WASHINGTON — Over the past few years, you’ve probably grown used to seeing more bike lanes along D.C. streets — and more cyclists zipping down them, too.
In fact, the percentage of commuters in D.C. opting for two wheels ranks third in the nation.
Among large U.S. cities, D.C. leapfrogged over Seattle between 2010 and 2015 to become No. 3 in the percentage of people who bike to work, according to data collected by the federal government.
The District is now tied with famously bike-friendly San Francisco in the proportion of its population that bikes to work.
To coincide with the D.C. region’s Bike to Work Day on May 19, WTOP examined where people are biking to work in the D.C. area and talked with experts, advocates and enthusiasts about what’s behind the increase.
How many people around DC bike to work?
The percentage of D.C. residents who bike to work increased from 2.2 percent in 2010 to 4 percent in 2015, according to U.S. Census data from the most recent version of the American Community Survey. That equates to about 13,000 D.C. residents who currently bike to work and an average of about 1,200 new cyclists hitting the streets every year.
Some D.C. neighborhoods report far higher numbers of bike-to-workers.
In Bloomingdale in Northeast and in Mt. Pleasant and Petworth in Northwest, well over 20 percent of residents regularly commute to work by bicycle, according to D.C. city data based on the census statistics.
And the federal data may actually undercount the total number of cyclists in the D.C. area, advocates said, because occasional cyclists and those who bike part of the way to work before transferring to Metro are not counted in the tally.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which also surveys the region’s residents for its “State of the Commute” study, reported an average 16 percent of D.C. residents commute to work via bike when those groups are counted.
That’s up from 10 percent in 2013, the last time the study was compiled, said Nick Ramfos, a transportation planner with the council, who called the uptick a “dramatic jump.”
In addition to Capital BikeShare, which has installed more than 400 depots of rentable bikes around the region since 2010, the District has also rolled out the welcome mat on protected bike lanes on city streets.
“By making biking feel safe and convenient, you get more people doing it,” said Collin Browne, communications director for the Washington Area Bicycling Association. “And I have no doubt that we’ll continue to see an increase over the next few years, as well as more infrastructure goes in.”
Biking in the ‘burbs
Still, biking to work has been slow to pick up outside D.C.
Overall, just over 1 percent of commuters in the entire D.C. region — which includes not only the District but also the area’s suburbs and further outlying counties — get to work by bike, according to the “State of the Commute” report.
In Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia, the percentage of residents riding two wheels to work is even smaller, according to the census data.
“Some of it is purely distance, but again, I think a lot of it boils down to infrastructure and, especially as you get out into the suburbs, the sort of quality of infrastructure varies a lot,” Browne said.
Still, even in Northern Virginia where upward of 80 percent of commuters drive to work, there are biking havens, according to the statistics. In Falls Church, about 1.5 percent of residents reported biking to work, per the census data, double the percentage in neighboring communities in Fairfax. And in a small enclave near the West Falls Church Metro, known as Pimmitt Hills, more than 3.4 percent of residents reported biking.
The Fairfax Alliance for Better Biking are advocates for more bike lanes and other bike-friendly planning in Fairfax County.
“Our mission is to make sure that bicycling is part of the infrastructure in Fairfax County,” Better Biking President Jeff Anderson told WTOP. “That can be taking a bike to school; taking a bike to work; or taking a bike just to go get a coffee.”
The group’s efforts appear to be paying off.
This spring, the League of American Bicyclists awarded Fairfax County a “bronze medal” on its ranking of bike-friendly communities — the county’s first showing on the annual list.
“That shows that there’s a commitment” to improve biking, Anderson said. “A couple of years ago, I think they probably would’ve struggled to get honorable mention.”
Key to biking in the ‘burbs is the network of bike trails that wind through Northern Virginia: The Washington & Old Dominion Trail, the Custis Trail and the Mount Vernon Trail.
The Washington and Old Dominion, or W&OD — known as the “Bicycle Beltway” among enthusiasts — is a 45-mile paved-over former railroad bed that stretches from Purcellville in rural Loudoun County to Arlington.
Alliance member Liz McGregor, who lives in Vienna, Virginia, has been biking to work for nearly a decade, making the nearly 30-mile round-trip ride from the outer reaches of Fairfax County to K Street in downtown D.C. most days of the week, she said.
You’ll generally find her pedaling down the W&OD trail, she told WTOP.
Over the years, she said she’s seen an increase in the number of people joining her on the trails.
“You sort of tend to get on a schedule and see the same people who are on that schedule, too,” she said. “At this point, it’s not unusual for me to meet up with somebody I know, and we’ll ride in together or ride home together in the afternoon.”
- Q: What does the CDC’s new mask guidance say?
The CDC announced new recommendations that vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging. The CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status — citing new information about the ability of the delta variant to spread among some vaccinated people.
Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people. So-called breakthrough infections, which generally cause milder illness, can occur in vaccinated people.
- Q: How does the CDC describe different levels of community transmission?
The CDC tracks community transmission based on two indicators: The total number of cases in the past seven days per 100,000 residents and the positivity rate of coronavirus tests in a given area over the past seven days.
