But why shouldn't she be happy? Aside from all the earlier stuff I said about how horrible it is to bike in Tysons Corner, Christine actually has a pretty great bike commute on her ride home from her office to her home in Arlington. It's 10 miles and it's mostly on the W & OD trail and for the parts that aren't along the trail, she's figured out a pretty good approach. Given the nature of her job and various project deadlines, Christine doesn't always get to make two bike trips during a day, sometimes having to leave her bike at the office for days at a time. Truly understandable. I won't want to bike her route at 2AM either. But, luckily, yesterday was an absurdly beautiful day for a bicycle ride and we set off as the afternoon began to wane, but there was still more than enough light to see us through the trip.
We rode up curving driveway type road to another highway-style (I would describe most roads in Tysons as highway-style, meaning at least two wide lanes in each direction, slip lanes at intersections and an overall design that encourages drivers to travel somewhere north of 35 mph) and then down towards the mall where we waited in a long line of car traffic rather than jumping the queue. No worries. We turned left and circled the mall on what might have been a road and might have been a driveway. With parking lots everything and roads all looking like highways, it's really hard to differentiate.
And now I take back everything I said about Tysons not being bike friendly. Look, a bike lane!
From there, we went over a bridge over a highway (on a narrow sidewalk with no guardrail) and then this is sort of where I lost track of the order in which we did stuff. We rode through a townhome community and we also rode on the sidewalk along Gallows Road and then past some not-exactly gated communities and then we turned into one and rode through, taking various cut-throughs as needed. Christine said that she used to ride on Gallows Road proper, but it wasn't especially enjoyable. I mean, for the name allow, right? In the residential neighborhoods (I think we passed a street called Tire Swing Road. No joke), traffic was quite light and I'm not even sure I remember encountering a driver looking to pass us. Christine told me about a 'coming together' (euphemism for gentle crash) with a driver at one of the intersections. Driver pulled out and it sounded like Christine sort of met the side of his car. No bodily or bicycle harm came of it, but it definitely made Christine more cognizant of the perils of blind drives and she now is extra vigilant about reducing her risk to these kinds of incidents. All things considered, while there wasn't much in the way of proper bike infrastructure, Christine has been able to come up with a pretty manageable route through Tysons aside from maybe a half a mile, I wouldn't describe it as intimidating at all. You don't necessarily need bike lanes and sharrows to have a bikeable route and I think this is especially true in quieter residential suburbs. Furthermore, many of the drivers we encountered on the bigger roads were really obliging, which isn't what I expected at all.
We wended a bit, went down a hill, crossed another intersection and arrived at the W & OD. In spite of having lived in Arlington for more than two years, my experience with this trail is pretty limited. I'm not even sure I've taken it out even past its intersection with the Custis. It's a converted rail trail, meaning it's pretty flat and straight. It's great and it's the primary connector for bicyclists from Arlington to Fairfax and back. It's basically a bicycle highway, but it's mixed-use and the nice day brought out tons of people walking, some with kids, some with strollers, which has a tendency to (rightfully) slow down bicycle traffic. At least for the most part. Some bicyclists belong the subset of people who are jerks and speed along at a pace that I don't think is especially advisable.
Christine rides the reverse commute back towards DC, while the overwhelming majority of bicyclists we saw were headed in the other direction. Christine told me that she has about five regulars that she sees (and nods to, though some cases without acknowledgment back) and her regulars pretty much match in demography the average bike commuter around these parts, which is to say older, white and male. I'd pretty much say the rule was that almost every bicyclist we saw was wearing some sort of athletic wear, from full on superbiker lycra to t shirts and mesh shorts. I think this is pretty much reasonable. We're not exactly talking a dense area here and I'd suspect that the average bike commuter is covering a pretty good amount of miles. While it'd be perfectly fine to ride a work clothes, there's something about riding on the trail that seems to lend itself to a more sporty presentation.
My current bike commute is sort of the antithesis of Christine's. On mine, it's basically non-stop stopping. On hers, it's not non-stop stopping, which is to say non-stop going. It's rather pleasant and I very much enjoyed it. It was also nice to ride along with someone and chat. Christine told me that sometimes it gets a little boring when you're riding by yourself and for that for a while, she had a 'commute buddy'. This seems sensible. There's not exactly a lot to look at.
It was a drama-free ride and I don't think we had any close calls or anything especially dangerous occur, though not necessarily thanks to the trail itself, which gets hilly and has some blind spots once you get on the Custis. I think the prudence demands a reduction in speed. We took the Custis to Fairfax Drive and rode Fairfax Drive for a while before heading over to Washington Boulevard for a drink. Here are our bikes:
- A lot of her coworkers are bike curious and some have even commuted by bike.
- She doesn't see a lot of regular woman riders on her route.
- Winter cycling sucks when they don't clear the trail of ice and snow and you might as well just take the bus.
- A lack of shower facilities poses a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.
- She, like me, misses reading, which is something we both did more of when we took public transportation to work. This is one of the biggest trade-offs for bike commuting.
- She is a fan of Ellie the Poodle. Who isn't?
Riding with Christine was a really great experience. She's a really genial person and generous and I'm happy to have gotten to spend some time with her. I think what I've been reminded the most from our ride is that bike commuting in the Washington area is really varied. You've got people taking 2 mile trips on cycletracks through downtown and you've got people making 10 mile jaunts on trails out to suburban-style office parks. Any kind of bike advocacy (broadly understood) needs to speak for both groups and redress a really wide variety of issues. But it's really heartening to see so many people turning to bicycles for their transportation needs regardless of their particular commute situations and I wish everyone the best of luck. Also, if you see Christine out there, please say hello. She'll say hello back. She's from Delaware where people say hello. So, stop being unfriendly.