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Here's how to bike in the city safely and confidently

Our region is more bike-friendly than ever, but lots of people still doubt whether riding a bike is a safe or viable form of regular transportation. The truth is that riding a bike is a great way to get around. I've written some tips for getting started.

Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

Stay aware and be considerate

When you're on a bike, a heightened state of awareness and increased consideration for those sharing space with you can help make life better for everyone involved.

How can you stay aware and considerate when on your bike? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Be predictable at all times. Don't stop suddenly if you don't have to, and try not to turn unexpectedly. Signal when making a turn, especially if someone behind you might be coming straight.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Know when other people are riding behind you, and make space for them to pass if needed. Be aware of cars and keep in mind that you might not always be as visible as you think you are, even if you have done everything right.
  • Claim your space on the road with confidence. There are many areas where you will need to share space with cars, and bikes are legally allowed on the road. It can be tempting to provide as much space as possible for cars to pass in the same lane, but it is safer for bikes and cars alike when people on bikes claim the full lane.
  • Remember that it isn't a race. It can be tempting to go faster than is reasonably safe, especially given the ease at which a bike can navigate around obstacles such as stopped vehicles and pedestrians, or through narrow spaces between moving cars.
  • Don't attempt to overtake another person on a bike if there is limited space to do so.
  • Don't ride the wrong way down streets or dedicated bike lanes (otherwise known as salmoning).
  • Don't pull in front of a person on a bike, or a line of them, stopped at a red light (otherwise known as shoaling).
  • Don't pull into crosswalks when waiting for a light to change.
Plan your route before you start riding

Before making a trip on your bike, take a few minutes to study the best route to your destination.

Make a mental note of where you will be turning, and prepare ahead of time for any areas that are more challenging to navigate along the way, such as busy/complex intersections, gaps without bike lanes, or traffic circles.

If you are planning to start commuting to work on a bike, do a few test runs over the weekend so that you know the route better, and are able to make better adjustments if needed.

This will prevent the need to stop/slow down when en route, or to pull your phone out and look at it while on your bike. It will also help ensure that you aren't holding up other people riding bikes who might be sharing the space with you. Finally, this will allow an increased focus on your surroundings, as opposed to the distraction of not knowing where you are going.

A nice byproduct of planning ahead is that you can have a much more enjoyable experience, as you can take in the atmosphere you are lucky enough to be immersed in when you're riding a bike.

Some helpful resources for planning your route include Google Maps (using the "bicycling" layer), as well as maps available on the Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA) website.

Image from Google Maps.

Take advantage of helpful resources and events

Outreach events, educational opportunities, and social activities centered around riding a bike were key components of bringing me into the bike community, and keeping me here. They help increase safety awareness and instill a sense of community. These are a few powerful ingredients when it comes to encouraging more people to ride bikes.

Here are a few:

  • Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA). WABA offers a wealth of events and information, like educational classes/events, information on DC-area bike laws, and seminars and resources for new cyclists.

  • There are many free social rides that occur regularly. Group rides are a great way to both meet other people who ride and become acclimated with cycling in DC in a low-key and pressure free setting. Area bike stores such as BicycleSpace offer frequent social rides.

  • Similar to social rides, area stores such as BicycleSpace offer free classes on basic bike maintenance.
Invest in basic (but important) equipment

When new to biking, the thought of various equipment needs can be daunting. Fortunately, there is not a need for overly specialized equipment if you are going to be bike commuting in an urban setting.

Consider the following basic equipment needs for essential safety and comfort.

  • A U-lock. U-locks come in varying sizes, some small enough to fit in your pocket. They are significantly more secure than cords, which can be easily compromised with a pair of wire cutters.

  • A set of headlights and tail lights for your bike. Keep them on at all times in overcast weather or during non-daylight hours. Simply put, you're way less likely to have a run-in with a vehicle if you have lights on.

  • A helmet. Helmets are not required by law in the District, but are a strong common-sense safety measure despite what the law says.

  • Backpack/messenger bag. There are many reasonably priced backpacks and bags designed specifically for bike commuting. Ensure you have compartmentalized space for your various essentials, such as a change of clothes, a laptop/tablet, and a lunch bag.

