Biking for Work

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By Melissa McMahon, Transportation Demand Management Field Coordinator for Arlington County Commuter Services. Originally posted on CommuterPageBlog.

On leap day the Clarendon-Courthouse-Rosslyn Patch featured a post by Mark Blacknell encouraging Arlington County employees to incorporate bicycle-riding into their everyday work activities. Blacknell is no outsider; as chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor, he probably has as good an idea as anybody how people are cycling in our community. He also knows all the effort County staff put into making Arlington a bike-friendly community. Blacknell is pushing us further, however, requesting that County staff lead by example – walking the walk as it were, or maybe, biking the bike?

Like the unnamed County staffer in Blacknell’s post, I also use my bike as a part of my job. Appropriately, I work for Arlington County Commuter Services, a bureau whose vision is to enhance the quality of life and economic vitality of Arlington by working to reduce traffic congestion, reduce the demand for parking, provide for the maximum use of existing public transportation and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) infrastructure, improve air quality, and improve mobility. I have always been a fan of public transit, a fan of walkable communities, and a fan of getting to work without a car. Coming to this particular job, in a community with such great infrastructure and such safe streets, for the first time I can work almost entirely car-free.

In my job, I routinely visit commercial and residential properties to evaluate their compliance with Board-adopted site plan development conditions. The conditions I enforce are those that relate to transportation demand management, or TDM (aka "all those things that make it easy for people to get around without a car"). I get to these site visits using some combination of public transit, my bicycle, and my feet. Riding my bike to site visits, carrying a helmet under my arm as I walk through the door, usually triggers a response from property managers. The farther away they are from Courthouse Plaza, the more surprised they are to learn I came to meet them by bike.

But in reality, given Arlington County’s small size and connectivity, biking, walking and public transit are all feasible, even preferable, alternatives for getting to my work sites. Let’s look at an example: Shirlington. According to Google Maps, the bike ride from Courthouse Plaza to the center of Shirlington Village is about five miles, or a 30 minute ride (this is true; I do this trip regularly). If I had to take public transit I would have to make a transfer, and the one-way trip would be at least 42 minutes.

Map: Bike route
Bike route from Courthouse Plaza to Shirlington.

Admittedly, if I drove a car the trip would only last 11-13 minutes depending on the route, but that doesn’t account for the possible effects of traffic, or the time it takes to get in and out of parking garages at either end of the trip (or any of the other negative externalities associated with driving a car, such as emissions, the cost of fuel and maintenance, etc.).

I know I’m not the only other person doing County work by bike. Maybe others can chime in and talk about the kind of work they do, and how biking fits in (or doesn’t)?

And maybe a next step is to see how we can encourage our colleagues to give it a try.

Bike to Work Day, Walk to School Day, and similar events are at least in part based on the principle that having a social support network, including the physical guidance and presence of more experienced practitioners, will make these behaviors more memorable, more enjoyable, more successful, and hopefully more sustainable. Maybe Arlington County should sponsor a "Bike FOR Work" Day, or even Week?

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