May 21 is Bike to Work Day in Alexandria and throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. Its easy to write the day of awareness off as a hollow novelty, because there are so many seemingly arbitrary if entertaining excuses to celebrate every day of the year.
Tomorrow is not only National Dance Like a Chicken Day but also National Buttermilk Biscuit Day. Seriously. Even Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 19, has broken into the mainstream.
Bike to Work Day hits the pavement every year for a reason, though, and its not just for novelty. Using two wheels rather than four represents more than just some extra exercise; its not just one-dimensional. Biking impacts many segments of our society, particularly in Alexandria.
Alexandrias children are fat. About 44 percent of the citys youngest, ages 2 to 5, are overweight or obese, according to the Alexandria Health Department. That number is the highest in Northern Virginia. About 24 percent of children age 6 to 10 are overweight or obese, while the percentage of 11 to 18-year-olds hovers around 13.5.
A four-year-old cannot bike to school but he can learn from his parents if they teach the importance of exercise during their childs developmental stages. Older children, however, can bike to school and most anywhere else.
If the city is going to promote its Bike to Work Day and it has it should invest in ways to get bicycles to those most in need. Obesity rates are higher with children from a lower socioeconomic background, so a brand new bicycle is not always an option. Phoenix Bikes in Arlington provides quality used bikes, assembled with discarded or donated bike parts, by youth volunteers. Theyre cheap but sound.
According to Alexandrias Eco-City initiative, the city is moving aggressively to change the culture of city streets from cars first to people first by implementing development and transportation projects that cater foremost to pedestrians and bicyclists.
The city has done its job by creating several miles of bikeways and other cycle infrastructure along most of the citys major arteries, allowing cyclists to get from one end of the city and the region to another, sometimes with the help of woodsy trails. Alexandria even has a comprehensive Pedestrian and Bicycle Mobility Plan and bikeway-improvement projects are clearly prioritized in the Capital Improvement Plan.
Lets switch gears. The infrastructure is present and evolving, but what about the bikes? There are almost as many federal and private grants out there for anti-obesity and pro-environment initiatives as there are inane holidays, so lets make use of them and create options for all residents to take advantage of the infrastructure for which their tax dollars pay.
A bike-share program is another possibility. Similar to successful business models with cars in urban areas, residents would share company-owned bicycles at a reasonable cost, dropping them off at designated stations where others pick them up. Alexandria received federal funds to participate in a regional bike-share project last year, though none have sprung up.
The beauty of bicycles is their ability to pedal toward many of the citys overarching goals: They lower pollution rates, improve individual health and reduce traffic congestion. Not to mention they are cheap no insurance and only minimal upkeep is required. When used alongside cars sputtering through some of the worst rush hour traffic in the country, bikes can even quicken commutes. When possible, two-wheels beat four every day of the week not just on National Bike to Work Day. Or National Dance Like a Chicken Day, for that matter.