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Riding to Learn: A tour of DC’s infrastructure by bike is the way to go

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m not a big cyclist. Now, don’t get me wrong, I ride my bike every day. I ride to work, I ride to the grocery store, I ride to friends’ houses. But I rarely ride “just for fun.” But last weekend, I found a great middle ground for my love of biking as transportation and being a tourist in my own city. I went on the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA)’s “Down the Tubes” ride, a day-long bike and infrastructure love-fest coordinated by WABA in conjunction with DC Water.

As you can tell, I was pretty excited (photo by Washington Area Bicyclist Association)

The ride followed the topography of DC down from Fort Reno (a  pump station at the  far north-west border of the District) to a pump house in Poplar Point on the Anacostia River, with a few stops in between. I’ve always wanted to check out the Bryant Street Pumping Station, a beautiful Edwardian building near Howard University and our second stop of the day. It’s just incredible to think that such a refined looking building houses the pumps that send potable water all across the District.

This is ten times nicer than anywhere I’ve ever lived (photo from Wikipedia)

But if you think that that’s a fancy building for a mundane function, check this out:

(photo by Wasington Area Bicyclist Association)

This is the building where the sewage of the city begins its long journey back into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Can you believe it? I know I couldn’t, and a lot of us on the tour were surprised to see the swanky interior where the pumps are housed. Since the building is over 100 years old, the old pumps ran on steam. Once the building converted to electricity, the smaller electric pumps were installed in their stead.

“What’s the rent here again? The square footage is amazing!” (photo by Washington Area Bicyclist Association)

It was a long day of touring the city (about six hours in all with tours and talks and riding in between), but I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way than by bike. I met a lot of interesting people on the ride, some urban planning wonks and some cycling fanatics. Being above ground, seeing the neighborhoods served by the underground sewer system we were learning about, was a great reminder of what all is happening in DC that I just don’t yet know about. And using bike infrastructure to see another form of civic infrastructure that we take for granted, well, that was awesome. I can’t wait for the day that we can take bike lanes for granted as much as we do the water we drink once we get to our destinations!

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