February 27, 2012

No bike commute this week

But what I didn't mention before is I snuck one in last week on Wednesday (bike commute #3). At least a partial one...it involved biking to Braddock Rd Metro on the way in and to Crystal City Metro on the way home. So I guess you could say it was a multi-modal commute.

This week is the one that'll lack a bike commute. In part because I have to stage the car in Suitland tomorrow for a medical appointment, and then I'm part of a retirement ceremony for a fellow sailor on Thursday. So that takes out the two days I'd normally bike commute.

Good news is that next week presents several "late night commute" opportunities. And I might even make #fridaycoffeeclub next week.

February 18, 2012

Bike Commute #2

Yesterday was nice enough (sans fog in the morning), plus it was a short day for us (4 hour shifts instead of the usual 8), so I tried bike commute #2. Route wasn't much different than before, except that I used Crystal Dr to 12th St to Old Jeff Davis Hwy to Boundary Channel Dr.

Given my experience yesterday, it's looking like 40-45 minutes will be the standard for the bike commute time. I'm thinking the 38-minute inbound trip for bike commute #1 was a fluke...likely due to the moderate tailwind I had that morning.

Crystal Drive could stand to see a new layer of pavement, especially north of 26th St. Old Jeff Davis Hwy had REALLY bad pavement, though I imagine this street is a low priority for Arlington. In additon, there's some construction near the south end of the new Long Bridge Park that has the road all tore up.

I've learned that going north through Crystal City is fairly easy. The problem is heading back south...there's no good way to do it. Clark St is the nominal way, but has poor pavement, a hill to climb the overpass at 18th St, and interconnected signals with adjacent Route 1 that are all a mess. The best I've come up with requires sidewalk riding in two spots on Crystal Drive: at 15th St, then again from 23rd down to Potomac Ave.

No bike commutes next week. I have company in town. Anticipating my next one on the 28th.

February 15, 2012

Bike Commute Follow-up

Wind makes a difference. A big difference. While they were light on my bike commute into the Pentagon yesterday morning, they increased noticeably by afternoon. Based on observations from National Airport, they were gusting above 20 by the time I left to head home. And it had an effect...it took me over 45 minutes to get home, fighting that headwind the entire way home.

February 14, 2012

Froggie's First Bike Commute

Last week, I had a bit of a change in workplace...I'm now working at the Pentagon on a temporary duty assignment (Navy calls it TAD, Army/Air Force calls it TDY). By far the biggest change that's occurred with the office shift is the commute. Instead of my old Suitland commute where my choices were a 25min drive or a 1h10m Metrorail ride, I have many more options for commuting to the Pentagon. It's a simpler Metrorail commute (7 stops on the Yellow Line). Or I could take the 9A Metrobus, which stops right in front of my apartment. Or I could continue driving...albeit with the peak-flow and with parking a dicey and/or expensive proposition. Or I could bike.

Now that I have my permanent badge, I thought I'd try my inaugural bicycle commute this morning. It's the first bike commute I've had since high school...about 18 years! Between it being my first bike commute in forever plus the nature of my new office location, some pre-planning/preparation was in order.

First up was a trip to BicycleSPACE so I could pick up a couple more lights and a reflective vest...this being because some of my commutes (for the next couple months) will be in the dark. I also needed to know where available bicycle racks are at the Pentagon, since bikes are not allowed inside the building. According to this interesting Army Pentagon guide (which appears to have been partially written by a bicyclist), there are about 30 bicycle racks near the northeast corner, another 30 near the southwest corner, and about a half-dozen along the side of the mall on the north side. I selected the parking area near the northeast corner as my target.

This morning was cool, but not horrible, so I dressed accordingly (1 layer on the legs, 2 on the torso...I overheat easily), grabbed the bike lights and vest, and headed out around 5:50am. My route north began by crossing over to Washington St then up through Old Town. I've gone through Old Town countless times, but almost always on Washington St. Today's the first time I headed north with the intention being to cross the Monroe Ave Bridge, which I did by mostly taking Columbus St and Alfred St. Aside from one driver who didn't realize I had right-of-way at an all-way stop, the ride up to and through Old Town was uneventful.

