Opinion Your Views — 06 February 2014
Emphasis on bike lanes threatens quality of living in Alexandria

By Esther Goldberg, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

Eric Wagner’s letter (“Developing a multimodal transit system is the right thing to do,” January 9) appears to suggest that we need bike lanes to avoid gridlock. That would be the gridlock that will be created by said bike lanes combined with city plans that call for higher density and fewer parking spaces.

City planners believe that this will bring young, cool, professional people to Alexandria and thus make it a cool place of young singles, where everyone’s closest relationship is with their bicycle.

Here’s how this plays out in reality. My daughter and her significant other moved to Seattle three years ago as newly minted young doctors. They rented a tiny loft downtown. They bought bicycles — Seattle has great bicycle lanes.

Three years have passed. They are 30 years old. The ubiquitous pho joints and cafes serving lattes and arugula salads have palled. The area looks kind of unsavory, on closer view, and there’s a lot of crime.

Having completed their residencies and now embarking on their fellowships that will allow them to become specialists in their respective fields, they want to get married and start a family. They want to move a little farther out so that they can afford a place with more space.

And they want to buy two cars, one an SUV for off-road trips. They want what continues to be the American dream.

Anyone who researches the effect of cool city planning will see that this is the general pattern. So the question is: Do we want Alexandria to become a cool city, a charmless, childless desert with a dearth of diversity?

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(28) Readers Comments

  1. What makes Alexandria special is not the ability to drive and park anywhere you please. Lots of boring suburban communities have that. Communities like Alexandria are prized for having a diversity of residences, restaurants, shops, and offices all within close, walkable, bikeable proximity. No one is going to take your cars away, but with very little effort Alexandria can make itself more welcoming to people who choose other ways of getting around. You decry the “dearth of diversity” in “cool” cities, but what really causes a lack of diversity here is the scarcity of affordable housing. Younger and other less wealthy people have a greater chance of affording to live in a desirable community like Alexandria if they don’t have the added expense of one or two cars per household.

  2. Oh don’t you worry there Esther, Alexandria will never have to worry about being a “cool” city. As someone who just moved here from Seattle and an avid biker, your article essentially calling Seattle a “cool city, a charmless, childless desert with a dearth of diversity.” has managed to show how simple the minds here are. I

  3. Also being that we don’t want any crime here like they have in Seattle (as you equate because of bike lanes), I ironically found your article looking for updates on the mid-afternoon shooting here.

  4. wow. First of all, you should really think about your argument before you sat down to write this… you make ZERO sense.

    This is how I understand your scattered rant…

    Bike lanes will cause gridlock, because city plans for high-density population and less parking spots. [umm. seems like less parking and more bike lanes takes cars off the road, but go on...]

    That will attract ‘young, cool, professional people to Alexandria.’ [GASP! Young affluent people to dump money into the local economy and that are attracted to a place that's interested in protecting the environment... yes, the environment that older generations proceed to trash before they die.]

    This younger population will turn the Alexandria community into a place ‘where everyone’s closest relationship is with their bicycle’, and that in turn increases crime. [We could be jumping to conclusions at this point, but I'm still not sure why liking to bike is a bad thing, and the correlation between bikes and higher crime..]

    So your proof is amazing…. your daughter and the dude she’s shacking up with move to Seattle and experiment in the seedy underground of… cycling!! [AHHH!!! NOOOO! The humanity!] Then they eat pho, arugula salads, sip lattes, and because of that, they live in an area of high crime, so obviously, the crime was caused by bike lanes. [Yup, that was the big conclusion of this carefully-crafted argument.... bike lanes bring in wealthy young people who love bikes, then they eat trendy international food, and then BAM! the community goes down the drain.]

    So with that logic… I’m kinda pissed that your daughter and her boy toy moved to Seattle and single-handedly turned it into a slum. It’s their fault, and we should never allow them to move back into Alexandria. I mean, we don’t want trash like that in our city!

