The Buzz: Joining the Chain Gangs

As your car inches ahead the monotony becomes unbearable. You’ve moved only a few feet since starting the engine. Hunched over the steering wheel, your legs fall asleep. Perhaps you can still see your house from where you sit. And, of course, just as you enter the lane that seems to be moving the fastest, it creaks to a painful halt.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. All you need is a bicycle and a lock and you’re ready to roll.

According to a 2001 report from the Texas Transportation Institute, the country’s largest university-affiliated transportation research agency, Washington, D.C., comes in after L.A., San Francisco and Seattle as the fourth most congested metro area in the country.

Senior Lee Todovich, who has been riding a bike since age three, said he thinks riding on two wheels is the best way to travel.

“Anytime I’m going anywhere farther than five blocks I’ll ride,” he said. “I don’t have a huge resentment toward people who drive, but it makes more sense with traffic in the city to just ride your bike.”

Bicycle riders have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers, such as abiding by traffic lights and stop signs. Riding on the sidewalk is allowed everywhere in the city except in the central business district.

According to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Metropolitan Police rarely enforce the laws, and cyclists run through stop signs and ride the wrong way down one-way streets every day.

“At least a once month I get one cop telling me to ride on the sidewalk and another one telling me to ride on the street,” Todovich said.

Though bikes have equal rights on the road, cyclists said there is a general lack of consideration from motorists.

“People in cars don’t know how to handle you,” junior Dan Morse said. “They aren’t sure if they should pass or treat you like a car.”

“Everyday, people are constantly cutting you off so they can get ahead of you and then stop at a stoplight the next second,” senior Logan Worsley said.

Despite the discourteous drivers, most bicyclists interviewed said they still leave their vehicle counterparts in the dust. Todovich, who lives off campus, rides his bike to and from school everyday.

“Sometimes when I’m riding home during rush hour I see people sitting in their cars and I think, ‘You poor saps. You could be home already,'” he said.

There are some disadvantages to owning a bike, included riding in the rain and theft.

To avoid theft, it is best to lock your bike to a solid fixture such as a parking meter or a bike rack, but not something flimsy like a signpost. It’s also good, if possible, to avoid leaving bikes outside overnight.

“The number one thing is, you can’t leave your bike outside all the time,” Todovich said. “If you leave it out every night, it’s either going to get damaged or stolen.”

There are a lot more hassles and expenses involved in owning a car than in owning a bicycle. After buying a vehicle, a car owner must pay for gas, parking and insurance, while a bike owner has only a periodic tune-up or maintenance to worry about.

“Occasionally, I have to get it fixed, but the bike itself I got at a yard sale for 10 bucks,” Worsley said.

So why do so many Americans drive to work every day when they could be riding a bike?

“A lot of it has to do with the way cities are planned in the U.S.,” Todovich said. “(Cars) are such a cultural institution in the U.S. It seems you have to have a car.”

“It’s unfortunate the way most suburbs and cities are set up so that you have to have a car to get around,” Worsley said. “It’s easier and healthier and better for the environment to ride a bike, especially when you have these huge showboat vehicles that get terrible mileage.”

While most American cities are more car-friendly than bike-friendly, many European cities are planned out to benefit cyclists.

Worsley, who lived in Germany last year, noted, “In Germany, streets are made for riding bicycles and the state plays a big role in supporting bicycling. Almost all students ride their bikes to school.”

Senior Alexis Mastromichalis studied in Amsterdam last year and said the Dutch ride their bikes everywhere, sometimes even from city to city.

“Amsterdam encourages bike riding as the most accessible and feasible way to get around. There are adequate bike lanes on every street and bikes are cheap,” she said. “It’s a matter of efficiency. They look at transportation like cars as selfish because it takes up more space.”

Though D.C. is certainly no Amsterdam and has few bicycle lanes, over the last few years the city has made progress in providing new bicycle resources. Metro buses recently began a program for bikes to ride on buses, and the Bicycle Advisory Council has also begun installing new bike racks and planning bike lanes in the District. D.C. also has some great paths, including Rock Creek Park and The Capital Crescent Trail, running along the Potomac from Georgetown to downtown Bethesda.

So why aren’t more GW students riding bikes to school and around the city? Part of the answer is that most GW students live around campus and have no need for a bike. But, for many GW students, said Mastromichalis, riding a bike just is not stylish.

“There’s a sense of pretentiousness – that you wouldn’t be seen wearing your stilettos on a bike,” she said.

Todovich said too many adults regard bicycling as a childhood activity.

“A lot of people grow out of bikes because they think it’s a kids’ thing, but my whole family rides a bike,” he said.

But for those GW students who are riding around, having a bike goes beyond simply convenience and transportation. Many of those interviewed said having a self-sustained form of transportation gives them a sense of independence.

“Having a bike fosters self-reliance for me to be able to know that I’m in control of something,” Mastromichalis said. “I fix and maintain my own bike.”

Senior Evan Woodward said in addition to cutting down on transportation costs, he does not have to rely on anyone or anything else to travel.

“I’m not dependent on anyone but myself. I like not having to wait for a ride or the bus,” he said.

And for students who are not satisfied by housing options on campus or around Foggy Bottom, a bike is often their best connection between the two worlds.

“I live far enough away from school to feel like I’ve got my own neighborhood and I’m independent of school, but not too far away,” said Woodward, who lives in Adams Morgan. “I have my own neighborhood that I call home and my place where I go to school.”

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