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Alexandria bike lanes welcomed by a courageous commuter

Thursday - 3/20/2014, 5:30am  ET

nationals_photo_courtesy_of_Patty_Collins.jpg
Patty Collins, shown competing in the 2012 ParaCycling Nationals in Augusta, Ga., says bike lanes make conditions safer. (Courtesy Patty Collins)

WASHINGTON -- An Alexandria, Va. homeowner who lost her leg while biking to work is particularly thrilled with Alexandria City Council's unanimous decision to add bike lanes to King Street in Alexandria.

The council voted to add the lanes along a stretch of King Street from Janneys Lane to West Cedar Street.

Patty Collins, an Alexandria homeowner who commutes to the Pentagon daily, was among those speaking in favor of adding the bike lanes to one of the city's busiest roadways, where speeding is common.

Advocates for the bike lanes say the bike lanes -- and the plan to narrow the roadway -- will act as a traffic calming device.

Collins has a unique perspective on bike commuting and safety.

"I'm a bicycle commuter who is also an amputee that lost her leg while commuting," she says.

Collins says her accident happened while she was riding along the shoulder of a road in North Carolina, where she lived in 2006.

"It was during a morning commute; I was riding single-file, orange bike, flashing lights, yellow jersey -- the driver got a ticket for failing to control his speed to avoid a collision."

Her leg wasn't amputated immediately; that was a decision she made later when she found that her mobility -- she's been a lifelong runner and cyclist -- would actually be increased if she opted to have her leg amputated below the knee. At the time she was weighing the option of having her ankle fused.

As a member of the military -- she works as a division chief at the Joint Staff at the Pentagon -- Collins has come to know many service members who'd undergone amputations. Many of them had far more mobility than she did and seeing the level of activity they were able to maintain made making the call to go for the amputation relatively easy.

"They were re-deploying," she says.

Patty Collins with what she calls her "blinged-out" leg, which reflects her long military career. (Courtesy Patty Collins)

The surgery was performed in May 2007. By July, Collins was taking her first bike ride.

"It was my own little Independence Day," she says, laughing.

There was plenty of falling off the bike, but not enough to keep her off. Now she's not just a bike commuter -- she's also a bike racer and triathlete.

Collins says she understands the opposition to bike lanes, and says people have asked her if she's crazy to ride on the street after her experience. But she cites the studies that figured in the plan to add bike lanes to King Street, which say that when bike lanes are added and streets are narrowed, motorists slow down, and safety is increased. She also adds that she's a driver too, and having the bike lanes helps define expectations on a roadway.

And she notes that the road in North Carolina where she was hit "has 14 miles of bike lanes now."

And Collins says she just has to stay active, and cycling has always been a big part of her life.

"I didn't know how important physical activity was to my life until I didn't have it."

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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