Sharing the road

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Alexandria’s known for being bike-friendly, but cyclists worry the city is slowing efforts to add new facilities, like dedicated lanes on busy streets. City officials say the improvements can’t happen overnight. (Photo/Derrick Perkins)

By Derrick Perkins

Cyclists worry plans to add bicycle lanes to Alexandria’s streets are falling by the wayside, and they’re launching a letter-writing campaign in the hopes of shifting City Hall into high gear.

“We have some great facilities, but they only connect to where they connect to, and there are a lot of people who use bicycles just to get around and they get pretty frustrated,” said Jonathan Krall of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. “If you want to get from Del Ray over to Shirlington, you have to go out of the way or you have to go up Glebe Road. That’s the fastest way to go, but that’s a place where people ride on the sidewalk because they’re afraid of the cars.”

Krall has begun reaching out to fellow enthusiasts, asking them to petition city council for renewed emphasis on the complete streets policy. Passed in 2011, the resolution calls for building integrated roadways — safe for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

But when the time came for restriping Slaters Lane earlier this year, city employees did not plan on incorporating bicycle lanes until local cyclists raised the alarm, Krall said.

Now they want officials to add lanes to Glebe Road, connecting Alexandria with Arlington. The road already handles heavy bicycle traffic, Krall said, but many cyclists fear sharing the busy pavement with motorists. Instead, they dodge pedestrians and each other on narrow sidewalks.

“People who don’t feel safe on the road, they’ll get on sidewalks, and we get emails from people asking, ‘Isn’t that illegal?’” Krall said. “You get people complaining about why are [the cyclists] in the middle of the street? Those arrogant cyclists. It is a problem, and it is frustrating. … You’re setting up a situation where everybody is getting mad at everybody.”

But adding bike lanes — while seemingly simple — takes more than a snap of the finger, said Sandra Marks, acting deputy director of the transportation and environmental services department.

In Slaters Lane’s case, officials met with nearby homeowners and went before the city’s traffic board before moving ahead with the project. Narrow or busy streets and those with curbside parking add further complications, Marks said.

And anytime a bike lane takes the place of a travel lane or street-side parking, officials must balance the needs of motorists, she said.

“[Glebe Road] is a case where we can’t just go out and stripe in bike lanes without taking away parking or a travel lane; that’s not a project we can just go out and do,” Marks said. “That’s going to require some study to see if the [traffic] volumes on that road [are] low enough we could take away a travel lane. … It’s about finding that balance.”

Ron Taylor, owner of Wheel Nuts Bike Shop, sees both sides of the issue. Bike lanes are needed, particularly with the arrival of Capital Bikeshare in Alexandria, but they cost money and require lobbying efforts by the cycling community.

“Now it’s a matter of helping those people who are riding these bikes find a safe way to travel,” he said. “We’re competing with narrow streets, parking on both sides of the streets. … I think if we can create — on some of the larger arteries — shared lanes and proper marking, we could raise the awareness that cyclists have a right to the same road.”

While the city does not have plans to add a bike lane to Glebe Road, according to Marks, they have several cyclist-friendly projects in the works, including a trail connecting the future Potomac Yard developments to the Braddock Metro station.

But it’s not going to be an overnight change, Marks said.

We’re committed to putting in bike facilities … but sometimes we can’t get projects in as quickly as we like,” she said. “Perhaps we need to do a better job of getting the word out and [helping residents] understand the process. It seems like it should be a quick fix, but it takes longer than some people might think.”