On Friday, May 17, thousands of Washington area residents will take to roads, bicycle lanes, and shared-use paths to commute to work by bicycle in the region's thirteenth annual Bike to Work Day.
As part of the annual event, designed to promote bicycling as a viable commuting alternative, cyclists will be able to stop at any one of 72 "pit stops" set up in various locations throughout the region to meet other bicycle commuters, enjoy refreshments, enter prize competitions, and receive an official event t-shirt.
Bike to Work Day started in 2000 through a partnership between the Transportation Planning Board's Commuter Connections program and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, or WABA. Since its first year, Bike to Work Day has grown steadily, from just five pit stops and a few hundred participants to 72 pit stops and an anticipated 14,000 participants.
The growing participation in Bike to Work Day reflects a trend in the Washington region of more people choosing to use bicycles for both commuting and recreation. Just recently, Capital Bikeshare, a regional program that makes publicly-owned bicycles available for short-term rental, set an all-time record for one-day ridership, exceeding more than 11,000 trips on Saturday, April 13.
While planners and officials welcome this increased interest in non-motorized travel modes, the increase is leading to a growing number of potential conflicts between motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists, often caused by confusion over such things as who has the right of way and where bicycles are permitted and where they aren't. Often these conflicts are resolved without incident, but far too often people are injured or even killed.
As this risk increases, there is a growing need for support services to help new cyclists become more confident on the road and to operate their bicycles in a safer manner, as well as to educate motorists about traffic safety laws pertaining to cyclists.
The region's annual Bike to Work Day event offers a number of activities that both celebrate biking and provide an opportunity for novice cyclists to develop confidence on the road.
Communities in every jurisdiction in the region will set up pit stops as part of this year's event along popular bike routes or near employment centers, not only to welcome cyclists and offer refreshments but also to provide cyclists with information about bicycle maintenance and safety.
WABA will also organize commuter convoys led by experienced bicyclists along designated routes and between residential areas and major employment centers to help first-time or infrequent cyclists feel more comfortable commuting to work by bike.
In addition to the support services provided as part of Bike to Work Day, several other programs in the region help educate the public about bicycle and pedestrian safety.
Commuter Connections offers a Bicycling to Work guide for both commuters and their employers which is designed to facilitate the transition to bicycle commuting.
A Transportation Planning Board effort, known as "Street Smart", aims to remind motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians about the region's traffic laws and ways to avoid traffic collisions. The semi-annual campaign uses outdoor advertising, on bus stops and on the backs and sides of buses, as well as traffic sponsorships on area radio stations to reach the public with key safety messages.
WABA also hosts safety training for bicyclists and provides a number of resources designed to educate motorists and cyclists about safety and traffic laws that apply to cyclists. These guides are especially important because traffic laws can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
As more and more people across the region choose to use bicycles to get around, whether for commuting, to run errands, or recreation, programs and activities like Bike to Work Day, the Street Smart safety campaign, and the various support services offered by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association provide tools and information to help make sure that cyclists are confident and safe on area roads.