    You are obviously some grumpy, uneducated old lady, that’s afraid of change. You had your chance and are more irrelevant to society with each passing day. It’s time for the “young, cool, professional people” to make this world our own. Deal with it. Bikes, pho, and all.

    And just some advice, next time you want to rant about something, maybe think about your argument and do some research.

    • Carolina, I’m sorry my letter upset you as much as it obviously did. I wish now I hadn’t written it that way. If you like, we could meet up at Mischa’s and perhaps try to understand where we are each coming from.

  5. Two weeks ago the anti-bike-lane crowd was telling us that bike lanes serve only a paltry one percent of residents.[1] Now we are being told that that handful of cyclists are “causing gridlock.” The reality is that bike lanes get bikes out of the way of cars and encourage transit use, reducing gridlock. I get the impression that the anti-bike lane crowd will say anything if they think doing so will somehow increase space on the roads for cars (by the way, I recently overheard a gaggle of city councilpersons saying that they’d give up on bicycles if they began hearing reports that bicycles make people horny. I’m just passing that along…).

    In this letter we also have a claim that bike use is somehow related to childlessness. In fact many of the people that I know that have given up cars are couples that are “car lite,” having only one car for a family of two or more. Given that the cost of car ownership is about $9000 per year, that can make a big difference to a young couple raising a family.

    In fact, 12 percent of households in Alexandria are car free and presumably, a similar number are car lite. Given that our economy and our 4.1 percent unemployment rate is the envy of other cities[2], I’d say that our growing population of cyclists and car-free and car lite households isn’t hurting anything at all. Personally I own two houses and zero cars because houses are a better investment. That’s something that even the Wall Street Journal crowd up on the hill ought to be able to understand.

    [1] http://alextimes.com/2014/01/bike-lanes-serve-the-1-percent/
    [2] http://www.bls.gov/ro3/valaus.htm

    • Jonathan, I think Dr. Freud would find the association of ideas made by your friends on city council interesting. When I wrote of personal relationships, I didn’t mean quite THAT personal. But to each his own.

  6. Attention bikers: Life is not always a straight line. Occasionally, you may have to take an alternate and safer route. Like avoiding driving on the Beltway. Sometimes you even may have to walk your bike on the sidewalk.

    In all your bellowing about “selfish” residents and drivers who oppose bike lanes in this one short span, consider whether your refusal to do either of these things isn’t selfish.

  7. Given all of the children on bikes I see at Alexandria gatherings, I wouldn’t have thought that bike lanes would lead to a “childless desert.” And when did the American Dream become about SUV ownership?

    More generally, I see that most of the opposition is based around notions of “worse traffic” or “safety.” Perhaps if the city just took 15′ from the front lawns of both sides of King Street, the residents’ concerns could be addressed by adding additional (extra wide) car lanes and bike lanes. The parking spots could even be preserved! I think we’d then see that the real concerns aren’t traffic or safety but change to the status quo.

    And one of the hardest changes here is the realization that the road in front of your house isn’t your private property. That parking spot on King Street isn’t yours and the park behind my house isn’t mine. If the city decided to change the layout of the park, I could invent all kinds of arguments about safety or claim the city is trying to turn itself into a “childless desert.” Given that Complete Streets is change even AARP endorses, why can’t the bike lane opponents constructively engage rather than making up silly alternate futures?

  8. If you have a good alternative to King St between the Metro and Janney’s, Randy, lets hear it.

  9. Why don’t the dozen or so of you who actually bike this stretch walk your bikes on the side walk where you’re concerned about safety? Going uphill, you’ll be walking no slower than 90% of you can pedal. Going downhill, you’ll lose a little time, depending on when you jump off the road, but so-what. We’re talking a few minutes.

    As for alternative routes, what a classic question from the entitlement crowd. You need to SHOW me how to get down this monster hill. I may be brave enough to ride in the road, and I must have the same or more rights as cars, but don’t expect me to use a map, GPS, or plan my route in any way.

    • Why don’t the dozen of you who have houses there, sell one of your cars that you need to park in the road that my tax dollars paid for.

