College Park/Home

First: Many thanks to everyone who’s commented on my search for a tiny touring bike. The #bikedc community (and those in its extended environs) has been critical in teaching me about bikes, and the quality of feedback I’ve received on crowdsourced questions is always unparalleled. I don’t know what I’ll end up with yet, but I’m very glad to have your input.

For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter (and therefore miss the monumental number of whiny tweets I unleash on Monday nights between 7 and 9:45 p.m. weekly): I’m in grad school. I’m getting my master’s in historic preservation at University of Maryland, which I also attended for my undergraduate degree.

I biked to class last semester because class was in a (crumbling, earthquake-rattled, possibly haunted) historic house in Bladensburg that UMD owns. Bostwick House is basically inaccessible by public transit. It was not a pleasant ride, but I got in 14 miles in per week by default.

This semester, I have class on campus. I can take Metro, which takes about an hour and gives me plenty of time to read. And I had dragged my feet on figuring out a route that was safe-ish; I’m a confident cyclist but have only ever accessed UMD via Adelphi Road, which is bad enough on weekends. I am also completely disinterested in riding on trails at night. But not riding sucks, especially because having an evening class means I don’t have any other time to be active on Mondays.

A bike-commuter classmate who lives in Columbia Heights and works for UMD kindly sent me his route, which goes through Hyattsville and enters campus through University Heights/Calvert Hills. I followed it mostly to the letter on the ride out last Monday, then tweaked things to my preference on the way home. Here’s an approximate Google map.


Some notes, out:

  • I followed the same route around McMillan and through Brookland as I did last semester, Irving to Monroe to 12th to Newton. I know Irving is intimidating because it’s built like a freeway, but it’s efficient and the lanes are wide. I recommend it over anything else if you’re looking to go in that direction: take the lane, and drivers will pass you. Traffic is rarely heavy, so they can do so easily. I find Michigan/Monroe to be worse and drivers there to be more agitated. Alternately, you can take Kansas to Hamilton to Galloway through Fort Totten.
  • 22nd/Varnum until crossing East-West Highway is really easy, low-traffic, no real inclines—that’s all through Hyattsville. And once you get across East-West into University Park, it’s more of the same, until…
  • Queen’s Chapel through University Heights: it’s a climb. Amherst is a reward.
  • I took Guilford, past the business school, to get onto campus. Guilford is nowhere near as steep as Knox Road and it’s easier to take the lane. There are a ton of stop signs along Guilford and Mowatt, even though they’re narrow.

Some notes, in:

  • I took Route 1 to Queen’s Chapel on the way back to avoid climbing Amherst. At 10 p.m., there’s not much traffic, and the light at Guilford is long enough that you can almost get to Queen’s Chapel before cars start moving south on Route 1 again.
  • 44th Avenue is one-way once you cross East-West Highway, but it (or 43rd Avenue, also one-way) the only way to get onto Queensbury. Zoom in close on Google Maps and you’ll see that the green bike-lane indicator that appears to be a continuation of 42nd Avenue is a path through nothing. I had no interest in trying that.
  • I wanted to avoid the hill on Newton Street, between 20th and 12th streets NE (it was on my route home last semester), so I zig-zagged through Brookland until I got to 12th Street. There’s probably a more organized way to do that.

I was pleasantly surprised by this route. The routine pinch points getting out of the city are there, but Hyattsville is super-easy to get through. I did this on President’s Day so traffic may have been lighter than normal, but most of the roads are residential. And since I ride out at 10 p.m., there’s barely any traffic and everything’s very quiet. (On one hand, this is a really lovely way to ride. On the other, if something goes wrong with my bike, I’m fucked. I carry stuff to fix a flat and additional tools, but if my chain pops—last semester, riding the Schwinn, I worried about my derailleur breaking, which happened on the Jamis once!—I’m nowhere near public transit. I felt the same riding to Bladensburg.)

I did this on the Wabi, carrying my laptop (and bike lock, and books, and snacks) in my Ortlieb messenger. This is ride is doable on a single-speed, even if you’re carrying weight and even if you’ve gone to Crossfit for the first time in several months the same afternoon. The weather a little humid and around 40 degrees—not awesome, but tolerable. I’m really looking forward to doing this in the spring.

I’ve got class on Monday night and an advising appointment on Tuesday afternoon, both of which I’ll bike to if the weather’s accommodating. That should help me nail down any variations I’d like to take (I’m thinking of taking 41st instead of 40th, or following Taylor out instead of Newton).

Identifying an enjoyable-enough route to UMD from D.C. has been something I’ve wanted to do since I was an undergrad, so I’m glad to have finally figured out something that works for me. Last semester, there was only one night where the weather was so bad I couldn’t ride, and I hope I’m so lucky again this time around.