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PALing Around on Arlington's Streets

A look at the latest campaign for street safety in Arlington.

Last week, three organizations devoted to improving transportation in Arlington – Arlington’s Car-Free Diet, Walk Arlington and Bike Arlington – joined together to roll out a new street safety campaign. It’s based on a smart approach that’s inclusive of all modes of transportation.

The campaign is based on the principle of “Be[ing] a PAL on Arlington’s Streets,” where PAL is an acronym for Predictable, Alert and Lawful. These principles are at the core of all traditional transportation safety instruction, and easily translate from cars and motorcycles to bicycles and shoes. 

One particularly encouraging aspect of the campaign is that it doesn’t settle for reminding us of legal minimums of behavior. The campaign poster (see the attached PDF) highlights behaviors that are simply good practices – cyclists staying 5 feet away from parked cars, drivers giving cyclists 3 feet to pass, and pedestrians getting in the habit of being highly visible after dark. It also highlights problems that immediately bring specific Arlington street corners to mind – say, bikes blocking the crosswalk at Lynn Street and Lee Highway.

On the whole, I’d say this is a better campaign than the regionwide Street Smart effort that we see twice a year. In my experience, Street Smart relies on negative imagery of conflict (check out the banners on its site), and doesn’t do a very good job – in practice – of emphasizing everyone’s common right to use our streets. 

Right now, the PAL campaign exists primarily as a two-page spread in the Arlington Citizen (the county publication that goes out to every household in Arlington). It doesn’t have the sizeable resources that the Street Smart program does, so I don’t expect we’ll be seeing any PAL-related public service announcements on television. That said – and as County Board Member Walter Tejada mentioned last week – a bit of cooperation could help.  If those running the Street Smart campaign and those designing the PAL campaign combined their efforts, it would certainly improve the impact and reach of both programs.

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There’s a good discussion of the campaign over at the Washington Area Bike Forum. "What should the blue cyclist in the bike lane behind the turning vehicle do? What if the bike lane isn’t 5 feet away from parked cars?" Good questions.

I'd normally expect to roll my eyes at any Washingtonian list of anything related to cycling, but they recently did an excellent job of picking out five of the DC area's best bike blogs. Some complained about the lack of including Washcycle, but I have to think it's just a basic assumption that everyone's already reading Washcycle. Bonus: one of the Washingtonian picks - Cycleboredom - is based in Arlington.

Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.

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