The forecast wasn't promising. "Rain, heavy at times, beginning overnight and lasting through the morning commute." Everyone wanted to know: would Bike to Work Day 2014 go on as planned?
Organizers sent emails to those who had signed up to participate. "Bike to Work Day is a rain or shine event," the messages said. In a statement published on The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock blog, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association reassured would-be participants: "If it rains, everyone else will be wet too. Nobody will care, and the celebration will go on."
In the end, thousands turned out, donning rain gear and heeding other expert tips from WABA for riding in the rain -- pack a change of clothes, slow down, use headlights and taillights, and avoid puddles and slippery surfaces, among others.
Organizers estimate that a third or more of the nearly 17,000 registered participants made the wet trek to work on May 16.
The total number of registered participants set a new record this year, reaching its highest point since the annual event began in 2001. In all, 16,800 people registered to participate this year, up nearly 15% from last year's total of 14,650.
The event also featured a record-setting number of pit stops -- 79 in all -- where registered participants could meet other bicycle commuters and elected officials, enjoy refreshments, enter prize raffles, and receive an official event t-shirt.
All 79 pit stops set up as planned, despite the rain. Many had tents to shield them from the wet weather. Others moved to inside locations or to spaces beneath nearby awnings or overhangs to stay dry. In downtown Bethesda, pit stop organizers moved their festivities inside the tunnel through which a portion of the Capital Crescent trail passes.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (left) and COG Executive Director Chuck Bean (right) attend Bike to Work Day 2014 festivities at Freedom Plaza in the District of Columbia.
The region's main Bike to Work Day pit stop, at Freedom Plaza in the District of Columbia, welcomed Anthony Foxx, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Foxx showed up in full rain gear to congratulate those who braved the rain to participate in this year's event.
Bike to Work Day got its start in the Washington region in 2001 as a joint venture between WABA and the Transportation Planning Board's Commuter Connections program. The event aims to promote bicycling as a viable commuting option in the region. A survey following last year's event found that close to a third of participants started biking to work on a regular basis or more often following the event. A 2013 TPB analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau found that the share of commuters in the region who get to work each day by bike more than doubled between 2000 and 2011.
WABA and Commuter Connections are already planning next year's Bike to Work Day event. They hope even more Washington area residents choose to participate and help demonstrate the growing popularity and viability of bicycling as a way to get to and from work and other destinations.