Like thousands of other workers in the Washington metropolitan area, Paul DeMaio rides his bicycle to work every morning. He commutes from Woodley Park in the District of Columbia to City Hall in Old Town Alexandria. He usually rides the Metro to the Braddock Street station, then bikes down Oronoco Street and turns at Royal Street — whizzing by other commuters who are stuck in traffic. The entire commute takes about an hour.
"Biking is the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation," said DiMaio. "It's healthy, and it's fun."
That's why DiMaio will be participating in Bike to Work Day, which is May 20. This is the sixth year that the City of Alexandria has participated in the program. From 6:45 a.m. to 9 a.m., bicyclists will congregate in a pit stop in Market Square at the corner of Royal Street and King Street.
"That's the route a lot of people take who use the Mount Vernon trail to bike to work," said DiMaio. "Union Street is the official route of the trail, but Royal Street is much easier way to get through Old Town."
The Mount Vernon Trail is a scenic route along the Potomac River that stretches from George Washington's home, through Old Town Alexandria toward Roosevelt Island. The Park Service recently released a study of the feasibility of extending the trail through Arlington toward the American Legion Bridge. The study was completed after years of lobbying by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, sponsor of the Bike to Work events that will happen all over the Washington metropolitan area on Friday.
The Market Square event will feature speakers, entertainment and chances to win raffle prizes. Also on May 20, the Metro Transit Police will distribute free bicycle locks between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at two Metro stations: East Falls Church and Grosvenor-Strathmore.
FOR DIMAIO, the commute is a valuable part of the day — a time to clear his head before entering the daily routine at City Hall, where he works as the city's traffic-calming coordinator. He sees synergy between the goals of the city's traffic-calming goals and his love for bicycles.
"Riding a bicycle is one of the best ways to calm traffic," he said. "With fewer cars on the road, traffic calms down quite a bit."
DiMaio is not alone in his love for biking to work. Many city leaders are also bicycle enthusiasts: City Manager James Hartmann, City Councilwoman Del Pepper, City Councilman Rob Krupicka and City Councilman Ludwig Gaines are some of Alexandria's well-known bike lovers.
"Alexandria is home to a community of tremendous bicycle and pedestrian enthusiasts," said Gaines. "Our bicycling community has passionately advocated for years to improve the bicycle friendly nature of our city."
But many people are skeptical about riding a bicycle to work. They might wonder how long it might take or what route to choose. DiMaio is convinced that if they would just give it a try, the city would have a lot more dedicated bike-to-work converts.
"If you try it once, you will realize that it's not difficult. You might even get there faster," he said. "A lot of people look at a bicycle and think it's a toy, and they don't think about it as a mode of transportation — but it is."
Finding the right route is one of the most important parts of biking to work. For Del Pepper, the ideal trail from her west-side home takes her down Eisenhower Avenue.
"It's a short route, and it only takes about 20 minutes — which is the same amount of time I would spend in the car, if not more," she said, noting that biking in congested areas can be frightening. "It's scary as the dickens to be on a street with a lot of cars. But that's why I use the sidewalk on Eisenhower Avenue. When I get to Old Town, I come up Prince Street."
TRAFFIC CONGESTION is an ongoing problem for the city. And as the Washington metropolitan area continues to grow, gridlock will increase as gas prices climb upward. So many city leaders are trying to encourage biking and walking as an efficient way of getting around Alexandria.
"The public and private benefits of walking and bicycling are compelling," said Gaines. "Not only are they healthy modes of transportation, but they are also proven and effective anti-gridlock auto alternatives."
On May 5, Gaines sent a memorandum to the city manager that supported the idea of establishing a standing Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Gaines said that the committee could plan improvements to the city that would encourage biking, promote safety, invite citizen input and encourage healthy modes of transportation. Gaines is also in favor of incorporating a bicycle component to the city's transportation master plan, an objective that he views as fulfilling important aspects of the city's strategic goals.
"Central to Alexandria's short and long-term future is council's ability to successfully implement our strategic plan and see realized our collective vision for the city," he wrote in the May 5 memo. "Reducing gridlock, protecting the environment, promoting safety and enhancing citizen input in our deliberative processes are all council priorities."
MANY PATHS often lead toward the same goal, though. Working toward the goal of making Alexandria more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists has many options.
"I'm not sure what the right organizational changes are," said Councilman Rob Krupicka, a bicycle enthusiast who plans to bike to work on Friday. He noted that a similar advisory committee existed in the past, but disbanded because it could not get traction in the machinery of city government. "We have a group of bicycle advocates in this city who are very committed, and there's a wide range of opinions how to accomplish their goals."
Opinions about tactics range from remaining a private advocacy group to forming an official city committee.
"I think the question of whether that group wants to become a city committee is up to the members of the group," he said. "Another option would be to reconfigure the Traffic and Parking Board so that it looks at pedestrian and bicycle focus."
Krupicka also noted that the city will be hiring a new pedestrian and bicycle planner soon, a position that was created last year. If all goes according to schedule, the new planner will start in a few weeks. One of the responsibilities of the position will be to work with developers to make sure new construction employs pedestrian and bicycle areas.
"I'm interested to see what the planner has to say about creating a new committee," he said.