|Bike share station in DC's Eastern Market|
|Surprisingly lucid thinking in DC|
Short and sweet though my time was, I have now run and biked the District enough to become convinced that DC just might be the perfect city for both activities. It is also the perfect city for rallying, which I did (along with the sign-bearer at right) that Saturday at Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. That's an aspect of DC's virtues that requires travel of that more noumenal variety (the kind that tends to gum up Proper Scale enough), so I'll avoid it for now.
As for biking, never before have I traveled so happily down trafficky streets and avenues. The thought dawned on me quite fast that this was not my typical urban biking experience. I had to pause a moment to ponder about what made DC feel so different...
|Approaching Eastern Market|
While planners like me riding around DC might quibble that the bike lane network is patchwork at best, I would say that not all the conveniences and provisions for bike travel across greater distances in the city are really needed. Sure, judged by mere infrastructural capacity, DC's travel split on the surface is still skewed heavily toward the automobile. As the images on the blogosphere today betray, New York today and, certainly, Portland are doing somersaults over our capital on this score. But DC has a whole lot of other pluses and lessons for improving bike travel. Some of these may even obviate the need for the white stripes and pavement dedications.
|A very sane cyclist observes an outdoor performance of the Pirates of Penzance unfolding at Eastern Market|
Of course, the key ingredient making DC special is L'Enfant's grid. It is, to be brief, a difference of amenity inherent to city form. When it comes to biking, city form is the first thing bike-supportive planning should think carefully about. Too few of us spend time thinking about it, although we deal with it implicitly if not directly in design. When you are working with the right fabric, maybe you don't need the Portlandian exuberance with bikeway infrastructure. DC seems to teach that maybe these solutions should be implemented only when they are actually necessary.
modified for my private odonomy on this blog) "Grand Avenues". Grand Avenues help everyone. They help motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, buses and even the underground subways with stations leading out to them (I'll explain why later). Even when the pavement stops, Grand Avenues may still continue for pedestrians (such as across the rolling lawn of Capitol Hill for the pedestrians headed from the Eastern Market area to the Rally to Restore Sanity at right). A city's Grand Avenues, it seems, get inside the heads of its citizens. They seem to amplify the pulse and vitality of the city with what they connect.
|Bike parking at our national public forum|
Previously, the precedents presented by places like Copenhagen and Portland led me to believe that the urban design challenge was to find ways to claim more pavement for the bike. But DC seems to have taken the opposite tact, brazenly maximizing surface provisions for the automobile instead. With all its rights-of-way, L'Enfant's city seems to have passed a sweet spot. Instead of corralling and flagellating it, avenues here seem to placate traffic behavior, letting it switch often and lead more directly to its destinations. Sure, radial avenues intersecting at odd angles with the grid insert even more intersections than needed into it (maybe these serve a good purpose we're not appreciating?), and often these are the skewed kind of intersections that imagination challenged DOT's detest (and don't allow you to design, that's for sure!). But, ...I rode a bike in DC, and I can't remember the last time I had as much fun on a bike...