area when its warm so the breeze was a portent of many cold windy days to come.
I rode my Cross Check on the Mount Vernon Trail to Old Town Alexandria. The trail was covered in leaves and I was fearful of slipping and falling so I was extra careful. Once in Old Town I decided to leave the Mount Vernon Trail and head through most of Alexandria on a couple of newer bike trails. I picked the first trail up just off of West Street and rode it to the Braddock Road Metro station. There I zigzagged to get on the new trail that runs several miles, nearly all the way to Crystal City in Arlington. No lights. No stop signs. No obnoxious ticketing by Alexandria Police.
I rode through Crystal City and hit every traffic light on the green. This NEVER happens. My route took me on Boundary Channel Drive along side acres of Pentagon parking. Then I rode through Lady Bird Johnson Park, under the GW Parkway, up and over the Humpback Bridge, onto the 14th Street Bridge and across the Potomac River.
During this part of the ride the rear fender of the Cross Check became disengaged from its frame mount for what must have been the 20th time. I re-attached it and decided it was time for a permanent fix.
Once in the city, I rode the the K Street Bicycle Space store where a mechanic did what mechanics do and soon I had a fender that would not fall off. Knock wood. During the repair, I noticed that Paul, the mechanic most likely to play Doc Brown in Back to the Future IV, was working on an HP Velotechnik Street Machine. This is a recumbent to die for. The owner and I talked about the bike. He bought it from a Canadian for $1,500 Canadian. New this bike costs 2 – 3 times as much. The owner, who looked to be in my age cohort, rode it across the country. Dang! Bike envy!!!
Another customer came in to get her bike ready for Saturday’s Cider Ride. I didn’t have a chance to talk to her but maybe I’ll see her during the ride.
From Bicycle Space I headed up Sixth Street to check out the church whose congregation is upset by the possibility of having to share the street with a protected bike lane. Sixth Street is WIDE. I don’t see the problem here other than selfishness.
I wended my way through town and up the protected 15th Street bike lane at Meridian Hill. This short hill is quite a bitch, I must say. I recovered by doing a slow lap in the park. On weekends the park is a hive of activity but today it was nearly deserted. I checked out the view of the water cascade and then headed through Adams Morgan to Rock Creek Park.
On weekends and holidays, Beach Drive, the main drag in the park, has limited car access. I rode north on the windy road, wind in my face, sun on my shoulders. It was a mighty fine ride. I made my way to the Georgetown Branch Trail and to the Rock Creek Trestle. The view from above the treetops is one of my favorites.
After taking some pictures I headed west on the trail to Bethesda. I could tell that my body was not feeling it today. I still haven’t recovered from Sunday’s hike. I slogged on stopping only to refill my water bottles when I should have stopped to eat.
In Bethesda I picked up the mostly downhill Capital Crescent Trail and a tailwind. Ahhh.
Normally I be bombing along this trail at 20+ miles per hour but not today. I was suffering from insufficient junk food syndrome or IJFS. Don’t get this. Eat you donuts, people!!!
On the way home I rode past the Lincoln Memorial. I expected the place to be mobbed with Veterans checking out the nearby Vietnam, Korean, and WWII Memorials. There were plenty of people, many obviously veterans, milling about but I think whatever festivities there were had concluded hours earlier.
I made my way to the 14th Street Bridge and retraced my route to the south end of Old Town. Not wanting to ride the Mount Vernon Trail for the 400th time this year (a guess, but not too far off), I took Fort Hunt Road and Sherwood Hall Lane home. This is a pretty hilly route and I had nothing left in my legs so the going was slow.
Long story short:I managed to ride 55 1/2 miles on a sunny November Day. Not half bad.
The day began with crisp fall air. I was ready for it as I pit on my vest, arm warmers, and head band. Dressed perfectly, I headed north on the Mount Vernon Trail bound for DC and Friday Coffee Club. The ride in went so smoothly that as I rode onto the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River I had that strange how-did-I-get-here sensation. A tailwind and fresh legs (I drove to work yesterday) probably helped.
Coffee Club was crowded. It was good to see some faces that I haven’t seen in over a month. This definitely eased my recent feeling of social ennui.
I rode to work on the narrow side path on the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. I stop for DC-bound cyclists because there just isn’t enough room to pass on the fly. One of them asked me if the bridge was one-way. He was new to DC and he couldn’t believe the trail was so narrow. I assured him it wasn’t. Welcome to the land of improving bicycling infrastructure.
I left work and head for home, once again assisted by a trail wind. It was a similar vibe to the morning. No discernible effort involved. I barely broke a sweat. My delight in this wonderful autumn commute came to an end. I stopped to take a picture of this sign posted next to the trail north of Old Town Alexandria just after the Slaters Lane turn off.
It’s a sad reality to the women of this area that enjoying area trails comes with this risk.
Not 100 feet after starting up again I was passed by an on-coming woman running. She had earbuds in her ears.
Every safety expert I know warns against doing this. I know it sucks and it’s unfair but you are responsible for your own safety. Whether you are trying to avoid a potential human assailant or a garbage truck you need to hear what’s going on around you.
The rest of the ride was thankfully peaceful. For me at least.
I was begining to think that the clock was going to run out on my errrand running. I only have four more days to knock off four errands. One of those four days is taken up by a business trip. So I needed to get busy.
I can’t count my ride to work because I already have two commutes to my credit. So on the way home I swung by the bank to check about transfering funds between accounts. Unfortunately, the account I need to pull the money from hasn’t recognized my paycheck yet so the trip was for naught. I still get to count the trip as Personal Business even though it’s more or less identical to a previous bank errrand.
From the bank I rode down King Street, the main drag of Old Town Alexandria. As I approached the Torpedo Factory, a former torpedo factory turned arts center, I heard the beautiful voice of a woman singing opera. Where else do you find a busking opera singer? So I stopped and took in a few minutes of the show.
After she finished singing her song, a man holding a baby walked up. He launched into an opera tune of his own. Then she joined in. And then the incredibly cute baby, started howling as if to say, “Not again Mom and Dad!” The two singers suppressed laughter as they continue to sing through the howls.
Just another day on the MVT. How I love living here,
Errand No. 9: Personal Business – Bank
Observation: I really should do this sort of errand online but my log in info expires from neglect.
Errand No. 10: Arts and Entertainment – Opera on the Mount Vernon Trail
Observation: Do I have the most amazing bike commute or what?!!!