News | May 18, 2015

"It just makes sense" - NSA Commuters Bike to Work

In the early morning on Friday, May 15, 2015, NSA bicyclists departed from one of three regional rest stops to the main NSA campus in observance of Bike to Work Day. The Baltimore Metropolitan Council sponsored the 18th Annual Bike to Work Day in the Baltimore region.

Just in time for the nationally observed Bike to Work Month, NSA's campus is more bike friendly due to adjustments to one of the main entrances to campus, which crosses a bridge.

"The bridge is narrow, with just a few inches of shoulder," said cycling advocate and NSA mathematician Rino Sanchez.

"At NSA, I do problem solving," Sanchez said. "We have a certain way of looking at a problem and breaking it down. That's what mathematicians bring to the agency. We have a way of analyzing the problem and honing it down to its simplest steps."

"Biking is the simplest, most elegant solution. If you're an environmentalist, if you want to save money, for the person that wants to exercise and lose weight, for the person that hates driving," Sanchez said.

NSA made the narrow bridge bike-accessible by adding a fence to the bridge parapet, installing bike-friendly storm drain road grates, and improving signage on the road with what cyclists call "sharrows." These are shared lane markings painted on the road, and bright signage with bicycle symbols, serving as an intuitive indicator that bikes can ride in the middle of the lane with cars. Before the new installations on the bridge were completed, commuters who wanted to bike to work at NSA had to take a big detour and navigate busy intersections.

NSA's Deputy Associate Director for State, Local and Community Relations, was a central figure in leading NSA's bike accessibility initiatives.

"It is important to recognize that opening this roadway was not an easy endeavor. It required coordination among federal, state, and community organizations to make this happen," he said.

"It's great for our employees. It's good for parking. It's good for our health. There are many employees that would prefer to walk or bike to work versus drive. So this provides another way for people to get to work without having to jump in a car."

"A bike is really a tool to get you to cover distance and get exercise," Sanchez said. "Biking helps people make connections. In this area people have to do that a lot – going from one system of transport to another."

Biking also helps people make connections with others. A few years ago, not knowing that Sanchez was an NSA employee, a leader at a cycling advocacy meet-up introduced Sanchez to NSA's Deputy Associate Director for State, Local and Community Relations, who was then serving as Director of Transportation at NSA.

"We've been in almost constant communication for years now," Sanchez said.

"He said, 'I'd like to talk to you about how to get more people to ride to work.' That first meeting could have made me cry. He really saw the value of biking to work."

After that first meeting, the bike-friendly changes on NSA's campus cycled in. Sanchez lauded NSA's support of cycling commuters.

"We put new bike racks at all the agency buildings in the Ft. Meade region, and initiated efforts to improve and increase other amenities to support bicyclists," Sanchez said.

"When someone rides into work, and locks their prized possession to a rusty rack in the back of the building, that gives you an impression of how well you're supported," Sanchez said. "But you put in a nice rack with a rain cover, you're making an impression. You're saying, 'You're saving a parking space, and we appreciate that.'"

Bike friendly campuses help save parking spaces and money, Sanchez pointed out. It costs thousands of dollars annually to maintain a parking space, and employees have a chance to give back to their place of work by cycling.

"It looks better for the agency; it's part of the environmental impact," Sanchez said. "The bike commuters are making a real contribution to the agency. That's what I push for."