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Beating Traffic, Two Pedals at a Time

Second annual Reston "Bike to Work Day" encourages commuters to leave their cars at home.

Bruce Wright and his fiancee, Kerie Hitt, don't worry about the sea of red brake lights on Route 66 every morning. They don't lose sleep over the thought of merging onto the Capital Beltway during rush hour. And their evenings don't slow to a halt along the Dulles Toll Road.

Leaving their cars in the driveway of their Reston home, Wright who works in the office of Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and Hitt, who works at the United States Geological Society (USGS) in Reston, grab their helmets and hop on their bicycles.

"Rain or shine, you'll find us on our bikes," said Wright.

"It's sounds crazy, but I actually look forward to my commute," added Hitt. "It's fun."

Wright and Hitt are just two of a growing number of area commuters who are eschewing their four-doors for two wheels. And the couple will be on hand with another 200 or so riders at Reston Town Center on May 2 for the second annual "Bike to Work Day."

Beginning at 6:30 a.m. and lasting until 9 a.m., bike commuters are encouraged to stop by the "pit stop rally" at the town center for refreshments, give-aways and prizes, local commuters.

"This event sends a signal about how well the town center is connected with walkways and bike paths," said Karl Ingebritsen, director of LINK, one of the event's organizers. "People come to Reston Town Center to work, to play, to eat, and they can all come here on bike."

While Ingebritsen, an avid rider himself, doesn't ride his bike to work, he said there are many commuters, some of whom work in the District, that prefer the tranquil calm along the W&OD to the traffic snarls along 66.

"Approximately 900 million trips taken by Americans each year are less than five miles long," Wright said. "These short trips are the least efficient for a car and cause the most pollution because the car doesn't have to time to warm up properly. That's why commuting even a very short distance by bicycle is so beneficial."

<b>THE TOWN CENTER</b> "pit stop" is one of 15 such events scheduled in the metropolitan area. Last year, Reston became the first community in Fairfax County to participate in the event. "It's appropriate that Reston is once a again a 'pioneer,'" Ingebritsen said.

The location, near the junction of the W&OD Trail and the Fairfax County Parkway Trail, is served by Reston's neighborhood trail system.

All told, the neighborhood trail system measures more than 55 miles, said Larry Butler, director of the Reston Association's (RA) Park and Recreation Department. "Between our trails and the county's trails, users can get almost anywhere they want," Butler said.

While not as often as he would like, Butler does ride to work about twice a week. Butler's open-air commute totals seven miles and about 25 minutes, much of it along the Fairfax County Parkway trail and the W&OD. Butler is hoping events like these help convince drivers, including his fellow RA staffers, to exchange their steering wheel for a matching pair of handle bars. On more than one occasion, Butler has peddled past a colleague stuck in traffic along the parkway. "I think it is especially important for those people who live and work in Reston," he said. "They have fewer excuses."

<b>WRIGHT MOVED</b> to Reston in 1979 and the 53-year-old has been riding ever since. "We both have cars," he said, "but we probably have put more miles on our bikes, I think."

Hitt, 48, who met Wright when they both worked for the USGS, said they ride as often as possible. "We really try to incorporate it into our everyday lives," she said. "I'll go to the store with my bike and Bruce might ride down to the post office on his."

But Wright and Hitt aren't alone in their exhaust-free commute. Lee DeCola, a co-worker of Hitt's at the USGS, likes to make the 20-minute cycling trip a regular part of his daily commute. The scientist says he likes the "quiet few minutes" riding his bike along the W&OD Trail and Sunset Hills Road offers him each morning and evening.

DeCola likes the empty trails and the relative lack of bicycle traffic at rush hour and he doesn't think he will be fighting two-wheel crowds anytime soon. Americans are too wedded to the automobile, he said. "There's never too many people out during the weekdays," he said. "It's great. This sounds bad, but if we had lots of people riding, it would be less fun."

While the trails and roadsides don't resemble the bottlenecks of the local thoroughfares, there are a growing number of bike-to-workers, Wright said. "There are more people than you think," he said. "And if you include the weekends, there are just a ton of people utilizing the trail."

<b>SINCE THE 1970S</b>, DeCola has been peddling into work on a semi-regular basis. In fact, in his first year in Reston, DeCola didn't even own a car. He didn't need one, he said. "For me, I no longer really need reasons for riding my bike everyday," he said. "Now, it is just what I do. It is just part of me."

While he has heard co-workers and friends of his talk about the dangers of biking to work, DeCola dismisses such talk. "I don't ski. I don't drive really fast," he said. "I guess this is my brush with fate."

Even the record snowfall this winter didn't keep DeCola away from his bike. "As soon as the snow was off the roads, you could ride," he said. "I just put a mask on my face and on I went."

Would-be cyclists often cite safety concerns and weather worries as reasons for sticking with their traditional commute. "Everyone gets hung up about getting sweaty. It's not something I worry about. In August, I'd be sweaty just walking from my car to the building."

Of course, Hitt doesn't have to worry about working up a sweat before work thanks to her employer's ecologically sensitive nature. She praised the USGS for their bike-friendly policies that encourage employees, like herself and DeCola, to ride, not drive, to work. "We have good facilities, showers, bike racks. The company has really made an effort," Hitt said

DeCola likes the fact that he doesn't have to worry about exercising or pumping iron. His commute is his exercise and it has physical, as well, as monetary rewards. "It's great, I don't have to spend money to join a gym. "My bike cost me less than a brake job on my wife's car." DeCola said.