There’s a part of Clarendon Boulevard where — as it passes the Market Common Clarendon and Whole Foods — the normal rules of traffic appear to be mysteriously suspended. Drivers in the right lane swerve left to get into the Whole Foods parking lot on the left, and drivers in the left lane shoot right for the Starbucks entrance without even glancing in their mirrors.
And through it all? One of Arlington’s busiest bike lanes.
Arlington County recently installed a new buffered bike lane, moving cyclists further away from parked cars and other traffic further away from cyclists. It’s not a cycletrack — it doesn’t have a barrier between cyclists and other road traffic — but it provides many of the same benefits of increased separation.
The original Clarendon bike lane often wasn’t the safest place for cyclists. While it met the technical minimum width specified in national standards, it still placed some users squarely within the “door zone.” Riding in the door zone puts cyclists in danger of serious injury if they ride too close to a car whose driver carelessly opens the door into traffic. Arlington County doesn’t keep reliable records of dooring-related injuries, but officials are aware of several incidents in recent years.
Arlington’s planning and traffic engineers saw an opportunity to address this problem when much of Clarendon Boulevard was scheduled to be resurfaced. While it‘s possible to grind off and restripe existing facilities, that often results in less-than-ideal pavement condition. So the county generally takes resurfacing as an opportunity to review whether existing facilities — striping, for instance — serve the needs of a road’s users. In this case, Clarendon Boulevard’s bike lane clearly didn’t.
The new lane is a step in the right direction. The design was heavily influenced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Arlington, as a generally forward-looking jurisdiction when it comes to traffic management and design, collaborates on the content of the guide, combining its experience and best practices with other counties and cities to help shape future facilities.
And in the future? More of these facilities should be appearing in Arlington. This one should extend eastward through Courthouse. Next up should be Fairfax Boulevard from Clarendon through Ballston. And one day, if the state Transportation Department can get out of the way — Lee Highway.
It’s not possible everywhere, but in these cases, Arlington’s got the room to make its streets safer.
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Mark Blacknell is a member of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association board of directors, and a League Cycling Instructor.