Video: What it’s like to get around the Capitol by bike since Jan. 6
The day after Christmas, my family and I biked across the Capitol Plaza on our way to see the Capitol and White House Christmas Trees. It was nearly dark and the beauty of all the lamps at dusk and the closeness of the Capitol dome was so striking, I took a video and posted it to Instagram with moody music under it.
That was one of the last times we rode across the plaza before the violent events of January 6. What happened was disturbing and disorienting, but for those of us who use a bike to get around, there was an extra, comparatively minor, question beyond all those about the attack on our democracy: Where will all the bike traffic be diverted on this high-volume route?
For the seven years I’ve been biking around DC, the network of wide sidewalks, pedestrian plaza, and restricted vehicle areas from First St and East Capitol to 3rd St NW has been a vital link between the Capitol Hill neighborhood and the western parts of the city via the National Mall or the Pennsylvania Avenue NW bike lanes. Before January 6, you could easily thread your bike through bollards, give pedestrians a wide berth, and safely navigate your way down or up the hill with almost no threat from speeding or impatient car traffic.
It felt as safe as many of the off-road trails we use especially when combined with the 15 miles per hour speed limit on Madison and Jefferson Drives along the Mall. Because of this, both my husband and I have depended on this route for our commutes, and I regularly piled my kids onto our family cargo bike and rode in front of the Capitol dome virtually any time we needed to go west: for museums, parks, the movies, the zoo, sometimes just a nice dinner out.
But with the new security measures – mostly tall fences and other physical barriers that have been hastily erected around the outer edges of the Capitol grounds and surrounding buildings – the only way around is to ride on Constitution or Independence Avenues. Neither of these two paths have any bicycle infrastructure and are designed to move as many cars as fast as possible. Some sidewalks along the perimeter are still open, but they are relatively narrow and there is little room to pass pedestrians.
Over the weekend we made our first attempt at a new route and I made another video. I white-knuckled my way down streets with impatient drivers and lots of bollards to protect buildings from the threat of rogue vehicles, but nothing to protect me and my kids on our bike. I rode defensively and took a lane as I’ve learned is the safest way in such scenarios, but it’s not something I’m excited to repeat. If the video I posted had audio, you’d hear me curse at least once as an SUV driver tried to go around me at the intersection of First St and Constitution Avenue NW.
All in all, I know it’s trivial to complain about a bike route when so much was lost last week. Hopefully, this is a temporary loss of mobility and the fences come down eventually, but in the meantime, I hope the District Department of Transportation and other agencies adapt to the sudden closure of this route and find ways to protect the vulnerable road users around the Capitol.