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Home​NewsHappy Anniversary to Hill Family Biking

Happy Anniversary to Hill Family Biking

The bikes begin to swoop in, one by one, a trickle, then a deluge, turning from Tennessee Avenue toward 13th Street NE. They come in all sizes and colors, some with streamers and signs, many with kids on the back, buckets in the front or trailers behind.

The woman standing with her dog in the triangle park near the Balance Statue releases the grip on her leash as hundreds of bicycles flood around her, but no worries, the dog is also transfixed as the bikes glide past the park to find a place to lock up.

It is an astonishing sight every time you are lucky enough to see it. The 200 or so cyclists have just completed the Hill Family Biking Anniversary Ride, celebrating one year of community-organized, family-oriented rides around the Hill and District. They’re capping off the ride with a party on the 200 block of 13th Street NE, complete with a Chalk Riot mural, popsicles, a DJ and an extremely fancy potty from Throne.

Core organizers at the block party celebrating the one-year anniversary of Hill Family Biking. Photo: Courtesy Hill Family Biking

Mark Sussman is a driving force behind the project, which kicked off in April 2023. I asked him if he anticipated the group would be such a big success.

“Yes, I did,” he told me, grinning. “There was this unbelievable groundswell of unmet demand for homegrown family-friendly biking events on Capitol Hill,” he said.

Sussman predicted more than 200 riders would show up for that first ride. 250 people rode the four miles with Sussman and the core organizers, including ANC 6A Commissioner Amber Gove, bike-lane guru Will Handsfield, organizer Jay Williams, technical expert Sava Tshontikidis and Dr. Sam Moghtaderi, an orthopedic surgeon who became the Hill Family Biking historian after he brought a clicker to the inaugural ride and counted participants.

 

Pedaling Fun

Gove has served as a marshal on the rides, keeping riders together and ensuring safe crossings at intersections. She has also assumed the role of Chief Fun Officer, or CFO, taking responsibility for the bubble machine and musical playlist that accompanies the group on the rides. She loves the joy the ride brings to riders and bystanders.

“Lots of smiles, lots of smiles,” she described the reaction, “particularly seeing lots of [young] independent riders.”

The Hill Family Biking concept is modeled on Kidical Mass (www.kidicalmass.org), a legal, safe and fun ride for kids and families first held in April 2008 in Eugene, Oregon. The relatively short rides start at a park and end at a fun place ‒ the inaugural Hill Family Biking ride ended at Capital Candy Jar for ice cream.

The Hill rides often start in the parking lot at Maury Elementary (1250 Constitution Ave. NE) with an opportunity to do a little bike maintenance ‒ tools and amateur mechanics provide help. Sussman said the rides are intended to build community, highlight the benefits of cycling and draw attention to the need for safer streets.

DCPL’s Book Bike leads the way at the November 2023 Book Bike Ride. Photo: Courtesy Hill Family Biking

These are big goals, but the rides are all built around fun. One of the most popular was the costume ride in October 2023, which drew 270 riders dressed as everything from skeletons to turtles to Spiderman. Several rides have taken the group to libraries; in November, the DC Public Library’s Book Bike came along for a ride to Rosedale.

The group has a core of regular riders who say there’s one big reason why they do it. “It’s fun!” declared Rose Connelly. She and husband Chris do the rides with their six-year-old daughter whenever their schedules permit.

”I think there’s such a great community aspect, where you see people you know,” Connelly said. “But you also go to a few spots that you might not otherwise think to ride to in the neighborhood.”

Hill Family Biking has pedaled across the Frederick Douglass Bridge and to the Canal Park ice rink, finishing up with some skating. But Sussman says his favorite ride was December’s “tiny street” ride, a route that took riders along several of the one-way streets that run for a single block on the Hill.

“These streets are picturesque and not often traveled,” Sussman explained, “so it provided a special treat for our riders and showed them some alternate safer routes they may have never considered before.”

 

Chain Reaction

That is a core goal of Hill Family Biking, said Gove. “We take people on rides to places and show them how to get there on a bike. Then they realize, hey, I could actually cycle down to Nationals Park or Audi Stadium with my child.”