The cases per 100,000 indicator is broken down into four levels:
- Low transmission: 0 — 9.99 cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days
- Moderate transmission: 10 — 49.99 cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days
- Substantial transmission: 50 — 99.99 cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days
- High transmission: 100 or more cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days
The positivity rate indicator is also broken down into four levels:
- Low transmission: 0 -4.99% positivity rate
- Moderate transmission: 5-7.99% positivity rate
- Substantial transmission rate: 8-9.99%
- High transmission rate: Greater than 10%
Community transmission rates are being tracked by the CDC.
- Q: What do the numbers look like in DC, Maryland and Virginia?
The CDC recommends looking at data at a county level.
As of Aug. 4, here are areas that have transmission rates considered substantial or high per the CDC’s category, per CDC data.
D.C. — 79.06 cases
- City of Alexandria — 72.76
- Arlington — 72.76
- Fairfax County — 52.90
- Loudoun County — 69.40
- Prince William County — 76.97
- Stafford County — 111.20
- Charles County — 80.24
- Frederick County — 54.33
- Prince George’s County — 69.06
The CDC’s new policies recommend indoor mask-wearing cover cases where substantial and high transmission are occurring.
- Q: Does the CDC recommend wearing masks indoors for fully vaccinated people in D.C., Maryland and Virginia?
The CDC’s guidelines recommend indoor mask-wearing in areas of substantial or high transmission, regardless of vaccination status. However, it’s up to each jurisdiction whether they will reimpose mandates that people wear face coverings.
In D.C., a new indoor mask order regardless of vaccination status goes into effect July 31 at 5 a.m., Mayor Muriel Bowser announced.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam recommended Virginians “consider” wearing masks indoors where there is an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission indicated by the CDC’s new guidelines. “This is not a requirement, but a recommendation,” he said.
In a July 27 announcement, the City of Alexandria announced that it also has substantial transmission level. “Because Alexandria is currently in a state of substantial transmission, and is exceeding 50 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, masks should be worn in public indoor settings,” the city said in a news release.
In Maryland, Anne Arundel County announced that masks will soon be required indoors at all county-owned buildings, regardless of people’s vaccination status and, starting next month, all county employees will need to either show proof of vaccination or take weekly COVID-19 tests before reporting to work.
Officials in Montgomery County will meet Aug. 5 on an new health order that would automatically require face coverings in public indoor areas if the county reaches the CDC threshold for substantial spread.
Gaithersburg and Rockville, in Montgomery County, are again requiring visitors and staff in city buildings to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
- Q: Some places are requiring state government employees to either get vaccinated or get tested weekly. Will D.C., Maryland or Virginia be doing anything similar?
In Virginia, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ralph Northam said the state doesn’t plan to require vaccination at this time. “The facts show vaccines are highly effective at protecting Virginians from this serious virus — over 98% of hospitalizations and over 99% of deaths have been among unvaccinated Virginians,” Northam’s office said. In Fairfax County, the Board of Supervisors will decide in the next two weeks if it will require its 12,000 employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Neither D.C. nor Maryland officials responded to emails asking whether government employees would be required to be vaccinated.
Officials in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, announced that starting Sept. 13, all county employees will need to either show proof of vaccination or take weekly COVID-19 tests before reporting to work.
- Q: What are the mask regulations for DC-area public schools?
The CDC recommends that all students wear masks in school.
Faced with the new CDC guidance and the approaching start to the school year, more school districts across the D.C. region are making decisions about what to do.
In Maryland, the large public school systems in the WTOP listening area are requiring masks in school buildings regardless of vaccination status.
Anne Arundel, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery County and Prince George’s counties in Maryland are requiring masks to be worn in school buildings. Additionally, student-athletes in Charles County public schools are now required to either provide proof of having been fully vaccinated or enter in a COVID-19 screening program to participate in fall sports.
D.C. Public Schools is also requiring masks in its school buildings.
- Q: What prompted the CDC to change its guidance?
The CDC revised its guidance on mask-wearing due to new COVID-19 surges in the U.S. in areas where people largely remain unvaccinated, coupled with the ability of the more virulent delta variant to spread — even among vaccinated people.
The CDC said that “breakthrough” infections, which generally cause milder illness, can still occur in vaccinated people. With the delta variant, the level of virus in infected vaccinated people is “indistinguishable” from the level of virus in the noses and throats of unvaccinated people, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said Tuesday.
- Q: How does the CDC define a vaccine breakthrough infection, or breakthrough case?
Vaccine breakthrough infections, or breakthrough cases, occur when a person becomes infected with COVID-19 after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Most people who fall into that category are much less likely to get sick, become hospitalized or die.
However, it is possible that some fully vaccinated people might have infections and not have any symptoms.
Virginia tracks COVID-19 cases by vaccination status on an online dashboard. Since January, 99% of cases and 98% of both hospitalizations and deaths have involved people who are not vaccinated.
- Q: How are the beaches faring?
Maryland’s Worcester County, where Ocean City is located, has reached substantial community transmission as defined by the CDC.
Sussex County, where Rehoboth, Bethany and Fenwick are located, is also at substantial transmission.
- Q: Need more information?
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