Planes, Trains and ... Bicycles?
Ride to National Airport? Yes you can.
A while back, I had a quick trip leaving from National airport. It was over the weekend, so pretty much just me and a shoulder bag. The departure day’s schedule didn’t have me in too much of a rush, so I wondered – would it be possible to ride from home (near Clarendon) to the terminal at National?
It wasn’t just possible – it’s rather easy. My door-to-door time was competitive with Metro on the weekends. I enjoyed a nice summer ride along the Potomac. Parking was free. No waiting for Metro or in the taxi line on the way home. In fact, it’s now my favorite way to get to National for short trips in nice weather.
As most Arlingtonians know, National lies just off the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT), which itself is within easy reach of everyone in Arlington with a bike. The first time I took my bike to the airport, I just exited into the parking lot at the north tip of the airport and rolled along the sidewalk until I found a rack at the southern end of the B Terminal. Locked up, and off I went.
Less widely known is the bike-specific connection between the MVT and National. The connection not terribly well marked – it’s just a small sign next to the trail at the midpoint of the airport (see photo).
Once you’ve identified the entrance, it’s pretty easy from there. You just follow the signs along a path that takes you through an equipment yard and then into a tunnel under the road. Emerging on the other side, you follow a sidewalk path along the parking garages until you’re deposited at a designated bike parking area.
Admittedly, it’s not the most thoughtfully designed and located bike parking I’ve come across. It’s on the far side of Parking Deck C, and there’s not much foot traffic near by (read: bike thief opportunity). To add insult to injury, it’s uncovered - unlike the car parking. All that said, I’ve never had any issues using it, and I’ve often seen other bikes parked there.
There are, according to the Airport Authority map, several other bike racks other than those I’ve mentioned above. However, if you’re planning to access them from the MVT, you should be prepared to carry your bike down some stairs.
One potential obstacle for those riding in is what to do with a helmet and toolkit while traveling, given that the days of airport lockers are long behind us. I solved for the first by not using one, and I took the toolkit with me. However, keep in mind that the CO2 cartridges that are commonly a part of toolkits are not allowed on flights (I left mine at home, attaching a cheap plastic frame pump to the bike, instead). It’s also pretty easy to just attach your helmet to an existing bag if you want to take it with you.
So, is this the ideal way to get back and forth from National for everyone? Of course not. While I did once meet a guy riding home to West Virginia after flying into National, it's obviously not for those with lots of luggage or long trips home. But is it a nice alternative for those heading out for short trips with just a little bit of baggage? Absolutely. Given that that’s the nature of a great many of the trips from National, I hope that more of us can give it a shot.
Mark Blacknell is chairman of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.