To learn the ins and outs of biking in D.C., I consulted an expert. Jon Gonzalez from WABA (Washington Area Bicyclist Association) shares what newbies need to know to get started.
What are the most important rules of the road that the area’s new bicyclists should know?
I think there’s a general concept that’s a little more important than specific rules. When they are on the road, cyclists should act like a car, and I feel like a lot of people are confused with what that actually means. When a bike is on the road, the only difference is that the bicycle is allowed to filter. So that means bikes should stop at all stop lights, stop signs and yield to pedestrians.
What does filter mean?
It’s when a bicycle can jump the line of cars at a stoplight. This is recommended because it increases the bike’s visibility, so the chances of getting hit are reduced. It’s just a safe practice. That’s really the only difference between cars and bikes on the road.
Do you consider Washington, D.C., a bike-friendly city?
Yes, 100 percent. Especially because of the outside connections into the city like the Key Bridge or Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda, which make getting into the city quite easy. Then once they’re in the city, there are all kinds of shared lanes, bike racks, things that connect the city.
What is the biggest danger or hazard that local cyclists face?
Literally the cars and trucks on the streets. But I think an even more important danger would be an uninformed public. This is how a colleague of mine recently put it: The bike culture has grown so rapidly that all the other road users haven’t had enough time to learn and adapt to the changing environment. There are cars that don’t realize that bikes have rights when they’re in the street. And then there are cyclists who need to realize that they have rights, and they have the right to be in the road. It’s safer to be in the road than on the sidewalk where there are pedestrians.
If someone is interesting in biking to work but feels a bit overwhelmed by the idea, how would you recommend they get started?
Find a bike buddy. There’s probably at least one other person who rides to work. That person may not be an expert but they will have tips or know of a particular road that’s best. That person knows what you will have to deal with.
For those looking to bike just for fun, what are—in your opinion—some of the area’s best trails?
My favorite trail is the Anacostia River Walk Trail. It’s a loop that starts and ends around Nationals Park. There’s a great mix of outdoorsy stuff like the pirate ship playground. It’s family-friendly, there’s a good mix of restaurants and shops, and a nice off-street trail. My favorite ice cream parlor, Ice Cream Jubilee, on Yards Park is there, too.
One of my readers’ biggest questions is how to make local friends. Are there any ways they can meet people through cycling? Any groups or events you’d recommend?
WABA has 5,000 members and every couple of months we have large group rides where 400-500 people show up for a ride and we all tour the city together.
I run the Bike Ambassador Program, a safety and education program that encourages responsible bicycling in the city. We like to come together and do outreach events during the week and go on social bike rides on the weekends. There’s an orientation coming up soon—we’re always looking for new people to share our love of cycling with.
There is also a great Facebook group called Women and Bicycles that is a fantastic resource for female bike riders in D.C. They also set up their own social bike rides and do fun bike things together.