On May 20, expect to see more Arlington commuters leaving the cars in the garage. Annual “Bike to Work” day encourages commuters to try out a car-free lifestyle, and some of the local experts are ready with tips for new riders.
Henry Dunbar isn’t just the program manager for BikeArlington, he’s also a daily bike commuter. Around Arlington, Dunbar says one of the best ways to get to your destination is to find an adjacent bike trail.
“The Washington and Old Dominion Trail, the Custis Trail, the Mt. Vernon trail; they never get old,” said Dunbar. “I love them. I’ll often find myself riding them to go the long way [to my destination].”
Many of the trails circle the perimeter of Arlington. Four Mile Run works along the border with Alexandria, and the Mt. Vernon Trail follows the Potomac. For commuters headed to work within the County, bicycling in an urban environment can be a different experience.
For those planning on riding to work on Friday, John Harpold, manager at Arlington’s Papillon Cycles, said it could be helpful to familiarize yourself with the route. BikeArlington has a map of bike paths that run through the city, ranking them by their ease of use.
For cyclists, Harpold said it’s important to find a bike that most closely matches with your riding style. Some prefer beginner level bikes while others favor more advanced, more expensive types.
Both Harpold and Sean Andrews from Arlington’s Big Wheel Bikes emphasized the importance of having the right equipment. Harpold noted that this includes equipment for the rider, like making sure to pick weather-appropriate clothing, and having access to a secure lock. Andrews emphasized ensuring that the gears on the bike are functioning properly.
One of the classic questions posed by new bikers in the area is whether to ride in the streets or on the sidewalk. The answer is that cyclists can choose either. Both come with their own risks, it all depends on the comfort level of the rider.
“There’s no place in Arlington where sidewalk riding is prohibited,” said Dunbar. “While we don’t recommend it, if that is where you feel most comfortable, ride on the sidewalk. But you have to yield to pedestrians and ride at a pace where you can do so. That means slower riding, or at the pace people walk. You have to be hyper conscious of people coming out of buildings.”
Even Dunbar, and experienced cyclist, says there are times when there’s no choice but to ride on the sidewalk.
“There are roads [where I ride on the sidewalk] if traffic is too heavy or aggressive,” said Dunbar. “There are some streets I avoid, if I can. I won’t ride on Glebe during the week, except for short sections.”
Riding a bike through an urban environment presents a wider variety of dangers than bicycle trails. Ray Hayhurst, Complete Streets coordinator for Alexandria, said it’s important to be cognizant of parked vehicles nearby.
“The number one source of bicycle injury is being doored,” said Hayhurst, “that’s riding too close to a parked vehicle and having the operator open the door into the bicyclist.”
But many of the dedicated bike lanes throughout Arlington and Alexandria run alongside street parking.
“When on a bike path near a car, be a defensive cyclist and look into the car,” said Hilary Orr, Alexandria’s Complete Streets program manager. “Be aware that they might open the door on you. Anticipate their actions, because maybe they won’t see you. Especially on bike to work day, that’s something people driving their cars should also be aware of. Pay attention. There’s more cyclists on the road. Everyone needs to be defensive, as a driver, biker, or walker. You’re all sharing a public space; be kind and courteous to the newer riders.”