  • A rear fender (either fixed or removable). Fenders are a lifesaver when riding on wet pavement. They're cheap, and will prevent the need to change and/or wash your clothes after riding.
It's easy to overcome lots of the barriers to riding a bike. Being aware of the risks/discomforts, and doing everything you can do mitigate them, is an important step to adopting riding a bike into your life in a sustainable fashion.

Biking in the District is both accessible and enjoyable, and with a critical mass of bikes on the road, it is only going to get better.


New ramps make it easier to bike by the White House

When people biking along the 15th Street protected bikeway reached the White House, they used to have to choose between the sidewalk and a tight squeeze at a security gate. As of this Monday, there's a route just for bikes.

Image by the author.

There are now ramps on both sides of a curb at the entrance to Lafayette Square, making it easy to ride through the area without dismounting. There are also signs indicating that the space is for bikes.

Before the new ramps, the protected bikeway on 15th Street disconnected when it reached the square and the White House grounds.

Image from Google Maps.

Much of the route through the square and by the White House is easy to ride because it's very spacious and there aren't any cars, but near where the square meets H Street NW, people on bikes had to choose between riding on a brick sidewalk crowded with pedestrians or riding through narrow bollards at a Secret Service checkpoint. Doing this was all the more challenging because there are often multiple cyclists and people on foot at the intersection.

The sidewalk on the right, and the checkpoint on the left. Image from Google Maps.

The new ramps make it much easier to pass through.

Image by the author.

Even though this is a simple fix, adding the ramps wasn't exactly easy. The National Park Service maintains Lafayette Square, and the Secret Service has a lot of control over who can actually enter the park, meaning the ramps required approval from a number of parties.

Gregory Billing, the director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), said his agency had been working for a long time to make bicycle access through Lafayette Park easier. He said that WABA is also working on making Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Park less prone to sudden closures by the Secret Service, which force unexpected detours along busy streets.

These ramps are small, but they're the kind of thing that makes biking easier and a more attractive option for getting around.

DDOT also recently installed a contra-flow lane on one block of M Street NW near the Convention Center, which helps cyclists avoid having to circle the block and ride on the much busier Massachusetts Avenue.

What other small changes could help make riding a bike in the region easier?


Ask GGW: Which is the best nonprofit to donate a car to?

As more people go car-free and families cut back on how many cars they own, a reader asked us the best way to put an unwanted car to use. Our contributors suggest nonprofits that accept vehicle donations.

Photo by Kars4Kids on Flickr.

Reader Rob asks:

Do you have any preference among the various charities that accept car donations? Are there any reputable ones around here that have better offers on the table than others?
Contributors recommended only a handful of locally-focused organizations. Greg Billing put in a plug for his employer, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association:
WABA receives 70% of a donated car's value. In addition to the donation being tax-deductible, WABA provides the donor with a free one-year membership and our sincere gratitude.
Jonathan Krall added that the annual Tour de Fat group ride, sponsored by New Belgium Brewing Company, offers a prize to a person willing to give up his or her car.

Canaan Merchant suggests our local NPR station:

WAMU will take your car, and I like that station enough that'd I'd probably go with them right off the bat if I were ever donating my car.

Also, WAMU's pitch specifically mentions people looking to cut down on the number of cars they own, which I see as a sign that more and more people are seeing car-free/lite living as normal.

Tina Jones opted to support another local nonprofit radio station:
Several years ago, I donated a car to WETA. They made it really easy. I just called and someone came to tow it and left some documents. Later, they sent confirmation of what it sold for at auction. I will say, though, that had I known, I would have donated it to WABA!
Yours truly adds:
One good organization that accepts car donations is the National Association of Railroad Passengers, for which I used to work and still serve on its national advisory body, the Council of Representatives. NARP advocates on the national, state and local levels for the investment necessary to modernize our passenger train network and make passenger trains an integral part of the national transportation network and a viable travel choice.

On a broader note, there are several companies out there that manage vehicle donations on behalf of many nonprofit clients. I believe it's free for a nonprofits to set up a car donation program with most of them, but the company takes a cut of the value of every car donated.

