Wednesday night I attended a work-related event in Westover; naturally I biked there. The event got out around 9pm, I chatted with a few people, then walked out to rain. We’ll ignore the fact that I had a coat for the air-conditioned auditorium, but not my Cleverhood, so not only was I then not properly and fully waterproofed, it covered up my reflectivity. The issue here is that I opted, again, to use bike lanes and sharrowed streets to get home, rather than use the much more convenient and very nearby Custis Trail.
I also opted against the Custis Trail to get to my location but that had more to do with the fact that the direct route would have had me pedaling straight up a hill, one I know to be short but steep, and I didn’t want to arrive too sweaty. But the other option is Washington Blvd, which only has a bike lane for about a half-mile near the destination. I biked with the traffic and survived; it was not perfect but fine. However…. coming home after 9pm meant not just rain, but dark.
Yes, the Custis Trail has street lights, but it’s still pretty isolated, and I just don’t trust isolated locations after dark. Maybe I lived in New York for too long. Maybe, as a woman, I’m more paranoid about my safety. Maybe I read the news too much – even though this is Arlington, women are still attacked, and on the multi-use trails we all love. Regardless, I decided against the Custis Trail, and set off down Washington Blvd.
It was dark, the bike lane ended, it was raining, and frankly, I don’t trust drivers. So at George Mason Drive, I thought, “I know – I’ll cut down to the Bluemont Junction Trail, catch the very end of it, then pop out into the bike lanes in Ballston!” George Masson Drive has sharrows and “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs – but in the dark, in the rain, riding a well-lit bike in a light lavender coat, I was super paranoid that drivers *still* couldn’t see me. (One proved it, too, by the way.) So at some point I thought, “I’ll just pick up the Custis Trail here, and be done with it. There isn’t too far to go to get to Ballston from this point.” I turned towards the connector to the trail – and circled back. It was so dark, even with the street lights on! Maybe the residents dislike the lights so they aren’t on fully, I don’t know, but it was too dark for my taste. I turned around and went a different route.
I felt so much better once I was on Fairfax Drive, where there are proper bike lanes, lots of lights, lots of people around, and yes, even cars.
I do use the Custis Trail, and the W & OD Trail, and the Mount Vernon. But I don’t always want to *have* to use them. I like that we have options here and that Arlington takes biking as transportation seriously. I know of many localities where bike lanes are put in here and there (Fairfax, I’m looking at you – what’s up with that paved path that parallels Route 7?!), because biking is a sport, something you do recreationally, not something you would possibly do to <gasp> get somewhere. And ultimately, I’m only going to bike on what I feel comfortable with and that might not be the same from day to day. It will depend on the weather, where I’m going, what time of the day, what day of the week, how my knees feel, and so on.
So it is important to have ALL the options in place. If you truly want the 60% interested but concerned people out there riding their bikes (and reducing congestion and improving air quality and getting healthier and boosting the local economy), you need to have a range of comfortable option for them. And don’t even get me started on making it easy for children and older/less physically able adults to bike for transportation either – that’s a topic for another blog post!