The League of American Bicyclists designated Alexandria last month as a silver-level bicycle friendly community for our work to make the city a better place to ride.
This award, which puts us on par with Washington and Arlington County, is quite an achievement for our mayor and city councilors as well as for the city staff who followed through with their directives. Upon receiving the award, Mayor Bill Euille indicated that the work was not done and the city would continue striving to reach the platinum level.
I, for one, appreciate his leadership.
Silver, a step up from our previous bronze award, puts Alexandria in the top 100 of the more than 300 communities in the bicycle friendly community program. This distinction makes us more attractive to new residents and businesses — at least in bike-friendly eastern Alexandria.
So, I find myself wondering, what is the next step? Can we bring all this bike-friendliness to the West End?
Within Alexandria, there are only four routes to the West End. The best of these for bicycling are Braddock Road and the side paths and designated sidewalks of Eisenhower Avenue, which lead cyclists to the beautiful Holmes Run greenway.
On the other two westerly routes, Duke and King streets, cyclists often are seen riding on narrow sidewalks — hardly the ideal situation. Lacking alternatives, King Street, between the Metro station and Quaker Lane, is designated as an official route on the city’s bicycle map. Because Arlington placed Capital Bikeshare stations in Fairlington, where the nearest Metro station is King Street, a few brave souls have been riding Bikeshare cycles down the thoroughfare during the morning rush.
Fortunately, an upgrade has been proposed for King Street. This project will add bike lanes between Russell Road and Janneys Lane, narrowing traffic lanes, slowing cars, and creating a needed buffer between cars and pedestrians on the sidewalk. This upgrade also will improve access to the Metro, which — like bike lanes — tends to improve property values.
In the long run, these bicycle facilities will be extended to T.C. Williams, providing a bike route for our children. For their safety, I hope the final design creates bike lanes, which separate bikes from cars, rather than adding “sharrows,” which are road markings to suggest the lane position for cyclists riding among cars.
Current ridership data indicates that bicycling is popular in our city’s east side, with the largest concentration of cyclists found along the Mount Vernon Trail and Commonwealth Avenue in Del Ray. But that is not to say there are no cyclists in the West End.
I have a friend who rides a tricky route on Seminary Hill to avoid bike-unfriendly Quaker Lane. I’d give details, but he made me promise to keep mum. The sad fact is that riders in many areas of our beautiful city rely on potentially hazardous — and sometimes unofficial — bike routes because improvements to the official routes have yet to be made.
Our silver-level designation is the result of hard work and projects like Capital Bikeshare, mile markers on the Holmes Run Trail to enable emergency response, and upgraded bike lanes and paths. This award is also the result of leadership. In 2011, the city council adopted a complete-streets policy, which requires that new and repaved streets be made safe and accessible for walking, bicycling and driving.
Further, city council voted this year to upgrade to the bicycle and pedestrian mobility plan, a component of the transportation master plan. This update was requested because more and more riders are using bicycles to drop off children at school and pick up groceries from the store, both of which are difficult without a robust on-street bicycle network. As with the 2008 bicycle and pedestrian plan, which included only the highest-priority on-street bike routes, the new plan is intended to open more of our streets to cyclists of all ages and abilities.
As in 2008, I hope residents will once again come together to create a plan that will keep us moving toward the platinum level.
The writer is a member of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.