I have recently passed my seven year anniversary date working for the County. One of the many reasons I pursued employment with Arlington County was because I lived in the county and wanted to eliminate my 30-mile car commute. In addition to affecting change in the community in which I live, I would be able to exchange my car with my bicycle as my main means of commuting to/from work.
During the last seven years I have thoroughly enjoyed traveling the roads in the county for my commute. I get some exercise, I know that I am reducing my carbon footprint by decreasing my number of vehicle miles traveled, I save money by not having to pay for parking and taking advantage of my employer’s policies that advocate for alternative commutes, I am able to de-stress after a trying morning getting kids off to school or after a tough day at work, and I can accurately guess my commute time within a couple of minutes regardless of the weather or time of day or week.
Many colleagues and friends ask me whether I feel safe and how I handle the logistics. I know other bicycling commuters who choose to use the many available trails to get to and from work, but I have found the streets such as Wilson Blvd., Carlin Springs Rd., and Walter Reed Dr. to be perfectly safe for bicycle travel. Don’t get me wrong – I choose to be a defensive-minded bicyclist as I am out and about. You’ve heard of defensive driving, right? Well, defensive cycling is similar. There are many reasons for car drivers to be distracted, so I think it is up to me to be on-guard and to anticipate other traveler’s actions. For instance, as I am approaching an intersection, even though the car to my left does not have its signal on to turn right, I always have in the back of my mind – with my hand poised on the brake – that the driver may in fact be turning right at the next intersection. The majority of time I have not had to brake and avoid a car/bike interaction, but there have been a few times that having such awareness has served me well.
As for logistics, I work in a location that makes it easy for commuting bicyclists. There are bike racks, a locked bike cage that can hold numerous bikes, and locker rooms with showers. The County has really led by example by providing me all of the things that I need to get out of my car and enjoy the commute again.
I essentially just dress for the weather. I did not have to break the bank by investing in a lot of space-age equipment or clothes to make my bicycling commute a reality. During the shoulder seasons – Spring and Fall – I am often able to commute with my backpack (friends of mine use panniers on their bike rack instead), pant cuff straps, and maybe a jacket. During the hotter months I wear bike shorts and shirts that I have gotten as gifts over time, and when the cold weather strikes I dress in layers – something as simple as a fleece jacket under a rainproof jacket. Works like a charm.
BikeArlington is a wonderful website chock full of great information, maps, recommendations, and more. I encourage you to give bicycling to work a try. Find out if someone at your workplace already bikes in to work and ask them if they could ride along with you the first few days you try it out. Whether your New Year’s resolution was to shed some weight, save some money, or be friendlier to the environment, bicycling to work could help you reach your goals. As Stephen Colbert might say, I Am a Commuting Bicyclist (And So Can You!).
By: Richard Dooley