- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

Crowded streets, gaping potholes and short-tempered motorists just the usual daily gauntlet for thousands of Washington-area commuters who pedal their way to and from work each day.

Maybe it's because of the area's infamous traffic. Or a new focus on the environment. Perhaps a personal commitment to a healthier lifestyle. Whatever the reason, more workers are biking than ever.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says that more than 10,650 people bicycle to work in the District of Columbia every day. By comparison, the 1990 Census reported that 6,633 commuters biked to work in the District.

"It's such a nice alternative to dealing with the rat race that commuting is. I don't do it for environmental reasons. I do it for my own sanity," said Barbara Klieforth, whose 7-mile commute from Cottage City, Md., to Northwest D.C. takes 30 minutes.

"People are getting more and more used to bikes on the road," said Walter Brodtman, an environmental engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency, an organization that is among the pacesetters in the District when it comes to two-wheeled workers.

About 200 of the EPA's 6,000 Washington-area workers ride bikes to work.

Compare that to the Pentagon, where officials say no more than 30 to 40 of the facility's 23,000 workers ride bikes daily. That's still better than the American Medical Association in Northwest, though. None of its 60 staffers bike to work.

Geoff Steele, of Arlington, Va., one of the five bicycle coordinators for the EPA, said his co-workers at the agency are "younger … and they're environmentally minded."

For 26 years, Mr. Steele has pedaled his way to work five miles, 27 minutes each way.

"It keeps me out of the doctor's office and reduces a lot of tension. I'm not staring at someone's license plate going 10 mph," said Mr. Steele.

To accommodate its bikers, the EPA of offices at the downtown Ronald Reagan Building include lockers, showers, changing rooms and bike racks.

"[Bicyclists at the EPA] have fairly good facilities supporting us," said Mr. Brodtman, who has been making a one-hour, 18-mile commute from Springfield, Va., to his EPA office in Northwest D.C. for 10 years.

But while life in the bicycle lane is becoming a more popular alternative, it's not always a trip down the primrose path.

Regular bicyclists who venture off the bike paths and onto city streets say D.C. motorists fail to use turn signals, make erratic lane changes, cut them off, honk, yell and some even spit at them.

"Especially at rush hour at stop lights. They see you breezing by on your bike and they get jealous," said Miss Klieforth.

"Drivers need to know that bicyclists have the same rights on the road," said Hector Ericksen.

"I'd like to see more [bicycle] education for drivers," said Mr. Ericksen , of Northwest D.C.

Bicycles are not allowed on the sidewalks of the District's central business section, except in certain posted areas. And there are no roads restricted to bicycles. Cyclists are urged to travel in the right-most lane of traffic, but are allowed to pass on the left, or on the right if the street is wide enough.

"The largest obstacle is that our streets and roads are not built or maintained with the idea that bicycles should be on them," said Ellen Jones , director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

Riding on streets is complicated by heavy traffic and sewer grates that are not bicycle-friendly. Nevertheless, many area cyclists believe biking is a feasible alternative to driving.

Plans for improving the cycling environment in the District have been neglected for several decades, despite funding allocated by the federal government and the city.

In 1999, the D.C. Department of Public Works' Capital Improvement Program allocated funds for a new bike plan to replace the outdated 1975 plan, which was never implemented.

A year earlier, Congress approved $8.5 million for the District government to construct the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which will run from Union Station to Silver Spring, with a connector from Fort Totten to West Hyattsville. The trail would complete a "bicycle beltway" through areas in Northeast and the National Mall and into Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

"It's the missing link in a 141-mile paved trail network," said Heather Andersen , a project manager at WABA.

A new bicycle plan has not been developed because there is no bicycle coordinator for the District, say officials for the bicyclists' association.

"We were told that there was a bike plan for this fiscal year, and so far we have seen nothing … . The clock is ticking," said Mrs. Jones.

Jim Sebastian, transportation planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said there are more than 500 miles of bike trails in the metropolitan Washington area.

Most bicyclists use the Capital Crescent, Rock Creek Park, Mount Vernon, Washington & Old Dominion, and Custis trails, which make commuting from adjacent Virginia and Maryland areas possible.

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