      • It’s not just about the residents who live there. It’s about the tens of 1000s of other taxpaying Alexandria drivers – who way out-number the dozen or so bikers – who don’t want to hit a bike or an oncoming school bus or fire truck. If you’re going to make this issue about who pays the most taxes, car drivers or bikers, you’re going to get clobbered.

    • Awesome research. Now see if you can find any articles about cars running over pedestrians and bikes on regular streets.

      • Plenty of those articles, too. Just think it would be fair for bike lane proponents to temper their pro-safety arguments with the reality that a painted line cannot and in practice does not stop cars from doing what cars too often do.

  10. By me not owning a car, that is one less car parked on the street in Old Town (where I live and where I would need and could get a residential parking permit), which is one more parking space for anyone who drives to visit Old Town, maybe even you. It is also one less car taking up 120 cubic feet of road space in front of you while you are driving. Yes, my bike goes slower than a car is capable of (but significantly faster than any of those 2 tons of steel go in bumper-to-bumper traffic). But it takes up far less space in traffic, and thus creates far less traffic. It creates absolutely zero traffic if I am riding it in a dedicated, separated lane.

    I understand that the loss of an occasional parking space is difficult to fathom, but all of these arguments against the bike lanes are just incorrect at best, and utter lies at worst. (See, “the 1% ” letter to the editor. Bike commuters make up far more than 1%, car free households are over 10%. In addition, that letter purposefully misstated which lane would be removed. Not a travel lane, as reported, but a “parking lane”, as if there is actually such a thing). It is absolutely clear that this is only about parking, and the residents are willing to say and do anything to make it seem like it is about anything *but* parking, the tacit admission being that it is a truly selfish, self-centered and frivolous thing to guard so jealously at the expense of the whole rest of the city.

    Finally, I am personally offended by the outright play into the worst the culture wars have to offer. A mix of sneering at the “young, cool, hip” and the frivolous things they enjoy, and the outright assumption that they’ll (we’ll) all grow up, pair off of it and become two-car families the way God intended. That is simply not the case. And there should be room for all types in Alexandria. I can honestly say, I’ve never felt quite so unwelcome in the city I’ve called my home for 10 years. Would you like me to move and take my (significant) disposable income elsewhere?

    • If you move and take your (significant) disposable with you, within a few weeks you’ll be replaced with somebody new, very possibly with a more (significant) disposable income. So, that threat is rather lame.

      • Alright. Seriously, I’m looking to buy and as much as I’ve enjoyed living in Old Town for 10 years, I’m sick of the comparative lack of connectivity (compared to DC and Arlington) and all the flack I take from my peers about living in a terminally un – cool spot surrounded by the likes of, well, you and Esther. Sure someone else may move in, but they may not stay for similar reasons. DC is drawing my demographic like a magnet and experiencing a renaissance. Alienating the future….good plan.

    • Regarding bicycle commuters, here are census data for 2011 by city. Bike share of bicycle commuters in Alexandria is 0.79%.

      http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/bike-to-work-map-us-cities-census-data.html

      • Esther, it’s important not to mistake existing bicycling levels with demand for bicycling. In cities across the U.S., the installation of new bicycle facilities is often followed by increased cycling on those routes. This is because there are many people that want to bicycle but only if they feel safe doing so.

        In Alexandria, there are 521 lane miles for automobiles. In contrast, there are maybe 10 miles of bike trails (shared with pedestrians) and bike lanes. Given the anemic network of bicycle facilities, it is amazing that anyone is able to bike at all. I expect that if the City destroyed all but 10 miles of the road network, then commuting by car would decrease substantially. That would not mean that the demand for commuting by car went away, just the ability to do so.

  11. No, you need to show us, because we’re saying that this IS the only road that connects King Street Metro to Janney’s Lane. You are saying to “just find another”. Again, we’ve said that this is the only route. Because we need to use this route and have looked for alternatives to riding this awful stretch of road. There is no other way, so now bike lanes have been proposed to make riding this route less awful for cyclists and drivers alike. If you think there is another way, show it–we’ve done our research.

