DC Will Close the Roads in May so 8,000 Cyclists Can Ride

Photograph courtesy DC Bike Ride.
Photograph courtesy DC Bike Ride.

Seventeen miles of DC streets will shut down one morning this spring to make way for an organized bike ride expected to draw as many as 8,000 cyclists. The inaugural DC Bike Ride, a noncompetitive two-wheeled tour through the District, is scheduled for May 22 and will be by far the Washington area’s largest group ride.

It’s easy to find a group ride around DC most weekends, but they tend to feature small pelotons and almost always require participants to ride alongside motor-vehicle traffic. By closing the roads for a few hours, the DC Bike Ride’s organizers hope to attract not just the die-hard lycra-wearers, but people who would ride more often if it wasn’t for fearsome car traffic.

“This is for people who want to ride in DC but might not be comfortable doing it,” says Greg Billing, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which is one of the DC Bike Event’s sponsors. “Making it traffic-free is the way to do it.”

The event is the handiwork of Capital Sports Ventures, an Arlington-based sports-marketing firm headed by former Washington Wizards executive Greg Bibb. Bibb says the DC Bike Ride is modeled on closed-road cycling events in other major US cities, particularly New York’s Five Boro Bike Tour, which has routed tens of thousands of cyclists through the Big Apple every May since 1977. Washington briefly had a closed-road event called Bike DC in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with a comeback in 2012, but its planners were not able to sustain it. Along with Capital Sports Ventures, DC Bike Ride is backed by Carefirst Bluecross Blueshield and Events DC, the city’s convention and sports bureau.

Cyclists who sign up for the DC Bike Ride don’t need to worry about pedaling anywhere as dreadfully far-flung as Staten Island, but the planned route suggests a leisurely and scenic tour of the Mall, the monuments, and Georgetown. Starting in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, riders will cross the mall, hook around Foggy Bottom, and pedal along the Whitehurst Freeway before doubling back and eventually dipping across the 14th Street Bridge (yes, Interstate 395 will be closed for a spell). The route turns around again and heads back toward the Capitol, where there will be a post-ride party.

Registration for the ride begins Wednesday at $50 per individual rider; the price will increase to $60 on March 1. Part of the proceeds will go to WABA, which Billing says will use to further the organization’s advocacy in support of the DC government’s Vision Zero program, an initiative focused on eliminating traffic fatalities.

“Our hope is people experience the city on bike in a safe, traffic-free manner,” Billing says. “You can envision what the city might be if we made the streets safe for people.”

Bibb says getting all the road closures took a year of navigating the permit processes. The ride will begin at 8 AM, with cyclists going off in waves and the streets reopening gradually. Even though it’s not a race, there will be a minimum speed limit—anyone going slower than six miles per hour just after the ten-mile marker will be directed back to the Capitol so motorists can get on with their business.

The DC Bike Ride should cap off a big weekend for Washington’s cycling community. The preceding Friday is Bike to Work Day, when people are rewarded with T-shirts and snacks for riding to work, while that Saturday is the Tour de Fat, a bikes-and-beer carnival sponsored by the New Belgium Brewing Company.

If the DC Bike Ride is a hit, Bibb says it won’t just become an annual thing, it will grow in size as well. Eventually, he’d like to see it get up to 18,000 riders.

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