Sharing the road

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.”



  1. You want to get from Del Ray to Shirlington? Hello…there’s a trail running from the north end of Arlandria to Shirlington (which was a very expensive undertaking I might add). Gee, I’m sorry you can’t have everything just be perfect for you. We”ll be sure to allot a billion dollars next year to dig a tunnel from Del Ray to Shirlington just so you don’t have to enjoy your bike ride another quarter mile more than you absolutely have to. We’ll put in a teleportation machine the year after that.

    Good satisfied with something once in a while!

  2. I agree with Flinston that there are multiple reasonably safe and relatively low traffic routes between Del Ray and Shirlington, but West Glebe Rd can and should be economically reconfigured to be more friendly for on-road bicycling. The virtue of West Glebe Rd is that it’s relatively flat as well as direct. Retrofitting on-road bicycling accommodations such as sharrows or bike lanes need not take years of study and community meetings, but it probably does requires assigning a qualified and motivated professional traffic engineer to make things happen.

    On the other hand, Alexandria’s West End is a nightmare for pedestrians and bicyclists and needs a total makeover.

  3. The city transportaion department, under the direction of Rich Baier, has adopted a fashionable but not tried or tested concept – Complete Streets – without any consideration of how it could be implemented in Alexandria. This is not only guaranteed to create conflict among citizens but also hazardous driving and walking conditions, as we are now experiencing.
    Once again, poor judgement, bad planning, and exceptionally irresponsible implementation – without program oversight of any kind – is creating a mess . The city’s senior transportation staff needs to stop advocating fashionalbe social engineering ideas – Complete Streets – before they’ve figured out how to manage them so that citizens benefit. Otherwise we end up with the chaos of a third world country, instead of Amsterdam or Stockholm where streets have ways and rules for everyone to work together.

  4. Flinston: I (and many others) am not asking for anything expensive, but we are asking that we have roads that are safe for the people who are already using them. Glebe is a direct route and people are walking and riding it, in addition to driving. As for expense, restriping is the least expensive way to add safer bicycle facilities. For the price of one mile of Hot Lanes, we could turn Alexandria into Copenhagen on the Potomac.

    Mercury: Complete Streets is not a matter of fashion, it is a way to address the conflicts that you talk about and that already exist. Our road network has holes in it for anyone not in a car–very few streets have bike lanes and some streets don’t have sidewalks. In the meantime traffic is bad enough that Metro and Dash are filling with people who did the math and decided in favor of a slower commute, less stress, and a chance to read a book. The fact is that singe-occupancy cars are very low capacity transit. The only way to keep roads from being gridlocked entirely is to make other approaches–biking or walking to transit–more attractive. Maybe you like gridlocked streets. I don’t and I (and the city, albeit slowly) am trying to do something about it.

  5. “The city’s senior transportation staff needs to stop advocating fashionalbe social engineering ideas – Complete Streets – before they’ve figured out how to manage them so that citizens benefit. Otherwise we end up with the chaos of a third world country, instead of Amsterdam or Stockholm where streets have ways and rules for everyone to work together.”

    There is nothing “fashionable” or socialist about a transportation policy that is designed for all types of users. I don’t know about Stockholm, but Copenhagen and Amsterdam are precisely the kinds of places with a civilized transportation infrastructure that accommodates a variety of modes and means of travel, with “ways and rules for everyone to work together.” Yet Alexandria attempts to consider similar policies and the fear is that its heading towards third-world chaos? This is what the climate in Alexandria is now. If somebody from city hall says the sky is blue, then you can be sure there is a chorus of agitators out there that will insist it is orange.

  6. As a daily bicycle rider I want to encourage Alexandria to provide additional bike lanes throughout the City.

    It would be helpful if the bike lanes could be colored differently than the roadway to visually inform automobile drivers not to cross the painted line. That painted line doesn’t keep cars from crossing into the bike lane, or stopping in it and blocking the lane. If the bike lane were colored differently from the roadway (similar to what has been done in some pedestrian crossings) it could increase driver awareness.