    The only people who are negatively effected by this are the dozen or so households who would lose their free, dedicated on-street parking on public property that they use by their own admission, either occasionally or as an extension of their driveway (to get in and out of their driveway).

  12. Ha, wow you really just don’t get it do you. First comparing crime rate of a big city like Seattle vs a suburb like Alexandria is like comparing apples to idiots. Just like your article you totally missed the point of my comment, I don’t think you could hit the broadside of a barn with your line of thinking.

    I hope your kids enjoy my city more than I am enjoying this black hole of open thinking, alternative transportation, art and music. Maybe at some point you can sit down and actually articulate a real point about why you hate bikes and cyclist and for that matter Seattle. I bet I can figure the latter out for you though, Seattle stole your kid and of course they don’t want to come back home, why because old crotchety people like you who can’t let this city grow and evolve.

    At the end of the day, you still have the solid argument of bike lanes = more crime. So feel good and hang your hat on that.

  13. As somebody that had a wonderful childhood growing up in a cool and highly dense city with a population of 3.3 million, I must say that the fear-inducing argument regarding “a charmless, childless desert with a dearth of diversity’ simply doesn’t match reality. Actually, reality is quite the opposite! I’m glad to see that Parenting magazine agrees, and here is an example http://www.parenting.com/gallery/best-cities-to-raise-a-family-2012?pnid=558889

    • Monica, I am relying on country-wide statistics. When people with kids approach their 40′s they leave the city for the suburbs. Alexandria is a suburb. If we try to turn it into an ersatz city, it will look ridiculous and families will not feel welcome. Families bicycling together are great; children need exercise. But let’s be reasonable. King Street is not appropriate for a family outing. The neighborhood adjacent to King Street is perfect for this. I used those streets to teach my daughter to drive a car. I would never have allowed her to practice on King Street.

  14. The argument is, of course, invalid and full of non sequiturs. That said, my wife and I are childless (by choice), enjoy arugula and would be thrilled if Alexandria were a cool city such as the author describes. We’d be just as happy if there was some of that and some shops and restaurants that would make folks like her happy as well. In other words, diversity. I don’t think excluding people like us is a ringing endorsement of diversity nor does objectifying her or her children’s American dream as everyone’s. I have no problem with her kids decoding toove to the burbs and buy an SUV but don’t assume that all want to do so. I could do that if I wanted–we are not the “criminal element” that apparently turns cycling cities bad, but professionals with excellent well paying careers–but just not our dream. So please, don’t speak for all of us.

    On the merits, we just need some closure. I wish the council would take some ownership and make a final decision. I’m a cyclist but don’t ride there. No idea if I’d use the bike lanes. But, at some point, if the administrators a tasked with running the city approve it, let’s all grow up and move on. Simply insisting over and over that you have to get your way is not being a good member of our community. Frankly, I leave it to those who are tasked with making the decisions in our representative–not issue specific–democracy to decide this. Whatever he decision is, I suggest we all accept it and move on. Both sides have been heard from, there’s no new arguments to be heard, now City officials should end this debate once and for all.

    • Thomas, I disagree with you on several issues. First, in a democracy people are entitled to advocate for what they believe. When they don’t like the decisions made by their representatives, they work to elect others who are more responsive to their concerns. This is a good thing. It’s good that people are involved with issues affecting their neighborhoods. I hope everyone continues to do this.

      Second, diversity means choice, it does not mean conformity to one group’s vision of the good life. Look around you. Alexandria is the only integrated city in the Washington area. We have people of all ethnicities living in the Old Town area. I like arugala salad, and I also like African American and Hispanic food. The City’s Complete Streets agenda will push the Black folk from upper King and the Hispanics from Arlandria out of the area. The city will demolish their neighborhoods while promising to relocate them in the same neighborhood, but this will never be done. These folks will be forced to move further out of the City. They’ll take their cultures and their food with them. All that will be left is arugala salad. If you care about diversity, why not get involved with others that do as well, and try to convince the City to preserve it. You are not obligated to passively accept the decisions of self-declared ‘experts.’

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