The Catholic University of America

May 17, 2010

CUA Professors are Pumped about Pedaling

  Associate Professor Peter Shoemaker travels 12 miles on bike lanes, bike paths and city streets to commute to CUA from Greenbelt, Md.
  Associate Professor Peter Shoemaker travels 12 miles on bike lanes, bike paths and city streets to commute to CUA from Greenbelt, Md.

Peter Shoemaker begins his 12-mile commute in Greenbelt and passes through other Maryland locations on his way to work at Catholic University. Along the way, it’s not a sea of brake lights that gets his attention. It’s the scenery and wildlife.

One of a growing number of CUA faculty who bike to work, Shoemaker passes Lake Artemesia and travels along the northeast and northwest branch bicycle trails on an old mountain bike during a 50-minute ride into Northeast Washington, D.C.

“There's some nice scenery along the trails and a good deal of wildlife,” says the director of the University Honors Program and associate professor of French. “I've seen fox, bald eagles, blue herons and hawks. Lake Artemesia has wintering waterfowl — ducks and mergansers.”

Shoemaker isn’t alone on the trails and bike lanes. Colleagues from the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and other CUA departments choose two wheels over four for their work commute as a way to stay physically and mentally fit and save money. Some of them will mark Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 21, just as they do many days — by biking to CUA.

“Bicycling” magazine has named Washington, with more than 60 miles of bike lanes on it streets, the most improved city for biking.

Enhanced bike trails have made it easier to choose a bike over a car. CUA’s campus is now connected to Union Station by four miles of pavement on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Eventually, the trail will extend to Silver Spring, following Metrorail’s Red Line, and connect with the Capital Crescent Trail and Anacostia Tributary Trail System. A bicycle and pedestrian bridge at the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Metrorail station, which will improve access to the trail, will be completed in the fall.

Spanish Lecturer Jennifer Maxwell is a semiprofessional cyclist who competes in the short-course bike racing called cyclocross. The director of CUA’s Spanish for Health Care Certificate Program rides every day to stay in competitive form and, when the weather and her schedule cooperate, she bikes three miles from her home to campus. She pedals about 15 miles an hour, making the trip along Fourth Street Northeast in 12 minutes.

“I love to ride my bike, and, at times, it is faster to get to your destination than by car,” Maxwell says.

Terry Walsh, assistant professor of nursing and director of CUA’s undergraduate nursing program, has been biking to campus from Maryland since she was studying for her bachelor’s degree in the early 1980s. In the decades since, she has seen a change in attitude on biking. “The roads are more friendly toward bikers,” she says.
Biking requires coordination on the part of the cyclist. Riders say they leave their bikes at home on bad-weather days or on days when they have after-dark meetings. Some riders shower at the Raymond A. DuFour Athletic Center after a trek to campus.

The extra effort they put into cycling pays off, CUA riders say.

Lourdes Alvarez, who doesn’t own a car, regularly bikes five miles from her downtown Silver Spring, Md., home to campus dressed in the pink Lycra uniform of her former bike racing team. An associate professor of Spanish and director of the Center for Medieval and Byzantine Studies, Alvarez identified a route for a 22-minute commute that takes her through neighborhoods and away from high-traffic areas.

“I end up saying hello to pedestrians, waving at kids, saying hello to the crossing guard and thanking drivers who have been kind to me,” she says. “I feel more connected to the community” than if I took Metrorail.

Walsh has two cars, but says, “I probably have more miles on my bike than on my cars. If I’m going to spend 45 minutes in the car or on the Metro, I might as well bike.”

She bikes along the Sligo Creek Parkway Trail to CUA three or four times a week. The 8 ½-mile trek gives her time and space to think, she says. “It’s my Zen.”

Venigalla Rao, chair and professor of biology, could make it to campus in half the time by car.
“But it would be nowhere near as fun as biking,” he says.

He also rides on the Sligo Creek Parkway Trail and on city streets to make the 12-mile trek from his home in Wheaton, Md. The trip that takes an hour and 15 minutes gives him a “clear and quiet mind” to think about his research. “You have nothing else to do other than to be attentive to your biking and let your mind go,” he says.

After a break in the winter, Rao bikes to work in the late spring and continues through the summer. “Summer is very hot,” he acknowledges. “But Sligo Creek Park is nice and cool.”

Shoemaker tries to bike throughout the winter, but the blizzards of last winter put the brakes on his commute. “The trails weren’t plowed, and it took weeks for the snow to melt.”

Alvarez loves the feel of cold air as she’s riding. “I actually love riding when it’s cold because it’s exhilarating. Riding in 20 degrees, you are alive. It is fabulous.”

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