Blog - August 12, 2013

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DC Planner, DC Biker


As an experienced master planner and urban designer, David Kitchens has long been interested in the design of transportation infrastructure in urban environments. His mixed-use resume runs long and includes some locally well-known areas such as Bethesda Row as well as nationally acclaimed projects such as Mizner Park in Florida. It’s easy to see what he preaches in terms of TOD development: the importance of connectability and well-developed pedestrian and bike areas in walkable, mixed-use developments. Now, if you happen to follow David on Twitter (@6kitchen) you would see that he just finished a 50 mile training ride recently and that he can consistently ride 18-25 mph. In terms of connectability and sustainability, it’s pretty cool to see him practice what he preaches.

Where it started
Back in high school, David tells me he had an aluminum frame road bike that he kept until after he moved the family to Washington, DC. In fact his first DC ride from his home in Maryland to town and back was on that road bike. He says he didn’t get more serious about biking until most of his kids had left home. With kids in college and the recession well on its way, cutting costs meant cutting cars and David pulled out his Rockhopper mountain bike to commute to the nearest metro everyday to get to work. After realizing the health benefits of cycling everyday, he expanded his riding to weekend trips as well and only then upgraded to a Specialized Roubaix carbon fiber bike with much thinner, street-friendly tires. As an active WABA member, David says their website is a good resource for DC cycling culture. His own theory of why the popularity of biking has exploded in the DC area is the heightened realization and incorporation of biking trails and lanes that have promoted safe biking for the general public. Another of his theories is that the baby boom generation has gone through all the various forms of recreational exercise and many are finding now that biking is an excellent form of recreation and exercise as they move into their 60s. According to a study done in 2011 by Ralph Buehler et al. at Virginia Tech called “Trends and Determinants of Cylcing in the Washington, DC Region,” David isn’t too far off with at least his first theory. The study finds that cycling levels have been increasing in the Washington region at least partially due to the expansion of the bike networks, bikeway supply, bike parking, and cyclist showers. The study also finds that, 41% of bicycle trips in DC are commute or work related compared to 17% nationally. Buehler explains, “Bicycle planning in the region has its roots in the 1970s, experienced a hiatus in the 1980s, but has witnessed a ‘renaissance’ since the (late) 1990s.” Buehler goes on to write, “Since the late 1990s, jurisdictions have greatly expanded their on-street bicycle lanes and implemented other innovative programs.” Now, this sounds a bit like a question of the chicken and egg. Did expanded bikeways lead to more cyclists? Or did an increase in biking lead to a need for more bikeways? Either way, DC is riding.

Is biking the new golf?
With the dramatic increase in cyclists in the DC metro area, David is not alone in his weekend hobby and has connected with both colleagues and clients alike on recreational rides. “Some people golf for networking, some people bike,” he told me last week. The interesting thing about biking, unlike golf, is that you can make it into a true team activity. Riding in a group of anywhere between 4-30 people forming a peloton, you can work together and really create a team. In a peloton, you can produce higher speeds on a fun road-biking trip by drafting and forming configurations that help you be more aerodynamic. Biking allows not only for large groups, but also for diverse skill levels. In one group, you can have a few people who are experienced riders at the front and break the wind while others of varying skills follow and still keep up. Another good thing about biking as a networking tool is how varied you can plan your trip. You can spend a couple of hours together or an entire day. Going on a bike trip could include breakfast, lunch, or drinks afterwards. However you plan it, it’s a great excuse to spend time outdoors in a variety of locations.

Planning for changes in transportation
As the DC metro area plans for the arrival of the Purple Line, Chevy Chase Lake has embarked on a new sector plan to encourage healthy growth and connectivity surrounding the future station at Connecticut Avenue. As the lead urban designer/architect on the project, David is sensitive to Chevy Chase Lake’s alignment with the popular Crescent Trail and the future Purple Line, realizing the unique opportunity the area has for healthy growth and for connecting people more easily to places of employment, Metro lines, downtown, and the University of Maryland. Many people plan their bike routes based on safety. Planning for TOD infrastructure for everyone at the start will make it much easier, safer, and more inviting for people to choose transportation other than an automobile. Safety is of course not just a cyclist’s concern. David explained, “While we think about biker safety from automobiles, we have to think of pedestrian safety from bikers.” If there is no clear bike lane, and a street is too busy, bikers will often ride on sidewalks causing safety issues for pedestrians. Well thought-out planning can encourage more sustainable forms of transportation and also improve safety for everyone.

David on the move
Last summer, David took his bike on vacation with the family when they went to Lake Tahoe. He and his son rode a loop all the way around the lake, a 75 mile trip in 5 hours that included 2 major climbs. He got to experience going downhill at 46 mph, he told me excitedly. He would love to do more bike trips like that. This summer he is getting ready for the Audi Best Buddies Challenge, an event that raises funds for Best Buddies International, a global volunteer program that supports employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s a 100 mile bike ride and David has a goal of raising $2,500. He has been training for this which was part of the reason for the 50 mile ride he did just a couple weekends ago. With all of this biking, David still takes advantage of Capital Bike Share. He recalls the most convenient time he used it as being after the Nationals competed in the National League Championship Series. Anyone who knows the DC Metro system can imagine how backed-up it was after such a huge event. David walked over to the Waterfront metro station, hopped on a bike, rode across to DuPont Circle and got on a crowd-less metro. Whether on his Roubaix or on a Bike Share bike, David will keep cycling for his health, his wallet, a greener planet, and of course for a little bit of fun.

Additional links:
Research rates DC as the 4th friendliest bike cities in America in 2012
Biking to Work
DC bike route map
Popular Bike Routes