Line at a Maryland gas station. Image from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia.

The year was 1979. The Iranian Revolution led to oil shortages and long lines at the pump. Maryland Governor Harry Hughes proposed rationing gas. Levittown drivers rioted when gas prices rose to a whopping $1 a gallon. And large numbers of people tried bicycling to work.

Peter Harnik wrote an op-ed in the June 23, 1979 Washington Post about the sudden rise in bicycling:

On Wednesday night, there was another unearthly sound, the noise of thousands of people rummaging through their basements, oiling chains, dusting gearshifts, inflating tires, tightening spokes, looking for locks.

And, like the emergence of some giant strain of locusts, the bikes appeared on Thursday—Fujis replacing Datsuns, Gitanes replacing Citroens, Raleighs replacing Triumphs, and Sears and Schwinns replacing Fords and Chevys. …

June 14th was the day Washington had its first glimpse of the future—and everyone not stuck in a car seemed to be smiling.

Harnik suggested five specific projects that would make cycling safer and more enjoyable in Washington:

  • A bike lane, the width of one full car lane, on 15th Street, NW from Florida Avenue to I Street.
  • Closing the service lanes on K Street except to bicycles and delivery trucks, like European bike boulevards.
  • A bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue from Georgetown to the Sousa Bridge.
  • Close Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park and the Arboretum to motor vehicles on Sundays.
  • Close the George Washington Parkway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway for two days a year.

How are we doing with those? The 15th Street bike lane is a hugely successful reality, and now goes farther than Harnik proposed, all the way down to Pennsylvania Avenue where it connects to the Pennsylvania Avenue lane.

The Pennsylvania Avenue lane only goes from the White House to the Capitol, plus the part always closed to traffic and usually open to bikes past the White House itself.

K Street remains a heavily car-centric road. The K Street Transitway plan would improve that, but not really for cyclists. Instead, DDOT is proposing cycle tracks on L and M Streets, but those projects haven’t moved forward since Gabe Klein took his cycle track enthusiasm to Chicago.

Beach Drive does close to motor vehicles on Sundays. The Arboretum does not. The GW Parkway does become a bike-only road once a year, for Bike DC; the BW Parkway does not.

In summary, DC went above and beyond on one and partway on three. Harnik wrote when he sent along the article, “Not bad, until you realize it’s been 32 years!”