I had a great ride today, and was thrilled to see so many of my fellow Washington area cyclists out for an easy spin on a beautiful Mother’s Day Sunday. There was definitely a hitch or two, but I’m confident in reporting that thousands of us finished the ride with giant smiles on our faces. So I thought I’d share my experience of the day. Hit the jump for more.
It started out rather well. We made it to the line just in time to zip-tie on a registration placard, and off we went. The roll up Pennsylvania Avenue was familiar, but there were still some Bike DC benefits on offer – no U-turning taxis and no cars parked in the bike lanes. We passed north of the White House (pleased to report that everyone I saw successfully negotiated the bollards) and tic-tac’d our way up Pennsylvania Ave. and K St. to Rock Creek Parkway.
Rock Creek Parkway. First, I’ll admit it – I’m one of those cyclists. Yes, I’ve ridden Rock Creek Parkway on my own before, and I’ll do it again. But I’ve never done it with as much comfort and company as I did today. Bike DC and its staff deserves much credit for securing and maintaining the closure for this ride. It was one of the course improvements that I really enjoyed this year.
After Rock Creek Parkway, we wound our way through Foggy Bottom and west over the Roosevelt Bridge. As a frequent user of that bridge’s substandard side path, I quite enjoyed the freedom of a full lane or three. But the real fun started when we turned onto the George Washington Parkway.
The George Washington Parkway is just about the only non-interstate road in the area that’s closed to cycling. Except for today. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was looking forward to taking in the parkway’s scenery at a human speed. I certainly wasn’t disappointed – the hills and views were spectacular. Seems a shame the Mount Vernon Trail ends at Roosevelt Island, doesn’t it?
After the parkway turnaround, we headed south towards the Iwo Jima memorial. As we worked our way around toward the memorial, I saw that recent road work on Marshall Drive (a sewer project, I believe) had resulted in the entire eastbound lane being taken up by very bike-unfriendly steel plates. As a result, the organizers had squeezed us into one lane (to avoid the plates). For my cohort, this wasn’t too much of a problem – we were pretty strung out by this point, and the ride leaders hadn’t yet made their way back.
So we went around the Iwo Jima memorial then down to 110. It was a straight shot over toward the Pentagon, as this year’s route skipped the George Washington Parkway detour. I very graciously (heh) pulled a paceline on the flat and windy stretch of road all the way to the beginning of the climb to the Air Force Memorial. Then it was a quick stomp up to the top, where I took my reward in the form of several handfuls of Twizzlers from the food station. I apologize to anyone who came after me who didn’t get any Twizzlers. Sometimes I can’t help myself.
The next part of the plan involved a fun descent – at speed – down from the Air Force Memorial. The reality, well, not so much. We pulled out behind a couple of National Park Service motorcycle police, and they decided it was going to be a leisurely roll down the hill. I apologize to the riders who stacked up behind us, but there was just no safely passing them. And speaking of safely passing: please, NPS motorcycle police working rides, don’t zip past cyclists on both sides, like this:
To head back to DC, the course sent us back towards the Iwo Jima memorial. Here’s where I realized that was lucky to be near the front of the ride, and not in the middle. By the time I was heading up Marshall Drive, lots of cyclists (mostly Family Ride cyclists) were trying to come down. This resulted in . . . not a lot of fun. Folks signed up for Bike DC, not Walk DC, and there was more than a little frustration as most were forced to dismount. I’ve been around enough bike events to know that organizers have little to no control over things like street construction, but the solution to the problem here could definitely have been handled better.
Navigating past the walking masses (and, eventually, the 10mph NPS motorcycle police), we started back toward the Roosevelt Bridge. Note to organizers for next year: more traffic help here, please! Lots of events like these rely on volunteer help, and that’s great. But sometimes you need to do whatever you can to ensure that someone with an authoritative presence is around to control critical intersections like this.
As I emerged onto the Roosevelt Bridge, I was looking forward to another speedy dash across the span and then the finish. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go according to expectation. I stopped to assist some riders who’d had a minor mishap (well, minor is relative – one friend crashed into and broke another friend’s bike frame – oops). Just after I got going again, I saw this coming at me:
Whaaa? It’s only 9:15, right? (NB: This was after I’d gotten out of the way and onto the sidepath. I’m no fool.)
Yep, that’s a phalanx of MPD trucks with a full I-66′s worth of traffic behind them, speakers blaring “Turn around and go back the way you came!” over and over. They certainly weren’t interested in discussing the matter. Not cool. Most people slowly turned around and started salmoning back (the tide eventually shifting, I presume). Since the rider with the broken frame was now walking, I went back to put her on the Roosevelt Bridge side path and direct her to walk to the finish. I biked on ahead on the path (east into DC) to catch up with my friends at the finish.
When I got there, I realized that no one was getting to the finish from the planned route. While I’m still not entirely clear on what happened, my cobbled-together understanding (which may yet turn out to be wrong) was that the Roosevelt Bridge was erroneously closed early by MPD, causing a . . . well, let’s put it kindly – a big mess in communications and logistics.
Honestly, this put a real damper on things for the folks who were finishing around the same time as me. I was bummed for them, as this is really DC’s best-known closed-course ride, and they had every right to expect a clear and open course the whole way. But some of us were turned around, some pushed onto the side path, and yet others directed onto Constitution Avenue to find our way to the finish. I don’t think there were any real consequences beyond annoyance, but still, it was unfortunate.
Eventually – and again, I don’t know the exact details – the mistake was corrected, and people started getting to the finish line along the expected route. As more time passed between the confused arrival of folks like me and the smooth arrival of those that skipped the mess, faces got happier.
And really, that’s what today was about – happy people on bikes. Was it perfect? Definitely not. But it was a day with thousands and thousands of happy cyclists winding their way through DC and Arlington. I watched the broad spectrum of Washington area cyclists – kids with boundless energy, tandem couples with well-worn habits, disabled vets on hand cycles, and people who’d clearly been pulled into this by friends the night before. In other words – everyone.
Everyone in DC got out for a bike ride today, and – hitches aside — it was good.