Across the Monroe Ave Bridge, I opted for Potomac Avenue. Potomac Ave is a new 4-lane divided street built to service upcoming development at Potomac Yard, and it also has a parallel bike/ped path. Though I wouldn't quite say that it's "pool table flat", the small hills are very manageable and it's definitely flatter than the nearby Mount Vernon Trail. It's nice, smooth, and above-all quiet. While dozens of cars were plying the northbound lanes of the parallel Route 1, I only had 5 cars pass me on Potomac Ave.

To get through Crystal City, I opted for Crystal Drive to 18th St to Eads St. Crystal Drive isn't too bad...it has a bike lane except for the section immediately underneath Route 233 (National Airport connector). 18th St has an underpass at Route 1 so one doesn't have to cross Route 1 at-grade. Eads St was a bit rough...it could stand to have a repaving. But the nice thing about Eads St is it brings one right into the south parking lot area at the Pentagon.

Getting to the bike racks from the south parking lot was...interesting. It involves a couple turns, and the gateguard looked like he wasn't sure what to think, but he allowed me through. I found the bike parking easily enough...it looks like there were originally a small number of old-style bike racks with the slots for putting your tire through. These have since been considerably expanded by newer racks of the same type. I got in just before 6:30am.

So my bike commute wound up being about the same as the bus commute and a few minutes longer than the shuttle/Metrorail commute. But there are several advantages to the bike commute: I get exercise, I can park the bike closer to my office than the metro entrance is, I don't have to pay Metrobus or Metrorail fare, and I'm not waiting up to 30 minutes for the 9A bus or up to 15 minutes for my apartment's Metro shuttle. About the only real disadvantage is that the bike parking isn't covered and is exposed to the elements. The earlier Army website suggests that covered parking used to exist, but no longer does.

Future routing tweaks are possible, and there may be days where I want a leisurely ride home anyway. Besides the Mount Vernon Trail, I could also pass by Long Bridge Park, or head down Commonwealth Ave and Mt Vernon Ave through Del Ray. But I'm thinking something close to my current route is going to be my shortest/fastest commuting route.

Weather-permitting, I'm planning on bike-commuting twice a week. I'd do additional days, but we do Physical Training 3 times a week at the office and I don't want to over-do it, at least not at first. Once I get into a groove (plus in better shape), I might revise this and bike more often. And for those days where the weather's bad, I have both a Metrorail and a bus option. All-in-all, it's a commuting win.

February 06, 2012

Musings from an NPS visit

Tonight's MVCCA Transportation Committee meeting featured visitors from the National Park Service and US Park Police regarding the George Washington Parkway. What followed was a quick Q-and-A, mostly related to the section south of Old Town Alexandria which our committee represents. Here's a quick recap of the comments:

  • Numerous complaints about increased traffic in BOTH directions of the Parkway during rush hour with BRAC and the new hospital at Ft Belvoir cited as the cause. Excessive speeding by traffic was also mentioned.
  • Because of the traffic, it's very difficult for drivers to turn out onto the Parkway during rush hour, especially for those turning left. Nevermind the issues that cyclists and pedestrians face trying to cross the Parkway.
  • On that note, NPS has no current plans to improve bike/ped access to the MVT, though they had considered intersection improvements at Belle Haven Rd at one point. This is problematic since, between the south end of Old Town and the "Stone Bridge" at Alexandria Ave (a little over 3 miles), there is no way for bikes and peds to access the Mount Vernon Trail that doesn't involve hopping a curb and going through grass.
  • The current (acting) NPS Superintendent has no intention of lifting the GW Parkway bicycle ban. The NPS reiterated that the current policy ban was put into place "in the name of safety".
  • When asked about MVT improvements, the rep said that NPS is looking into an "express bike lane" in the Gravelly Point area. This would allow through cyclists to avoid the heavy congregation of pedestrians just east of the parking lot that go there to watch airplanes take off and land at National Airport.
  • US Park Police apparently have data on accidents/crashes that occur on the Mount Vernon Trail proper. They're looking into making that data available to members of the transportation committee.
  • NPS has automated traffic counters at several locations along the parkway and posts aggregate monthly stats on them. The committee asked if they also have hourly counts, which they'll look into. The hourly counts would give a better idea on when the low-traffic times are on the Parkway.

Also mentioned, but not discussed, is a draft resolution offered by WABA and FABB in support of allowing bicycles on the George Washington Parkway. Even though the current NPS Sup has no interest in revising the current ban policy, the committee is willing to entertain the possibility of supporting a partial lifting of the ban during low-traffic times. We'll be discussing the resolution at next month's meeting.