Yesterday, I rode 19 miles to the first Open Streets DC event. Three miles of Georgia Avenue, a major north/south road, were completely closed to motor vehicles from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The weather was as perfect as fall weather in DC can be. The Potomac Runners club all but took over the Mount Vernon Trail with scores of people out doing long runs. We’ve had a string of mid-summer weather making training for a marathon this fall a brutal exercise, no pun intended.
I navigated my way through the runners who were pretty decent about giving other trail users plenty of space. Had they not been there to slow me and Big Nellie down, I am sure the headwind would have.
Once in DC I headed straight for 7th Street Northwest which becomes Georgia Avenue about a mile north of the National Mall. At Howard University I encountered police blockades that I rolled around and then made my way all the way to the northern end of the road closure. As I headed north I noticed that every side street was blocked by dump trucks with snow plows on the front or police cars. Normally some sawhorses would do the trick but these are not normal times.
I arrived in time for the bike parade. It was a lazy bike amble. The street was still mostly unoccupied and we rolled unimpeded until encountering a couple of trucks that were moving a mobile stage into place. (Suggestion to the city: do this before the road closure or not at all). We waited about 15 minutes. An event organizer told passers by to use the sidewalk. Irony lives.
The bike parade included several of my friends and we ran into more as we slowly cruised down the road. We made it all 3 miles before turning around. Some of us grabbed some coffee at Colony Club, others stopped in Sonny’s Pizza for beer and pie.
A Jewish deli, Call Your Mother, had a line three people wide. It ran out the door and across the street. All day. Dang.
I noticed on social media that the nearly empty streets we had ridden were now filling up with people.
My friend Joe Flood, who knows DC much better than I do, remarked how removing the cars allowed people to notice shops that they had previously been unaware of because they were focused on traffic.
There was a bike wheelie competition, people writing on a car, a giant inflatable slide, a bike lane protected by bales of straw, a booth offering beer samples, a spin class, a yoga session, a city bus for kids to explore and “drive”, and many more activities along either the side of the road.
Mostly, though, this was about people of all ages getting outside in the fresh air and enjoying the city for a few hours. Dogs were walked. Kids rode bikes. Babies rode in strollers. I didn’t hear a cross word all day. It makes you wish the city did this on a regular basis.
At 2, a couple of friends made their way to Rachel M.’s in the Petworth neighborhood for beer and snacks in the alley behind her house. I had dismounted Big Nellie to get around a truck at the mouth of the alley, As I went to get back on to ride the last 100 yards up the alley, my toe caught the cross bar, and the ungainly bike fell away from me. In a feeble attempt to stop it from falling over, I toppled over the bike and landed more or less on my right temple. It really hurt. I also managed to scrape my knee and mess up the thumb of my left hand.
After a few minutes being one with the pain and stupidity of the thing, I applied tortilla chips and ice cold beer. It still hurt but I didn’t much care.
To end the day, I followed my friends’ directions and made my way down 11th Street NW. This worked out great. No traffic to speak of all the way to the Potomac River and the Mount Vernon Trail. And eventually home. After a shower I met my wife and daughter for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.