The group is often accompanied by the Metropolitan Police Department’s First District community outreach team. The marshals direct the group along the route. And Dr. Moghtaderi provides an extra layer of security to the less certain riders, ready to provide medical attention where needed, although so far he says he’s only had to administer water to prevent heatstroke.

The Connelly family dressed as cycling skeletons for the costume ride last October. Photo: Courtesy Hill Family Biking

Like the Connellys, many monthly riders are regulars. But a key mission of Hill Family Biking is to welcome those new to the Hill and to cycling. Families moving to the District have contacted the group even before their move, Moghtaderi said, wanting to help their kids become part of the community and get used to cycling ‒ something they didn’t regularly do before the move.

And families have noticed. In May, Katie Coester was at her daughter’s lacrosse practice on Kingsman Field when a group of cyclists started flowing down D Street NE.

“Is this a parade?” she asked no one in particular.

“No,” said another bystander, waving furiously at the wheeled group as they passed by, “it’s Hill Family Biking!”

Coester wouldn’t describe herself as a confident cyclist. She has some trepidation about riding on the street, especially with her three kids, all between four and eight years old. But she wants to do more riding on the Hill. The size of the ride, together with the marshals and the police presence, might just be the doorway they need, she said. “This offers a low-barrier opportunity to meet with families who bike on the street and to participate in a ride,” she remarked.

 

Cranking It Up

The mission doesn’t end there. Sussman, whom Moghtaderi calls the “real and spiritual leader of the group,” has big goals for the future. He wants streets safe enough for kids to ride without fear, “an incredibly lofty goal,” he acknowledged.

But, he added, “in many of the cities that have attained these goals ‒ Amsterdam, Copenhagen and most recently Paris ‒ it was a groundswell of kids and families demanding safer streets that was the catalyst for change.”

Sussman said that as HFB grows it will need more volunteers to keep the wheels turning. It has already inspired groups in other DC neighborhoods, including one in Ward 5. HFB wants to do more age-specific programming, including teen programming in the summer and working closely with the Capitol Hill Village Bike Affinity Group. On Aug. 31, they’ll do the Back to School Ride, and they want to fundraise with Maury Elementary to install art in the right-of-way where families cross to get to school (something similar has been done at Miner Elementary). They’re also about to introduce a line of swag, which could include T-shirts and yard signs.

 

Spokes-People

To that end, Hill Family Biking became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in April 2024. Sussman said that after the first ride attracted 250 participants, they realized they’d need a budget. The organizing committee footed the bill for some things, like promotional materials, safety vests and walkie-talkies. They considered working under an established organization, but decided to go their own way. Local businesses have sponsored the rides, including realtors Jeanne, Phil, Meg. The new nonprofit has applied for a grant from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.

Kids get comfortable learning to ride safely at the anniversary ride. Photo: Sam Moghtaderi, courtesy Hill Family Biking

In December 2023, Hill Family Biking received the Civic Pride Award at the Ward 6 17th Annual Brickies. The event, hosted by Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D), celebrated the people, businesses and organizations that make the Hill a great place to live. “The group has quickly established itself as an impactful organization dedicated to building community through learning, exploration, collaboration and fun, embodying the true meaning of civic pride,” Allen declared.

Even those who haven’t had a chance to participate say they love what Hill Family Biking is doing. Passersby often can’t contain their smiles, waving as the group of colorful riders from ages eight to 80 pass them by. “As a neighbor and observer, I think of it as a joyful parade and I love to cheer and wave from the sidewalks,” said Kelly Waud.”

One year in, Sussman is enjoying the anniversary, even as he prepares for the future.

“It simply feels amazing,” Sussman said. “It’s one thing to do something as a one-off, have some success and then it peters out. I’ve had my share of those kinds of endeavors. But to have organized 13 rides now with a core group of enthusiastic organizers, and our reach and momentum just continues to climb upwards ‒ it is pretty incredible.”

Learn more about Hill Family Biking at the June 8 open house, starting 10 a.m. at Stanton Park. Volunteer, sign up for the main list or donate by visiting www.hillfamilybiking.org.

Follow @hillfamilybiking on Instagram, Facebook and Mastodon or @hillfamilybikin on Twitter.

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