The Urban Cyclist’s Guide to Washington, DC

Sick of driving in Washington, DC, or looking for a healthier and greener way to get around? Hoping to enjoy a little more fresh air and get some exercise while doing so? Whatever your motivation, if you’re a current or aspiring cyclist in the DC area, you’re in the right place. The cycling scene in DC is booming and has lots to offer.

Here are some quick facts about cycling in DC:

Bike Trails Abound

DC is home to hundreds of miles of bike trails suited for everyone from the casual weekend rider to the fitness junkie. Check out the Metropolitan Branch Trail, an 8-mile stretch from Union Station to Silver Spring, MD, if you’re looking for a route that connects you with options for work, home and play. For more of a scenic, tourist-y trail, try the Chesapeake & Ohio Towpath, 184 miles through a national historic park full of notable sights and offering overnight camping areas.

It’s worth noting that the best trails tend to get crowded, especially on the weekends, so if you’re in the mood for a quiet ride with a little less company, aim for the early mornings or weekdays if you can.

Image courtesy Flickr / MoBikeFed

DC Ranks High in Cycling Safety

The Alliance for Biking and Walking recently released a comprehensive report on walking and bicycling across the country, and DC ranked well in terms of overall safety. There were only 2 cyclist fatalities in DC for every 10,000 bicycle commuters between the years 2009 – 2011.

In addition to relative safety, DC also offers a large network of existing cycling lanes and trails. The city ranked tenth in the Alliance for Biking and Walking report for total square footage of bicycle infrastructure in a large city, with about 1.5 miles of on-street bicycle lanes per square mile, 2.5 miles of multi-use paths (i.e., paths shared with pedestrians and skaters) per square mile, and 4.0 miles of signed bicycle routes per square mile.

The DC Department of Transportation continues to work to improve the city’s bike-friendly atmosphere through its Bicycle Program, which has created 2,300 bike parking racks, launched a robust bike sharing program, and installed several Bikestations, which offer cyclists amenities like lockers, changing rooms and convenient access to public transportation.

Image courtesy Flickr / SLO County Bicycle Coalition

Diverse and Active Cycling Culture

As a DC cyclist, you’ll be part of a vibrant cycling scene that offers plenty of events, clinics and clubs catering to everyone from the casual cyclist to competitive pro riders.

To get involved, check out Washington Area Bicyclist Association (or WABA), Bike Washington and Bike Arlington. From Bike to Work Day to races to social rides, you’ll find plenty to keep your calendar full and your legs moving.

Or, head out on your own and check out bike-friendly attractions like DC’s ever-growing bike-shop scene, which offers a lot more than just repairs. You can grab a coffee at CycleLife USA in Georgetown, and Filter Coffeehouse is rumored to opening a combination bike shop/coffee shop in Brookland soon.

Image courtesy Flickr / Clara S

Commuting

The number of people who commute to work by bike in DC has nearly doubled over the past decade. Once representing only 1.2 percent of DC residents (in 2000), bike commuters now make up 3.1 percent, according to a recent American Community Survey. (The national average is only around 0.6 percent.)

Fitness tracking app Strava recently released this fascinating heat map to show the most popular bike routes in the city, from downtown all the way out to the suburbs:

Click here to view the full interactive map.

If you’re looking for more information, you can also search for specific routes, download the official DC Bike Map from the DC Department of Transportation, and get a commuter map from Bike Washington.