Seldom does a commute not involve some kind of trade-off. Bike commuters are often dealing with compromises, and my sense of safety is often one of those.
Take yesterday, for example. I had to run an errand out in Bethesda. The first half of it had to be via car (Booooo. That’s a compromise already!). However, the second half of the errand I was able to use my bike. So bike I did.
I had two route options for my return trip back into the District of Columbia from Bethesda, Maryland.
1. Take Capital Crescent Trail to the trail by the Kennedy Center (almost ten miles car-free!) and home; or
2. Ride Massachusetts Avenue (a main road in D.C.) back to Adams Morgan and home.
At first, it seems like a no-brainer. Take the Capital Crescent Trail!
Not so fast. I began my return trip at 8:30 at night. That changes things.
While Route 1 would offer a peaceful car-free ride into the city along a beautiful trail that borders the Potomac River, the trails at that hour are dark. In addition, the trail becomes isolated as the evening wears on.
This morning, I read that a female jogger had been attacked along the Capital Crescent Trail over the weekend. That crime happened at around 7 p.m., not late by my standards, but late enough to be dark outside and to have cleared the trails of most recreational traffic. Now I know that being a cyclist is distinct to being a runner on a trail, but even so, the news was enough to give me pause about my own safety.
In contrast, the city streets option, Route 2, has a fairly constant stream of car traffic. There are people out and about until later hours in the evening. The streets are well lit.
I would have loved to choose Route 1, but as it was after rush hour (where you would find more bike commuters out on the trails) and in the interest of my own safety I chose the more car-trafficked Route 2.
While I had to watch steadily for potholes and vehicles as I zipped down Massachusetts Avenue and back through the well-traveled roads of the city, I still felt safer than the quiet dark trail.
More often than not, probably nothing would happen if I chose to take the trail home. But I did not feel like risking it. How ironic that the same aspects that make a route peaceful and appealing at one point in the day can also make it feel unsafe and isolated at another.
It sucks that people, women in particular, have to consider these kinds of trade-offs when commuting. In fact, it makes me really angry. Regardless of how I feel, though, the reality is we do have to watch out for ourselves and make compromises.
Like I said, nine times out of ten we’re probably fine. But I don’t want to risk that tenth time. So yesterday I didn’t and my trafficky commute home accompanied by the occasional pothole dodging, while not the most peaceful, worked out ok and got me home safe and sound.