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MUHAMMAD: Best Place to Bicycle? Washington, D.C.

Askia Muhammad | 2/5/2014, 3 p.m.
Askia Muhammad

After 19-plus years of committed bicycle commuting, I am convinced that the Washington Metropolitan Area is the very best place anywhere to be a bicycle commuter. I make this declaration in the dead of winter (regardless of what that overgrown rodent Punxatawney Phil – the Groundhog – has to say, there are always six weeks left between Feb. 2 and the first day of spring) when outdoor riding conditions are at their worst.

The very worst time, when I won’t ride, is when there are icy conditions on the roads. I’ll ride in the snow, sometimes, but I have learned through experience to avoid riding a bicycle when the roads and streets are slick. Slipping and falling on sewer covers and those white street markings is the pits, and it’s easy to do when there’s frozen precipitation on the ground.

While I’ve had my share of bumps, I’ve had no serious injuries while riding. I was sideswiped once by a mindless driver in the left lane, who saw an open parking space along the curb but did not see me. When he hit me I felt myself briefly flying through the air, free-falling, out-of-control. That was the worst. I didn’t need hospital treatment, but my bike was pretty much done for that day.

Thoughtless drivers of motor vehicles are the worst hazard to bicycles. They already think that the power of multiple numbers of horses at the tap of their foot makes them omnipotent, and that all other motorists are simply in their way and had better move over and let them pass. But they think even worse of cyclists, because they may see an open stretch of lane on the right side of the road in which they can pass the offending vehicle in front of them, only to discover a blasted bicycle in their way.

Cars don’t think bicycles should be on the streets and roads, and pedestrians don’t think bicycles should be on the sidewalks. What’s a cyclist to do? I’ll tell you: steel up your nerves and get out there and maintain your rights! That’s what!

Obey all traffic laws (that’s the hardest thing for most of us to do). Yield the right of way to pedestrians. Don’t try to win a shoving match with a bus or truck (you’ll lose every time). Always wear a helmet. And always use a bell or a horn to warn pedestrians and other cyclists as you overtake and pass them.

The good news to report is that bicycling (not “biking,” those are motorcyclists and are the source of a whole separate conversation) is usually a faster way to commute in town than waiting for and riding the buses, and it is far less expensive than taking a taxi, and there’s usually always a place to park, near your destination.

At the same time, the good news about the bus system is that every single Metrobus, and all the regional add-on/ride-on bus systems have bicycle racks on them, and there’s no extra fare for the bicycle to ride. Bicycles are permitted on the subway system, but not during rush hour (7:00-10:00 a.m. and 4:00-7:00 p.m.) and there are fussy safety restrictions about which doors you may enter (never the center doors of a subway car, and only two bicycles are allowed on each car), and it’s hard to sit on the subway with your bike, because you are required to be in full control of the bicycle at all times when you’re in the subway system.

One great thing about riding a bicycle to various places is that you have more of an opportunity to observe the scenes and the people around you.

I’ve ridden on numerous occasions to National Airport. I’ve been on an organized ride out past the NFL football stadium in Lanham, Md. I’ve been north past the University of Maryland agricultural campus, on beyond the College Park Airport (where the world’s first helicopter flight took place, and where, if memory serves, an obscure Black flying club once held forth) on my way to Thurgood Marshall-BWI Airport. There are safe and scenic bicycle paths to those locations.

And one great thing about bicycling to these diverse locations for an aging bicycle commuter like me, is that once you get to your destination, it’s possible to just turn around and take a Metrobus back home…

Happy pedaling.