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Letter from Herndon.(5 posts)

Letter from Herndon.Fredrico
Jun 15, 2002 12:09 PM
So here I am, newly installed in a place called Herndon, VA., right next to Dulles Airport, in a sea of brand new urban sprawl, four lane roads crisscrossing cloverleafs to limited access highways, lined by shopping centers and housing developements, solidly packed with frenetic motor traffic.

Boomtown. Everybody's here, from Vietnam, Korea, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Iran, Afghanistan, Myanamar, and Patagonia, starting new lives, tapping into the American Dream, opening restaurants of every description, grocery stores, clothing stores, fast food gas stations with five kinds of gourmet coffee; building houses, repairing autos, running hotels, bank tellers, doctors, internet wizards, freeway toll collectors! Buzzing on their cell phones from brand new BMWs with custom plates like "HISPEED"! The parking lots are always full. Long gone are the shaded country lanes, that only ten years ago provided endless miles of respite from the mad city. Riding a bike, I take my life in my own hands.

County planners have thoughtfully installed sidewalks all over, which the faint of heart will be seen cycling on, and two blocks from my apartment in "historic old town", where the railroad used to stop, the Washington & Old Dominion Bike Trail crosses the main street. What luck!

I took it into Georgetown last weekend, a 20 mile run. Used to smooth, wide roads, I felt at home only upon reaching the city streets, packed with cars moving like thick molasses through a sea of pedestrians--that's right--people walking, hundreds, thousands of them.

Upon my return home, I felt demoralized. Is this all we get, a network of bike trails, feeding off into sidewalks, with little tunnels or bridges that go under or over these high speed auto highways into apartment complexes and shopping centers? I felt over-directed, constrained, always traveling in a tunnel, green and pleasant, but not any less hectic than the roads, especially for the walkers, kids and slower riders, not bent on "getting a workout."

Where's the life, the pulse of the city, the little dramas that entertain the trip, the sumptuous visual feast that can be appreciated only from a bicycle?

All this is new to me. I left Washington in 1988, when this grid of bikeways was not yet in place, and we rode with traffic on the roads.

Is it still cool to ride on the roads when there are pristine bikepaths paralleling the routes? Is separating cyclists from motorized traffic and putting them in with walkers and birdwatchers a good idea? Or, for the sake of sanity, and "traffic calming," should we be out there on our bikes in the right lanes and shoulders of these freshly paved thoroughfares, drafting the passing traffic?
NVA - Worst Place For Cycling - Drivers SUCKjose_Tex_mex
Jun 15, 2002 2:43 PM
Having lived in Northern VA - beltway insider - BFD, I can honestly say that it is one of the most hostile places for a cyclist to ride. My trip to Central Park NYC up 5th avenue is much, much less un-nerving. NYC drivers (believe it or not) respect cyclists much more than your average NVA driver (always working for someone too important to effect their apathy towards others). Also, since NY is a city and not a metro the flow of vehicular traffic is easier to deal with.

Expect that you will lose whatever hill climbing ability you have. Unless you take 66 Past Front Royal and grab some hills. NVA is just too flat from Purcellville to DC.

Drivers in this area are the absolute worse. Their self righteous, narcissistic attitudes make it impossible to share the road. Given the nature of the area (not suburban nor a city - kind of a metro) cars are just able to go fast enough to be dangerous until they come to the next traffic jam. Every greenlight is a race, every red means late braking. Cars come closer to you than anywhere else at speeds normally in excess of 45mph. There's no courtesy and drivers do not go around you - they always hold their line.

From Herndon I would probably head to Purcellville and try and grab a few hills somewhere out there. It's really not worth going towards Falls Church/DC. Sure the airport is fun and the loop around the Capitol is scenic but those damn tourists get boring fast.

Best of Luck, I would advise you stay off the road. It was my opinion that getting hit down there was only a matter of time.
NVA - Worst Place For CyclingFredrico
Jun 16, 2002 9:53 AM
Thanks Jose for the upfront analysis. Rode west on the W&OD last night out into Loudon County, and came within a few inches of being sideswiped by one of those drivers who don't change their lines. Often, drivers stop for you at the crossings, but you never know when.

Now the wiser, I'll stick to the bike paths until gaining access to cut-throughs in older neighborhoods, or country roads way out in Loudon County.

Railroad-bed grades are subtle, but they're there. A woman who passed me last night said it's a constant climb west to Purcellville, and more or less downhill into Washington. Good training with the heart rate monitor.

Used to ride up in Montgomery County. Around Gaithersburg-Rockville area motorists were the same way. Seems to be an environmental problem.

Enjoy NYC. Wish I had a good enough income to live there!

Take 66 Past Front Royaljose_Tex_mex
Jun 16, 2002 3:16 PM
I actually live outside of NYC but as close to the city as I lived to DC when in VA. My rent up here and cost of living has actually decreased. My $1500/month one bedroom apt in Oakton was ridiculously priced - but about average for down there.
Watch crossing the roads from the trail, most drivers I encountered were just terrible about giving courtesy. That's why I loved to do the late braking thing :-)
One fun part of the ride is after you leave Purceville a few miles out. You come to a road where you have to make a left, then right, over a highway (66?), and another left. You then start down a switchback hill as you run in to Leesburg (I think). From the switch back to Leesburg is an awesome time trial - I used to average about 30 during those miles - much fun.
Anyhow, I would head out towards George Washington State Park - it's close to a place called Elizabeth Furnace - a nice mountain ride or a very good place to find a hilly road ride. My directions are skectchy but:
Take 66 West towards Front Royal. 66 ends and you go down a hill onto some other highway. If you take the first exit and go left you head towards a quaint little antique looking town. Take the left at the light in the middle of town and you head back out towards the mountains. Eventually (a few miles), you will pass a grave yard on your right. Hang a right there and a few miles down the road you will see a sign for Elizabeth Furnace - I would cycle out there - fun, not crowded, and hilly.
Take 66 Past Front Royalpeter in NVA
Jun 16, 2002 5:55 PM
I had the same reaction moving out here 10 years ago from LA. The W&OD is a great trail, but not for real road biking. I was shocked when I first tried it (starting from Herndon!) and came upon road crossings every mile or so in places cars don't even expect to see you.
I have had very good experiences with cars, however. Most try to give me space but it just doesn't work since the roads are narrow with no shoulders and overcrowded.
My solution was to buy a cyclocross bike and ride on the local trails. I get an intense, technical workout, but its not road biking. I have ridden the loop around Elizabeth Furnace and Skyline Drive-its great and resembles what biking in VA is supposed to be, but you have to drive an hour to the start.