Freezing Saddles

Since January 1st, I’ve been taking part in the Bike Arlington Freezing Saddles challenge. It’s a friendly contest that members of the Bike Arlington forum have organized (this is the second year of the challenge).

The rules are simple. Everyone is broken up into teams. You get 10 points for every day you ride at least a mile, and a point for every mile. Most team points wins. There are also a bunch of other prizes for random things to keep it interesting for those teams that don’t really have a shot at winning.

As I type this we have 11 riders with over 500 miles in January and two with over 1,000. I’m pretty happy with my total – I’ve ridden every day this month, a total of 253 miles. And yes, every day includes the -5 wind chill and every day of the snow.

It’s a cool competition. My team is doing well, but we’re not going to win. We’re currently pretty solidly in 5th place out of ten teams. But it’s a great excuse not only to get out and ride, but also to get to know some fellow forum members a bit better. And the competion finishes with the end of winter at a big happy hour where prizes are given and merriment is had.

It’s defintely good to have an understanding wife who stays with the kids while I go ride on the weekends. Not that she had it so bad today – when I got back she was dozing on the couch while the kids played. Today I rode around Brookland, one of the neighborhoods we’re considering when we finally buy a bigger place. I’m not sure I love it – it feels really suburban. Not unpleasant, but there’s defintely not as much you can walk to as there is here in Columbia Heights. Good hill workout, though, if you’re looking for that.

What the heck is a sneckdown?

“The snow is almost like nature’s tracing paper,” says Clarence Eckerson Jr, the director of StreetFilms, which documents pedestrian- and cycle-friendly streets across the globe. He says that snow can be helpful in pointing out traffic patterns and changing street composition for the better.

“When you dump some snow on this giant grid of streets, now you can see, visually, how people can better use the streets,” he says.


I love this idea, and it’s especially relevant today, as we’ve had a sizeable snow and then a lot of cold, so nothing is melting. So, a “sneckdown” is a spot on the road that is still covered in snow after the plows have gone through and cars have been using the streets. It’s a ridiculous name, I know, but it’s a cool concept. If you go out in DC right now you’ll see a ton of them. They’re places that we’ve reserved for cars that cars don’t really need. They’re places that can be given back to pedestrians. We can take these spaces and make them sidewalks so it’s easier and safer to cross the street. Or we can make them into bike lanes, or parks, or anything else that people might need.

There is one caveat – especially when it’s cold, much of the non-car traffic just isn’t big enough and hot enough to melt the snow. We have a lot of bike lanes in the city that DDOT has ingored and cyclists can’t use, so they remain covered in snow. This isn’t because there’s no demand. I was out biking today and nearly every other cyclist I saw was doing what I had to do – taking the lane right next to the bike lane because the bike lane was covered in a treacherous mix of ice and slush. The presence of a sneckdown is not incontrovertible proof that the space isn’t needed for its intended purpose. It’s just a good indication that we’re not allocating space efficiently.