Earlier this week, I met an Arlington County staffer who was in my neighborhood responding to a compliance call. As part of the compliance check, he had to come out and physically inspect the issue at hand. And how did he get from the county offices in Courthouse to my neighborhood, just a couple of miles away? By bike.
Why doesn't Arlington County have more employees making that choice?
Arlington County does a great job of promoting the benefits of cycling and public transportation to the public. It's cheaper, healthier and often more convenient. It’s clear that many Arlington County employees themselves believe this – I regularly see them commuting home by bike. But I almost never see county employees using bikes to get their jobs done.
I think an internal assessment of Arlington County's institutional transportation needs would find that using bikes for some county functions would – surprise – also be cheaper, healthier and more convenient than using cars and trucks.
Not all county-business transportation needs could be met by cycling, of course, but some are particularly well suited to it. For example, Arlington's parking enforcement staff could easily substitute bikes for the motor vehicles they seem to favor now. The nature of their work requires slow speed on the streets (to examine the meters and zone stickers) and frequent stops (to issue tickets). This is far more easily done on a bike than in a car.
Further, bike-based enforcement staff would not need to block traffic when stopping to issue tickets. One might even go so far as to hope that enforcement staff on a bike might begin to see the value of unblocked bike lanes, and actually ticket vehicles double-parked in them. Other departments that could benefit from more of a bike-based approach include the police and parks staff.
Arlington County has taken some steps towards providing its employees with the option to use a bike. The county’s transportation pool – in addition to nearly 1,200 vehicles - has bikes available for check out (this is how the staffer I met above did it). The Central Library has several (sadly neglected) cargo-capable bikes on the bottom floor of its parking garage.
It appears that the basic infrastructure is in place if the county wanted to get serious about taking its own advice. Perhaps it just needs a bit of encouragement. I’d suggest that some of that encouragement could be found through the budget process. Surely dusting off and pumping up five of the county’s existing bikes would be cheaper than maintaining the single car they could replace.
Try using the bike, Arlington County. I hear it’s great.
Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.