Another local charity suggestion from Chris Slatt:
If you want to be sure your donated car actually goes toward a good, local use, you can donate to the Automotive Technology program at the Arlington County Career Center. Vehicles donated by the community are used in instruction and/or are repaired by students and auctioned online. Proceeds from these vehicle sales are used to buy the latest tools and equipment for the automotive program as well as fund field trips and events.
Jim Titus provides some background on how car donation tax credits work:
If you are thinking about donating a car, my advice is to ask whoever you're considering donating it to what they're going to do with it.

The federal income tax deduction is limited to $500 or whatever the organization gets for selling the car, whichever is greatest. The larger programs that take cars still seem to be catering to people with junkers who want a $500 deduction regardless of what the car is worth. (I am not commenting on the worthiness of these charities, just the vehicle donation programs).

A few organizations partner with trade schools, or otherwise fix old cars, and sell them. If you give to that type of organization, you can still get the generous tax deduction, and to me, it doesn't raise the same questions about scamming when someone actually gets the old car in working order. Or if your car is worth (say) $2000 and just needs a few minor repairs, at least you get the $2000 fair market value deduction because they will fix it up just a bit and sell for its true value.

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!


WABA says an Arlington Boulevard trail is a good bet

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) thinks the region's next major bike trail should run along Arlington Boulevard from the National Mall to the eastern border of Fairfax City. On Tuesday, it released a report on how make it happen.

Sections of the existing and proposed trail. Map from WABA. Click for an interactive version.

Once a main artery into DC, Arlington Boulevard now alternates between being a high-speed highway and a suburban or urban boulevard that has various levels of development and density. This varied nature affect's Arlington Boulevard's pedestrian and bike facilities, making it relatively easy to travel some sections on foot or bike but also creating some where it's rather difficult.

Connecting the infrastructure that's already in place would give Arlington Boulevard a trail nearly 25 miles long in both east and west-bound directions, opening up several neighborhoods and commercial areas to non-drivers.

Part of WABA's report documents just where these gaps are and how long each one is.

Almost half of the total route is already built to a point where even the most inexperienced of cyclist should feel comfortable riding on it, but the longest stretch of this type is, currently, only 1.2 miles long. About 40% of the route requires cyclists to ride in traffic or are narrow enough that only experienced cyclists would feel comfortable riding.

Finally, there are parts of the route that are simply too dangerous for anyone not in a car. The longest of this type is where Arlington Boulevard meets I-495 and Gallows Road, where anyone looking to get through on a bike or on foot has to make over a mile-long detour.

Specific parts of the route that need attention

The latter half of the report details how Arlington could improve specific sections of the route. In many cases, the county could use Arlington Boulevard's wide right of way along with some of the access roads that run parallel, carving out space for pedestrians and bikes without cutting existing travel lanes. Other trails and paths along the route simple need to be better maintained.

Pedestrians along Arlington Boulevard. Image from WABA.

There are parts of the route, though, that would need substantial work.

There's currently a plan to widen Arlington Boulevard underneath the Seven Corners interchange, and that would need some sort of path if non-drivers are to avoid a lengthy detour. Another significant challenge lies between Annandale and Gallows Road, where WABA notes that a bridge would be needed to cross 495. That'd likely be the most expensive part of the project.

WABA estimates final costs to be around $40 million, but says a trail would pay long-term dividends

WABA estimates the full 23-mile route would cost around $40 million, but that's just an estimate. WABA says it needs more information to fully understand what the project would cost, but does do believe bundling trail work with other road work along Arlington Boulevard could keep costs low.

To be clear, WABA isn't just throwing these proposals up out of the blue; its suggestions are actually in line with a number of projects for which the Virginia Department of Transportation recently identified Arlington Boulevard as a potential recipient.

Continuous pedestrian and cycling facilities will help make Arlington Boulevard a road that connects neighborhoods rather than divides them. It can also help shape future land use and planning decisions in areas that might otherwise be fated to be stuck next to a high speed highway.


