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Can You Really Bike To Work?

When the overgrown bike trail along the westbound side of Old Keene Mill Road suddenly ended, dumping me and my bicycle on the shoulder of the busy road, the concept of commuting by bicycle took a turn for the worse. The moments of glee as I passed under the gas station signs reflecting skyrocketing prices, $2.09 a gallon, evaporated.

The trail just ended without warning, and now getting to West Springfield was becoming a challenge. Is biking to work a viable means of transportation? By the look of the trails I encountered on Friday, May 28, as I biked all day as a reporter for The Springfield Connection, the bike to work concept is not for everybody.

The official Bike to Work Day was on Friday, May 7, and for the past 27 years, bicyclists have used the event to highlight the advantages biking has over automobiles as a means of commuting. This year, 4,500 participated in the event, which is 500 more riders than expected, according to Eric Gilliland, a Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA) official.

Bike to Work Day was an organized event, with groups of bicycle riders gathering at various locations in the morning on their way to work. Last Friday, I was on my own, with no map and no pre-established pit stops, just my own sense of direction.

IN THE Huntsman Shopping Center, I ran into Diane Kerr, an English as a Second Language teacher at Forestdale Elementary School next to Springfield Mall. She lives in Springfield and participated in Bike to Work Day for the first time.

"It would have been nice if there was a trail down Old Keene Mill Road," Kerr said. "Logistically, it's not an easy thing."

She opted for the trail along the Fairfax County Parkway, which was also part of my route. We agreed that the trail isn't clearly marked in some parts. Near the South Run Park, the paved bike trail is on the southbound side of the Parkway, but at Gambrill Road, it switches to the northbound side without any signage. Kerr experienced a problem here as well and had to yell to a fellow bicyclist on Bike to Work Day when he was heading the wrong way due to the lack of signage.

"It's not easy riding on the bike path," Kerr said.

Springfield resident Todd Hann was a bicycle commuter at his previous residence in New York state, where the savings in gas and parking made it a worthwhile, six-day-a-week venture. His ride in New York, where he was a teacher at the West Point Military Academy, had its challenges, but he liked it nonetheless. His only alternate mode of transportation was a large SUV. Now he works on Telegraph Road, where the trails are limited. Still he tries to commute by bike sometimes.

"I biked to work when I was one-half mile and three miles from work," Hann said. "Now I'm eight miles from work. Most of the way, there's a bike path, but at some intersections, there's so much traffic."

Merni Fitzgerald, Fairfax County spokesperson, is aware of the advantages biking and alternate methods of commuting have to the traffic and environment, noting that the county is contributing in a number of ways, such as bicycle facilities, carpooling, buses and van pooling.

"We do things as alternatives to getting in your car," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald did point to one Washington-area resource, the bike commuter hot line at 202-628-2500.

"Sometimes the only reason you're not biking is because you don't know how to get there by bike," Fitzgerald said.

After explaining how the trail just ended along Old Keene Mill Road, Fitzgerald acknowledged that the trail system isn't always complete, and many times this is because of land ownership.

"That's one of the challenges with working on trails," Fitzgerald said.