Thursday, June 10, 2010

DC Running: the Mount Vernon Trail

As a Defense Department employee, I have had my share or business travel, to some sucky locations but also to some very nice destinations (such as Hawaii, Japan, Alaska, Puerto Rico, San Diego, San Francisco, New Orleans, to name a few).

This week I attended a conference in Arlington, VA (across the Potomac River from Washington, DC and within spitting distance of the Pentagon). This conference focused upon research and development projects specifically set aside for small business under the Small Business Innovation Research program. I manage a couple of these contracts and wanted to attend this conference to see what other projects were in the works.

So that’s why I was in Arlington. After the conclusion of today’s sessions, I put on my running clothes to knock out 10 miles on the Mount Vernon Trail. This is a multiuse paved trail that runs on the south (Virginia) side of the Potomac River from Mount Vernon to Theodore Roosevelt Island (opposite Rosslyn, VA). I picked up the trail at the Crystal City section of Arlington and ran upstream some 4 miles to Theodore Roosevelt Island. There I logged a couple of miles on the trails of the island, then returned via the same route to my hotel.

Over the 8 or so multiuse jogging trail miles run between 4:00 and 6:00 PM, I passed many bikers, runners, and roller bladers and had several observations that I thought were interesting:

1. Of the roughly 150+ bikers, about 90% were wearing helmets. I am ambivalent over the mandatory use of helmets or seat belts—my libertarian streak, I guess—I see it as a good end but a questionable means. But I do support mandatory helmet usage for children. So even if you don’t want to wear a bike helmet yourself you absolutely should wear a helmet to set a good example for the children…which is one of my personal crusades (see here, herehere, and here).

2. Of the runners, I observed how many were wearing headphones/ear buds, etc. I only counted up the women, just because I was thinking about personal safety issues. Of some 40 female solo runners, only 10 were NOT wearing headphones/ear buds. I was astounded, I guess, at their trust.  The Mount Vernon Trail is heavily used but is largely bordered by thick vegetation where a victim could be quickly dragged. Maybe, though, the wearing of headphones is a statement that "I will not be intimidated."  Gotta think more about this.

3. Of the handful of roller bladers (less than 10), all were wearing helmets but nobody wore elbow or knee pads. Again, that’s your personal choice, but what is the example you are setting for the children?

4. Of the dozens of bikers that overtook me from behind, a slim majority was courteous and safety conscious enough to ring their bell or call out “on your left” by way of warning. There were many bikers, however, who zoomed by with no warning and who came very close to me, as though they owned the multiuse trail.

5. Last observation: when I run on the local roads around my home, or on the C + O Canal, or on the Appalachian Trail, I always greet other runners and bikers and even nod or wave to passing motorists. This was not the case along the Mount Vernon Trail, where of the couple hundred people who passed me coming from the other direction, NOT A SINGLE PERSON waved or offered any sort of greeting. Zero. Zilch.

Now, I realize that: 1) this is a metro area and people become sort of insulated and isolated, putting on their anonymous faces, and 2) the Mount Vernon Trail is a local Mecca as a running/biking venue for the more serious athlete to do some serious traffic-free miles. But c’mon people, could you just be a tiny bit friendly?????

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