Events roundup: Celebrate our trails, parks, transit, and more

Through trails, transit, or walking, this week is all about greener cities. Celebrate future bike trails, learn about park-oriented development, and figure out how alternative transit can lead to a greener region.

Photo by Kevin Kovaleski

Celebrate our trails: Biking is more popular than ever in the DC area. This Saturday, November 15, join the Washington Area Bike Association and REI for the "Future Trails Celebration" to celebrate the many walking and biking trails that connect our region. Music, food, bike repair, carnival games and more will adorn the grassy field at First and Pierce St NE in NoMa from 11 am to 2 pm. Come join the fun!

After the jump: park-oriented development, biking and walking to a greener region, the purple line, and the road to happiness.

Park oriented-development: We hear a lot about transit-oriented development, but what about park-oriented development? Peter Harnik, Director of the Trust for Public Land's Center for City Park Excellence and founder of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, will talk about the pros, cons, and dynamics of a "POD movement this Tuesday, November 11 Tuesday, November 18, 5:30-6:30 pm at the American Planning Association, 1030 15 St NW. Sign up here.

Saving the world through transit: Alternative transportation could save our world from rising carbon emissions, if only our regional transportation officials would agree. Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth on Thursday, November 13, for a panel of local and international experts talking about shifting our transportation investments for a greener region and a greener world. The event is at the Sierra Club, 50 F Street NW, floor 8, from 6:30 to 8 pm.

Vibrancy on the Purple Line: Do you live or work near the Purple Line corridor? Do you want to take part in making it a healthy and vibrant neighborhood? The second of two workshops on Monday, November 17, from 4 to 6 7 pm will focus on community and economic development in the region. The Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC) is hosting the event at the Silver Spring Civic Center, 1 Veterans Place Felegy Elementary School in Hyattsville, 6110 Editors Park Drive. RSVP requested.

The road to happiness: On Tuesday, November 18, Fionnula Quinn, transportation engineer at Alta Planning and Design, will look back at the early days of the automobile and its continuing impact on our US highway system. Quinn will share research on the topic along with scenes of the Ford Motor Company's silent film "The Road to Happiness." The talk is 12-1 pm at 1502 Wilson Boulevard #1100, Arlington, VA. RSVP here.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at


Events roundup: Bicycle tech, bicycle art, bicycle tours

Get your helmet on; this week is all about the bicycles. Learn about new apps and technology for cycling, bundle up for an urban design bike tour, and warm up at a bike-themed art show. You can also learn about historic preservation in Georgetown and planning for large buildings.

Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

Biking and technology: The second Bike Hack Night is this Thursday, November 6. People will present software and hardware bike projects like a counter from New York City, dockless bikesharing, apps for crowdsourcing, an "invisible" helmet, and more. The event is at 1501 Wilson Blvd, Suite 1100, Arlington, VA from 6 to 8 pm.

After the jump: Georgetown history, a bike tour, bike art, and planning talks.

Change in Georgetown: Moving historic neighbor­hoods into the future can be difficult. Georgetown is trying to do that with its "Georgetown 2028" plan. On Tuesday, November 4 from 12:30 to 1:30 pm at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Georgetown BID transportation director Will Handsfield will discuss how the area can continue to develop a thriving commercial district and preserve its historic flair.

Urban design bike tour: The Potomac Chapter American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) will lead an urban design and landscape architecture themed bike tour on Saturday, November 8. The tour will stop at notable design landmarks where riders will hear from the designers themselves. It starts at 11 am at Diamond Teague Park near Navy Yard and runs until 2 pm. RSVP here.

Bike art: ArtCrank, an art show that features handmade bike-themed prints made by local DC artists, is Saturday, November 8. It's free to get in but all of the proceeds if you buy a print go to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. The show is 4-10 pm at the 1776 incubator, 1133 15th Street NW in the 12th floor penthouse.

Large buildings, large cities: Georgetown's Urban and Regional Planning program's weekly lecture series is talking about "planning large buildings in large cities." On Monday, November 10 at 5:30, James Von Klemperer, a Managing Partner at Kohn Pedersen Fox, will discuss the pros and cons of planning large buildings in cities. The talk is at Georgetown's SCS building at 640 Massachusetts Ave, NW. RSVP here.

