A walk about bicycling , with Washington, DC’s WABA, BWBDC, Capital Bikeshare, and BikeArlington

Walking the Walk

Photograph courtesy M.V. Jantzen, View on Flickr

I am especially happy that this edition of walk with a doc included a better photographer than myself ­čÖé

As the title of the post says, the topic of February’s walk with a doc was bicycling. Why? Several reasons.

  • When I reacquainted myself with Washington Area Bicyclist Association (@WABADC) in December, I learned that doctors, people, society, have a lot in common with bicycle enthusiasts – we’re interested in health (of ourselves, our families, community, society)
  • I first learned about WABA when I moved to Washington, DC, through the tragedy of the death of 22 year old Alice Swanson, who was killed on her bicycle in Dupont Circle, and the ghost bike that was placed in memorial (see: Photo Friday: Public Expression of Grief | Ted Eytan, MD)
  • Kait B. Roe (@kaitbr), Pierre Vigilance, MD (@pierrevigilance) and I went on a social determinants of health journey last summer based on the open data, provided by Capital Bikeshare to the community, showing large differences in bike sharing use in the least obese, and most obese parts of Washington, DC, which led me to the work of Black Women Bike DC (@BWBDC) (see: Making Cycling in D.C. Less Black and White, Community Building, New Bottles and Old Wine | Ted Eytan, MD). We learned, by the way, that (a) it’s complicated and (b) we needed to learn more – everything you need to know about a situation is not on a blog or twitter feed.

Since the time of Alice Swanson’s death, Washington, DC is a dramatically transformed place for active transportation – it’s now most walkable city in the United States; 6th most bikeable in the United States, has the largest and best bicycle sharing system in the United States, and a completely changed bicycling and walking landscape on its streets

Forget about the data though – I rode a bike share to and from The Center for Total Health (@kptotalhealth) on protected bike lanes 3 miles through the middle of one of the most gridlocked (car traffic) cities in the United States. Couldn’t do that in 2008.

On our walk to and at the local Capital Bikeshare (@bikeshare) station at H Street and 2nd Street NE (also a stop on the H Street NE Heritage Trail) I learned there is a lot more to do. We are a city just waking up to the riches of an affordable, safe, healthy transportation option.

Nelle Pierson (@NellePierson) from WABA, Zanna Worzella (@Zanna_Leigh) from BikeArlington (@BikeArlington), Brad Little, DC Bike Ambassador and with Capital Bikeshare, and Lesly Jones (@DCxFitChic), with Black Women Bike DC (@BWBDC), talked with us about the biggest myths about bicycling – everything from it’s too expensive, you can’t do it in a suit/skirt, women and black women particularly don’t ride as well as the opportunities. In that area, I learned that there are many opportunities beyond biological health. I especially loved what Lesly said about the opportunity to role model for children in one’s neighborhood when you ride, and feeling proud when you are riding a bicycle where you live, work, learn, pray, and play. The Black Women Bike: DC story is especially important, because it’s about a social movement, started on social media (innocently enough with the hashtag #BWBDC).

I also learned that there are policy issues to be aware of – while some enterprising employers in places like California and Washington, DC, are allowing bicycling as an option for commuter subsidies (see: 511.org – SB 1339 Regional Commuter Benefit, if you page down into the IRS regulations, there doesn’t seem to be an allowance for bicycle sharing expenses:

Qualified Bicycle Commuting Expenses
Employees may exclude reimbursements paid by employers for qualified bicycle commuting expenses. The maximum exclusion is $20 times the number of months the employee uses a bicycle for commuting to work. Allowable expenses include the purchase, maintenance, repair and storage expenses related to bicycle commuting. IRC 132(f)(1)(D)
The bicycle commuting expense exclusion cannot be claimed for any period in which the exclusion for public transit passes or qualified parking is claimed. IRC 132(f)(1)(F)(iii)(II)

This is somewhat similar in my mind to how the credit card companies don’t consider Zipcar “car rental” (see: Visa Credit Cards refuse to cover Zipcar rentals | Ted Eytan, MD) and therefore de-incentivize its use relative to more environmentally unhealthy options. It’s a lost opportunity.

Why are you doing this?

I got this question from several people who attended, and it threw me a little just because the whole thing about walking and working (and learning) has become so second nature to me, I don’t see it is anything unusual. The easiest answer to it (which I expounded on more in this blog post) is that I/we are changing the definition of what it means to have a conversation, to work, to provide medical care. All of those things involve variants of “sit in a room somewhere,” and they don’t have to be that way. In the case of physicians:

There are 4,000 physicians practicing in Washington, DC, 2,821 spend more than 20 hours a week seeing patients. Imagine that workforce for 20-60 minutes every day making connections to health, wellness, and their role as community leaders on our sidewalks (and sometimes un-sidewalks).

In the future, we may discover (and pay for) the 20 hours they spend seeing patients as a combination that includes alternatives, for the betterment of the health of their patients, families, communities. We’re doing what we’re doing and writing about it to move that dialogue forward.

In the process, moving the dialogue forward about bicycling is just a spectacular side benefit. I was definitely moved forward. Thanks to our wonderful hosts, attendees, special photographer, and of course, Washington, DC, USA (and our sibling community Arlington, VA). Let’s talk more about health – what should we walk about next month? Post about this and/or about your experience bicycling wherever you are.


Joe Bialowitz Hi Joe,
Thanks for posting this video and always being a reliable champion of all the different ways the health system can do no harm as it tries to heal. For everyone who doesn’t know Joe, he’s my colleague in the Kaiser Permanente Environmental Stewardship organization who I turn to to learn more ways that prevention is the new HIT…

Ted Eytan, MD