In Washington

I’m in Washington, DC for a few days. I spoke at (here are my slides) and attended NTC, a big non-profit and technology conference held at the hotel where Reagan was shot. I’m sticking around for a few days for some client meetings, so I’ve had some time to explore the city, which I’m visiting for the first time.

I’m staying across from the Hilton, in the charming Beaux Arts Churchill Hotel (it’s 105 years old, surely it deserves a Wikipedia entry). The neighbourhood is known as Dupont Circle, and on arrival I was struck by how similar it felt to parts of Dublin. It’s a little hilly, has broad sidewalks and features clusters of red-brick row houses with walk-up entrances (much like Georgian Dublin). Dublin has few skyscrapers, and Washington has strict high restrictions. Finally, the city is full of young people–another quality it shares with Dublin.

Fun fact: Dupont Circle is also home to L. Ron Hubbard House, the original “church” for the cult that is the Church of Scientology.

On Sunday, I took the subway down to near the US Capitol building, and walked the length of the National Mall. I made brief stops at the National Gallery and part of the Smithsonian. Remarkably, the museums on the Mall are all free, and open something like 363 days a year. I made it all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial, and then circled back to check out the Whitehouse. For a fan of The West Wing, it was excellent to experience all that pomp and history in one day.

I’ve always heard that the Vietnam Memorial was a powerful piece of public art, and I wasn’t misled. It’s incredibly simple–this V-shaped wall carved into the lawn. When you get near the centre, you’re encompassed by thousands and thousands of the names of the dead. It reminded me of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, where the walls of the Torah Ark are covered in the names of those who died in the Holocaust. It’s a simple but effective way to humanize events that we have difficulty conceiving of. The Vancouver AIDS memorial does somethings similar, on a smaller scale.

Yesterday I rented a bike from Washington’s bike-share program (the first of its kind in North America), and followed a rambling route around the National Zoo, up to the gorgeous Washington National Cathedral and back down to the Mall.

Capitol Bikeshare proved an excellent service. It’s easy to use, and with 110 stations around the city, it didn’t take long to locate one when I was done riding. The bike itself was pretty heavy, but it was in good shape and more than satisfactory for my needs. The bike-share seems primarily targeted at locals–the pricing discourages longer rides, but it was a good fit for a two-hour ride.

At first it was a little surprising that there were bike-shares in Washington and Montreal before bike-friendly Vancouver. But that may be an issue–a lot of would-be bike-share users already have bikes in Vancouver, and use them nearly year-round. The less clement weather back east means that you’re only using a bike for, say, two-thirds of the year. Despite it being about 5:00pm on a nice spring afternoon in Washington, I saw few other riders. But, then, I see lots of cyclists in Toronto when I visit, so I don’t know what gives. In any case, it looks like Montreal’s Bixi will bring bike-sharing to Vancouver later this year.

I barely scratched the surface of things to do in DC, but I suspect that work will bring me back before too long.

Vietnam Memorial photo by Zach Stern. Capitol Bikeshare photo by Wayan Vota.


  1. Actually, that 2011 estimate on seeing bikesharing in Vancouver is rather not likely to materialize. The main reason is that bikesharing has been deemed pretty much successful in most places its gone to — with the glaring exception of Melbourne, due to their mandatory helmet law. Vancouver happens to share this particular piece of legislation with Melbourne, provincially, and it is seen as a major obstacle to success because it just takes too much away from the convenience of a bike-share system.

    I think it’s noteworthy that the friend of mine that I stayed in Montreal had a BIXI membership despite owning a bike as well. It was great for visitors to see a city by bike, and it also filled a need for those times you need a bike and didn’t think of it when you left the house. I’m dreaming of the day we figure it out for Vancouver…

    1. Thanks very much for that–I totally hadn’t thought of the helmet thing. I did feel a little naked without one in Washington.

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