Parks are smart growth: The smart growth movement has focused a lot on building transit and adding housing near transit, but it's also important to help people live near parks. Peter Harnik will talk about "Parks-Oriented Development" at the American Planning Association on Tuesday, November 11, 5:30 pm a 1030 15th Street, NW, Suite 750W. RSVP here.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at


Events roundup: Buses, buses, buses (and walking and biking)

If you care about buses, this is the week for you! The events calendar is filled with Virginia bus meetings, but if you get tired of sitting and listening during your weeknights, CSG and WABA have got your exercise with a walking tour and bike tour this weekend in Maryland.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Virginia buses (and other transportation): If you're a Virginian and care about buses, boy is it a busy week of public meetings for you! Tonight in Woodbridge and tomorrow in Fairfax, learn more about the Route 1 transit study.

Also tomorrow night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority will hold a listening session at Fairfax City Hall to gather input for its TransAction 2040 long-range plan. Finally, weigh in on the next ten years of Fairfax Circulator service in Chantilly, also Thursday night.

Walk Saturday morning: Saturday morning, join the Coalition for Smarter Growth on one of their popular walking tours. This week's tour is Making Silver Spring a Great Place to Walk. Talk high speed roads and narrow sidewalks, but also the many things Silver Spring is doing right. RSVP requested.

Bike Saturday afternoon: Also Saturday, join WABA in their bike tour series as they explore the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis (WB&A) trail in northeast Prince George's County. The 9-mile rail trail tour will start and end at the Race Track Road parking lot.

#GGWchat: Don't forget, Monday at lunchtime, GGW will live chat with DC mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser. As with our previous live chats, we'll select questions to pose to her and she will respond. Submit your questions in advance, or during the chat on Twitter using #ggwchat.

Vision Zero: Join the Action Committee for Transit at their monthly meeting next Tuesday night in downtown Silver Spring to hear about Vision Zero from the editor of Streetsblog USA (and GGW contributor) Tanya Snyder.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at


Events roundup: Streetcars, tech, tours, and more

If you're a streetcar fan, bike enthusiast, history buff, or social media nerd, heads up! There are terrific events coming up that you should check out. Do some family biking, speak up at a hearing, or have a drink and nerd out about social media.

Past Transportation Techies meetup. Photo by Ted Eytan.

All that and more is coming up our events calendar in the coming days, so read on and mark your calendar.

Overhead wires: Care about the K Street Transitway and DC Streetcar? Head over to Carnegie Library tonight at 6 pm to share your views with DDOT and FHWA. Some elements are contentious, especially whether to allow overhead wires anywhere along the route.

Tech for transit: The monthly Transportation Techies Meetup is also tonight, at 1501 Wilson Blvd. Hear about three local projects and their impact on local transportation: Conveyal and Arlington County's Transit Tech Initiative, Boontrek, and TransitIQ. Doors open at 6:00 with pizza and drinks, and the presentations start at 6:30.

DesignDC: The American Institute of Architects continues its DesignDC conference through Friday. The event is pricey, but there's a great student discount, and you can also register for just the closing plenary, which promises to be pretty cool: Stephen Chung, host of PBS's Cool Spaces: The Best of New Architecture is speaking.

PechaKucha: Friday night, get your (brief) talk on in Silver Spring at a PechaKucha Night (co-hosted by GGW's own Dan Reed). If you've never experienced it, a PechaKucha is a speaking event where each presenter has 20 slides, and 20 seconds per slide. You won't be bored! Plus, for just $5, snacks, beer, wine, and sodas are included.

Bring your little ones: Saturday at the Deanwood Rec Center, check out the second annual Let's Move! DC Children and Families Health Expo. Check out cooking demonstrations, fishing and dance lessons, music, games, a farmers market, clinics by the Street Basketball Association, and a lot more.

Ride with WABA: Curious about the growing trail network in Southeast DC? Saturday at 1:00 pm, join WABA to pedal through a tour of about 10 miles, looking at the Suitland Parkway, Oxon Cove Trail, and the planned-but-unbuilt South Capitol Street Trail.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at

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