Area cycling enthusiasts push benefits

By Jeff Nations

Mike Perry isn’t expecting to see a long line of cyclists heading up over the Blue Ridge Mountains toward the Washington, D.C., metro area on May 16 for National Bike to Work Day.

The Shenandoah Valley presents special challenges to cyclists, but Perry and fellow members of the Winchester Wheelmen are still doing what they can to promote and support May’s National Bike Month by raising awareness and participating in various rides throughout the month.

“The biggest thing with our area is you’ve got so many people who work out of the area,” said Perry, who serves as vice president of the Winchester Wheelmen. “I think it’s something like 10,000 to 12,000 people who commute across the mountain from this area.”

Perry said the Winchester Wheelmen have participated in the annual National Bike Month for years, and have worked to promote it through the club’s website and newsletter. Many in the club do participate, as well as some non-club members.

“If people can find a way where it’s feasible to ride to work even one day a week, the cost benefits and health benefits are there,” Perry said.

That’s the idea behind the long-standing National Bike Month movement, first established in 1956 and sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists.

“As the national sponsor of National Bike Month, we encourage folks in communities all over the country to get out and ride and see the benefits of bicycling for themselves,” League of American Bicyclists Communications Manager Elizabeth Murphy said.

Murphy said National Bike Month has several other notable days beside Bike to Work Day, including Bike to School Day (May 7), Cyclofemme (May 11), Bike to Work Week (May 12-May 16) and Ride of Silence (May 21).

Oregon ranks as the top state with an overall bike commuter rate of 2.5 percent. Virginia ranks 31st with 0.38 percent bike commuters, but has seen that rate spike 65.7 percent since 1990 according to a study done by the League.

Metro areas are more viable for large-scale bicycle commuting. The 2010 Bike to Work week event in Denver tallied an impressive participation rate, with 1 in 28 adults taking part according to the League. In Washington, improved dedicated bike lanes and bike-sharing services had led to significant increases in bike traffic.

In Winchester, some improvements have been made in recent years — most notably the bike lane on Valley Avenue starting at the Jubal Early Drive intersection and running out to Kernstown. But Perry said many of the roads outside downtown are simply too dangerous for cyclists.

Perry said paved shoulders would go a long way toward making the roads safer for everyone. A recent effort to get a portion of the shoulder paved along Senseny Road in Winchester was voted down by the Board of Supervisors.

“Winchester is not really bike friendly in terms of trying to get around,” Perry said. “The major corridors are almost a deathtrap for cyclists to bike into town.”

John Madera, Senior Planner for Transportation for the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission (NSVRC), said the area is slowly improving for cyclists. The town of Berryville and Clarke County are working on a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan aimed at encouraging safe and efficient pedestrian travel and is currently seeking input from local riders, businesses and citizens on current usage and where improvements can be made.

Madera, who bikes daily to his office in Front Royal, said the NSVRC is working to form partnerships with groups like the Winchester Wheelmen to more aggressively promote events like National Bike Month.

For instance, Madera said that in Harrisonburg a workplace challenge competition brought out 28 different teams to participate in National Bike to Work Day last year.

“We’re looking to Harrisonburg for inspiration,” Madera said.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>