I recently visited my parents in Washington D.C. and as is my wont I paid particular attention to bicycling-type activity that I saw. As we rode through Adams Morgan on the bus, for example, I was pleased to see freshly painted bike lanes, but my adulation turned to horror when I saw that the lanes abruptly disappeared and reappeared as we rode alongside. And sure enough the bicyclists I saw cast their votes by their behavior: I saw lots of bicyclists driving on the sidewalk rather than risk driving on such deceitful bike lanes. (By the way I am purposefully using the word “driving” instead of “riding” for what a bicyclist does. Now that more and more bicycles have passengers, I reserve the word “rider” for what the bicycle passenger does.)
But for the most part I was pleased by what I saw in D.C. I saw an active bike community. I saw groups of tourists touring the city by bicycle. I saw lots of bikes and scooters parked around the buildings downtown. And for me the crowning jewel of our nation’s capital is not the Capital building, but the Crescent Trail. This wide tree-shaded bike trail circles more than 10-miles around the western side of the city. It is well-used by bicyclists, runners, and strolling families. It is built from an old railroad bed that passes over and under most cross streets. It is I think what all cities should aspire to create, ultimately for all short-distance non-commercial transportation. Imagine if all the beltways in our country were replaced with tree-lined boulevards on which ultralight vehicles (bicycles and cars weighing less than 100 pounds) rolled along at 15 mph amongst runners going 6 mph and pedestrians strolling at 3 mph. You might say “yes Larry it sounds very idyllic but it’s not practical; people wouldn’t be able to get to work on time on a bicycle.” I would reply that Washington D.C. is only 10 miles wide; at 15 mph a bicyclist could get from any one point to another in less than an hour. That’s certainly not the case now for people traveling by car. The Crescent Trail is the best example I’ve seen of How Wonderful Transportation Could Be If Only We Decided That’s How We Want It to Be. It doesn’t require any new technology. It doesn’t require drastic sacrifices. It just requires using what we already have in a new better way.