Bicycle commuter

This article first appeared on the Virginia Bicycling Federation‘s website. Thanks to VBF for posting it.

It looked like a summer hat straight out of Season 3 of Downton Abbey—pale green and breezy. But I was at a bicycling conference and I suspected there was more to that hat than first met the eye.

Sure enough, it was a bike helmet, one cleverly disguised as a summer hat. It was inspiring, and I bought it, even though it wasn’t in my budget and I already have a bike helmet (or two).

The next day, I decided to ride my bike to the conference, a trip of about eight or nine miles. I used to commute by bike almost daily when I lived in Washington, DC, 14 miles each way. Those miles were the sometimes the best part of my day!

My commute to the conference was entirely in dedicated bicycle lanes, including one that is a “protected” bike lane. I was treated as a real commuter by the drivers, accepted as just another person going to work, albeit on a bicycle. I got respect, and I wasn’t odd or in the way.

Since moving to Richmond, however, I haven’t commuted much by bike. And I miss it. I telecommute from home these days, so I don’t have a commute at all, by any means. But honestly, even if I worked in an office away from my house, I would need to work really hard to overcome some of Richmond’s bicycle commuting challenges.

In Richmond, when I ride my bike in the city, I’m in the way. The lack of bicycle infrastructure and the attitude of many drivers make sure I know that I’m not welcome. I dodge potholes and ride through sand and debris on the side of the streets. I get honked at and buzzed by cars and trucks passing too closely to me, and sometimes I get yelled at—all in the span of the three miles between my home and downtown Richmond. I can deal with it, having been a hardened bicycle commuter during the years I lived in DC. But what about those people who want to ride a bicycle to work in Richmond but for whom these challenges are too much to overcome individually?

What can Richmond do, collectively and as a community, to make bicycle commuting within reach of more people?

Ride Your Bike!  For starters, more of us—people like me who are comfortable in rough commuting conditions—can get out there more and be seen on a bike. I pledge to do that, and if you are reading this, I encourage you to do the same. But that’s not enough.

Fix the Roads! Fixing roads will help: identifying bicycle commuting routes, analyzing the road conditions, and making the necessary repairs, from road debris and glass to potholes and striping. Grab the low-hanging fruit.

More Bike Lanes and Sharrows! Putting in more bicycle infrastructure is a very important step in getting more people to ride their bikes in Richmond. A bicycle lane says, “You Belong Here” to anyone on a bicycle. It also says, “Bicycles Belong Here” to drivers. Sharrows are a start, let’s keep adding them throughout the city, as well as adding bicycle lanes where they are appropriate.

Bike Parking! And what about when we get to our destinations? Bicycle parking would be a welcome addition, and I’ve actually seen a few parking meter poles that have been re-purposed as bicycle parking racks in town. That’s an exciting step.

Bike To Work Day! Let’s create some excitement around bicycle commuting. Let’s have a rocking Bike To Work Day and Bike To School Day celebration this year, with convoys and goodies and prizes. Let’s get people out who have not yet participated in a Bike To Work Day event. Maybe that means organizing practice runs. Maybe that means going to civic associations and employers and talking up BTWD. Let’s build on the successes we’ve had in past BTWD events with the goal of getting more people out.

Celebrate…and Keep Moving! Finally, let’s keep talking…and doing! There are strides being made, let’s celebrate those and publicize all the improvements that are happening.

Commuting to and from the conference in Washington was fun. I couldn’t wait to ride back the next day, on the smooth bike lanes of Arlington, along the Mt. Vernon Trail, and across the Potomac to the bike lanes on the DC side. Once I got to L Street, it was like riding in a dream on that protected green bike lane.

As I clipped my new summery helmet on for the return trip to Arlington, the sky was threatening snow. Undaunted, I set off towards Arlington in my own bike lane, happy to be part of the infamous DC rush hour commute—because I was a commuter, too, and I belonged there. I arrived at my friend’s house refreshed and energized.

So if you are out on your bike or in your car in Richmond, and you see a bicycle rider in a green hat disguised as a helmet, be sure to wave hello. I look forward to working with you to make Richmond a bicycle friendly city!

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