Thursday, June 23, 2005

Morning Commute: The Perfect Ride

Today could not have been better for biking to work. The yin and yang of traffic and weather were in perfect harmony -- sunny skies with no humidity, less traffic than yesterday and no errant drivers haphazardly swinging in front of me. I knew it would be a good ride when the section of Massachusetts Avenue from 14th Street in SE to Union Station took less time than usual -- I hit almost every green light, and for every green light I missed, I faced no traffic coming from side streets, allowing me to coast through intersections unthreatened and unharmed.

Since a perfect ride doesn't offer much by way of blogging fodder, I may as well include mention of my ride home yesterday afternoon. It wasn't bad, but I managed to encounter the two things about biking in D.C. that drive me up the proverbial wall:

1) Security in front of the White House: Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets has been shut down to vehicular traffic since the Oklahoma City bombing. I remember playing pickup roller hockey games along this abandoned stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue while I interned here in 2000, and the prohibition on cars has allowed for Lafayette Park to flow seamlessly into the White House gates. Not to long ago Laura Bush spearheaded a $23 million renovation of the 900 foot long stretch, replacing asphalt with granite blocks and planting elm trees to take the place of traditional security barriers. For the better part of a year the area was blocked off completely, forcing me to detour up 17th Street and right along H Street -- a notoriously traffic-heavy stretch of road, not to mention some mean potholes at 15th Street. When they finally opened up Pennsylvania Avenue, it became a pleasure to ride through -- the car-free, 84 foot wide roadway served as a brief interlude in otherwise hectic commutes home in rush-hour traffic.

But that bike-riding bliss lasted all too short a time. As I approached one day, I noticed that the entrance to Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street was completely blocked off by security fences that stretched accross the road and onto the sidewalk. The avenue was barren -- not a soul in sight, spare Secret Service and Park Police. Annoyed, I asked why I wouldn't be allowed through. "The Vice-President is going home," was the response I got. Of course. Of course. His holiness, Dick Cheney, often ties up the city's traffic by demanding that his motorcade shut down key traffic arteries during rush hour so he can get home after what must have been a hard day's work defending the indefensible. The second most powerful man in the country can't bother to wait until 7 p.m., when most of who don't have the benefit of a traffic-busting police escort have gotten home. No, he needs to be home at 5:30 on the dot. I grumbled and made my way up 17th Street, down H Street, and onwards. Since that fateful day, there is at least one day a week where I stumble across similar security restrictions. The only thing that has changed is how they set up the security fences -- they used to block off the entire area, now they set up a mind-boggling maze that seems less intended to secure important government personalities than to piss off bikers like myself. And they have succeeded admirably at that.

2) Bike Lanes are not for cars!: Since I got here, the District government had been slowly designating bike lanes along major traffic arteries -- Massachusetts Avenue in SE up until Columbus Circle, stretches of New Hampshire Avenue NW, 11 miles total to date. These bike lanes are unmistakable -- they are clearly partitioned from the main roadways, and if the images of the cyclist painted every 50 feet or so doesn't give them away, not much can. Leave it up to crafty District motorists to assume that bike lanes can also be used for vehicular traffic or for double-parking. I mean, why else would someone set aside a stretch of pavement if not for the sole purpose of accomodating those drivers that seek to break the law? There really is nothing more enraging for a cyclist than to have to stop or swerve out of a bike lane into open traffic because some ass with a car has decided that their car somehow qualifies as a "bicycle." Do you often see pedestrian walking in the middle of lanes of traffic? No. So should you see cars hogging up what little real estate the District has set aside for us? Again, no. But it happens. Often. And when it does, that driver will get a piece of my mind. I often ride closely around their car, and lightly (by lightly I mean forcefully) tap their hood, give them the time-tested "What the fuck?" look, and ride on. They usually get the point -- whether or not it will change their decision to do it again in the future is a mystery, though -- but there are some drivers who seem to think I'm the one at fault. One guy even had the balls to scream at me for tapping his car. Me. He's in my lane, and I'm the one doing something wrong? It must have been opposite day and I must not have gotten that memo. Ass-hat.

Anyhow, by way of preview, I have some stuff brewing that will make its way up in the near future. I'm planning on a lot of Tour de France related coverage and commentary (yes, I will be watching the whole thing this year), hoping to once and for all characterize and classify District cyclists, and hopefully uncover some more bike-related mysteries.


At 8:45 AM, Blogger taleswapper said...

Gah, those cars make me spitting mad.

"Do you often see pedestrian walking in the middle of lanes of traffic? No."

Ha ha. I did see one this weekend. He had tinfoil on his head and was pushing a shopping cart down Rhode Island Avenue.


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