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.


Kyle Todd said...

Great first bike commute! I do it for the exact same reasons... waiting for a bus drives me insane, and I love the benefit of exercise and low pollution. Congrats!


Kyle Todd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ultrarunnergirl said...

Sweeeeet!! The bike commute is unparalleled both in efficiency and joy.

Tom said...

Congrats on the first commute!


Rootchopper said...

Bravo! Welcome to the sane lane. I think you picked the best route. I use it on the weekends when the MVT is overrun with walkers.

Chris Percival said...

You'll be doing it everyday soon enough.. :)

Froggie said...

Chris: maybe not every day, but I'm hoping for a couple days a week. Maybe more often if I have the swing shift.

Greenbelt said...

Nice blog, frog! Three cheers for more military bike commuting. That way when the road planners call us civilian bike commuters hippie weirdos, we can point to you guys for validation of our true normalness.

cephas said...

I'm with you wishing for covered parking at the Pent. I would love to be able to park my bike there overnight, so I could catch the bus to and from M-sas there. I mean, how much more secure could a bike get than being in such proximity to a national security center? But I imagine they don't want to drive up traffic for the same reason.

If you haven't tried it already, I recommend Long Bridge Park. It has the aura of something of a false idyllism though, the pristine fields betrayed by the parallel road that looks like it barely survived WWII.