There are only 14 gold-level Bicycle Friendly Communities in the United States. Palo Alto, Calif. Minneapolis. Arlington, Va.? Arlington County hopes so.
As , Arlington County has long been recognized by the League of American Bicyclists, or LAB, for its significant efforts to become a more cycling-friendly community. This led to its becoming the first silver-level community in the area, well before Washington earned that designation.
However, Arlington, during County Board member Jay Fisette’s tenure as chairman, set its sights on becoming the first gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community on the East Coast.
Since the last time Arlington County was renewed at the silver level, it launched Capital Bikeshare, significantly expanded its education efforts, and added miles of street facilities inside the county. While the LAB commended these efforts, it felt that Arlington had more to do before it could truly be a gold-level community.
Last week, the head of the LAB – Andy Clarke – joined to discuss some of the things Arlington might do to improve its bike friendliness. Some, like improving “mode-share” (the percentage of population that uses a bike to commute) are relatively straightforward exercises in metrics. Others are a little harder to quantify, such as Clarke’s exhortation that Arlington aim for “transformational” projects.
In Clarke’s view, a transformational project is something that pushes well beyond the traditional approach of a few more bike lanes here, some extra bike parking there. It instead challenges the status quo in a significant way. While it could be argued that launching a bikeshare system that resulted in a million trips in its first year is transformational, Arlington’s share of those trips remained relatively small for much of the year.
By the end of 2012, though, Arlington is expected to have 70 bikeshare stations, with most running along the length of the densely populated Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. When the red Capital Bikeshare bikes become ubiquitous on our streets this summer (and they will, if Washington’s experience is any indicator), it will be hard to deny the transformational nature of Capital Bikeshare in Arlington.
But Arlington can’t – and shouldn’t – depend on Capital Bikeshare's expansion for its gold-level efforts. Clarke, with the nodding approval of many in the room, urged Arlington County to consider separated cycletracks (think bike lanes with a physical barrier between the cyclists and car-traffic). He also suggested that Arlington promote and improve the “Arlington Loop”, the 17-mile, off-street circle formed by the Custis, W&OD, Four Mile Run and Mount Vernon trails.
These are just some of the things that Arlington County can do to improve cycling, and that improvement is a goal that Arlington County staff are focused on. At the bike culture meeting, Arlington Transportation Director Dennis Leach emphasized his commitment to making a cycling a “mainstream mode” of transportation in our community. If Arlington can do that – not get everyone on a bike, but simply make getting on a bike a choice as unremarkable as getting into a car – it will truly deserve the gold.
One place that certainly does not deserve gold is the House of Delegates in Richmond. Arlington Del. Alfonso Lopez recently championed a bill that would require that “every driver of a motor vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian or the operator of a human-powered vehicle.” Virginia is one of a handful of states without such a statute. Unfortunately, the bill has failed in committee, along – once again – partisan lines.
Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.