From A To B: The Legacy Of Traffic Gridlock On Local Bicyclists (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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The Legacy Of Traffic Gridlock On Local Bicyclists

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
Back when Jim Dandy, a.k.a., Samuel Myers got into dry cleaning full time, the D.C. region looked a lot different than it does today. For starters, we had far fewer cars and expressways. These days, of course, we have a healthy supply of both. And a study released by Texas A&M University this week confirms our traffic is, in fact, the worst in the nation.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:25
For many years, a small but hardy band of bicyclists has opted out of the jams and pedaled to work on two wheels. And we'll hear some more about these folks on our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:44
Here's the thing about those cyclists, though, their starting to encounter their own kind of gridlock on the bike trails surrounding Washington. Jim Hilgen joined up with some bike commuters and brings us this look at a very different sort of rush hour.

MR. JIM HILGEN

00:00:57
Even gray, drizzly weather isn't enough to keep bicyclists off the Capital crescent bike trail which begins in Bethesda and winds its way through seven miles of Northwest D.C. before ending in Georgetown, where, on this morning, traffic is steady with bicyclists, passing in packs of five or six, every few minutes. That's where I met Tom Johnson, a lawyer from Chevy Chase. He says, even on the trails heaviest traffic days, he'd rather be cycling.

MR. TOM JOHNSON

00:01:24
It's saves on gas, environmental. Mentally, it's great for you. Health wise, it's great for you. Physically, it's great. I mean, what better way you can get exercise where the benefits from riding a bike and, you know, it's just this one time investment.

HILGEN

00:01:41
Greg Billing is with the Washington area bicyclists association or WABA. He says the capital region has seen a large increase in the number of bicyclists in recent years. So much so that according to the D.C. department of transportation, about 20 to 30,000 people use their bikes to make the daily commute. As a result...

MR. GREG BILLING

00:02:03
Get those same sort of traffic reports, traffic backups that you hear on the radio, with bikes. You know, four or five people in a row making their way home or coming down in the morning for work.

HILGEN

00:02:14
Sheba Farrin is a bicycle racer and former bike messenger. She's witnessed a huge uptake in the number of bikes taking to the city streets.

MS. SHEBA FARRIN

00:02:23
I can sit on 14th street in the morning and it's a bicycle highway, it's a southbound highway, it's amazing because of the contrast to the city I moved to 20 years ago.

HILGEN

00:02:32
Farrin says the administration of former Mayor Adrian Fenty deserves a lot of credit for that change.

FARRIN

00:02:38
They did so many things to support new bicycle infrastructure in the city and the Washington area bicyclists association has been incredibly successful in their lobbying efforts to make this a more bike friendly place to live and work.

HILGEN

00:02:53
But Billing's says, the city still has a ways to go. Once you move from trails to city streets, even thoroughfares with bike lanes can be dangerous. But there may be a solution in the configuration of bike lanes, such as those on 15th street.

BILLING

00:03:09
Parking has been moved away from the curb and it floats out in the next lane over and the bikes actually ride in the space that's created between the sidewalk and curb and the parked cars. And this is the European model. This is the way that we get all of those cyclists that -- those 15 to 20 percent of people out there that are interested in cycling and this is how we get them on bikes, by making it safe for them.

HILGEN

00:03:31
Billing's says he recently learned that work on similar bike lanes planned for M and L streets is set to begin next spring.

BILLING

00:03:39
What this would do is create an east-west connection for cyclists and eventually those trails would be extended all the way out here to the capital crescent trail and all the way to union station which is the end of the new metropolitan branch trail.

HILGEN

00:03:51
And the congestion on the city's already existing bike lanes and trails suggests any new options will get lots of use. While riding down 15th street and along Pennsylvania Avenue, we often found ourselves in the midst of bike convoys that included as many as eight cyclists. And those aren't even the busiest bike lanes in our region. Billing's says Northern Virginia's trails, just like its highways, tend to be among the most congested.

BILLING

00:04:19
The end of the Custis trail and Mount Vernon trail in Rosslyn and Arlington tends to see a lot of traffic. And the Mount Vernon trail, all the way down into Alexandria, can get pretty backed up in the morning.

HILGEN

00:04:30
The Custis and Mount Vernon trails converge at the key bridge in Rosslyn and that's where the worst backups occur with riders having to stop in order to negotiate the merge that takes them into D.C. But when you think about that new study from Texas A&M University, which found Washington area motorists sat idling in traffic, 74 hours last year, burning countless gallons of gas, a few moments making way for some fellow bike commuters could be a pretty good trade off. I'm Jim Hilgen.

SHEIR

00:05:07
Are you a bike commuter? If so, are you noticing more congestion out there on the trails and in the bike lanes? Shoot us a note, our address is metro@wamu.org.
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