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What Makes D.C. A Unique Cycling City? #NBS12

The National Bike Summit is certainly centered around the ask. We gather in Washington, D.C., so we can meet our members of Congress face-to-face and tell them how important bicycling is to us and our communities. But the Summit is also a chance to meet and connect with bike advocates, enthusiasts and officials of all stripes.

On Tuesday, I got to hang out with the Bike Snob NYC, who hosted the first official signing of his new book “The Enlightened Cyclist” here at the Grand Hyatt. Last night at Barnes and Noble, Summit attendees had the chance to hear from an expert on D.C. cycling: Matt Wittmer, author of “Where to Bike DC.

So what makes the nation’s capital a great place to bike? Wittmer shared some of his insight in a quick Q&A.

Author Matt Wittmer

What makes D.C. a unique cycling city?

The fact that D.C. offers so many institutions of cultural and historical import within such a short distance and that they can almost all be taken in by way of safe, easy cycling routes is one factor that makes the nation’s capital a unique cycling city.

I also think the District should be celebrated for its mostly seamless transition over the last decade from a city with few cyclists to a city with too many to count. Dedicated effort and dollars have evolved the city’s cycling scene from streets virtually devoid of all but the hardiest of riders to a multi-modal grid now crisscrossed by thousands of local riders and tourists from around the world each day.

D.C.’s cool, too, in that if offers trails such as the W&OD Rail-trail and the C&O Canal Towpath that give riders natural, unimpeded access to rural riding both within the greater metropolitan region and onward to it’s fringe. Geography also puts the city’s cyclists within easy reach of mountain riding to the west and possible coastal excursions to the east.

What was the most interesting or exciting cycling spot or route your discovered while researching this book?

I had known about the fantastic riding centered around Poolesville, Maryland before getting hired to write my book, but I hadn’t cycled there all that much. One ventures there for a respite from the bustle of the city and finds open, rolling roads, exhilarating climbs, and long views toward Sugarloaf Mountain and across the Potomac into Virginia.

Having been a cyclist for years yourself, do you think the interest has increased in recent years — and have you seen that in the response to your book?

Most definitely in the 20 years since I became, first, a long-distance touring cyclist and, second, a committed commuter, the numbers of cyclists riding America’s roads in all styles has grown exponentially.

Before moving back east, I lived in the far west in coastal California and Portland, Oregon for much of the ’90s and the advances in cycling infrastructure I saw there at that time presaged what we’re seeing in cities across the country now.

When gas prices soared in ’07 and the effects of the recession began to hit home soon thereafter, no doubt DOTs in many major cities (that hadn’t to that point considered cycling a viable means of transportation) then began investing more money in cycling infrastructure and biking programs and making concerted efforts to give folks greater reasons to get around by bike.

How does “Where to Bike DC” fit in with the growing number of Where to Bike guides?

D.C.’s is one of the first three Where to Bike guides in print in the United States. Currently there are five books in production here alone–New York, Portland, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Mountain Bike, and Orange County. The series started in Australia and now reaches three continents. As an added bonus, the books are now offered in both e-format and as iTunes applications.

What’s your hope for this book?

I feel more alive when I cycle and want people to experience that joy in their own lives. My hope is people will discover/rediscover/reinforce how wonderful, how essential, and how fundamentally enjoyable cycling can be. I hear a variation of the following all the time. Cycling is the best way to see D.C. It’s fast, easy, and convenient. It brings you right to the doorstep of your destination, gives you a daily dose of the outdoors, saves money, reduces stress, etc., etc., etc.

As far as cycling in D.C. goes, it’s almost always all good news. What the city has to do is make sure it continues to factor its cyclists into the transportation equation, add and update to its cycling infrastructure, all while keeping its cyclists safe. Cyclists, for their part, should respond in kind by respecting the rules of the road and encouraging their friends to join them on two wheels.

Click here to order a copy of “Where to Bike DC”


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