Bicycles have a place in Alexandria — even in Old Town

Bicycles have a place in Alexandria — even in Old Town

To the editor:

I am writing in response to Kathryn Papp’s recent letter in the Alexandria Times (“Cyclists, motorists and pedestrians can get along — just not in Old Town,” January 31). As chairman of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, I am often told that we cannot do many things, such as routinely ride in rain, snow or at night; shop for groceries or at big-box stores; ride long distances without dressing in spandex or short distances while dressed for a night on the town; deliver children to school or to appointments; and so on.

The straightforward, patriotic answer to all of these concerns is that we live in the United States, and in the United States, we do not say, “We cannot.”

Like many tourist destinations, Old Town is a fun and easy place to bicycle, with an old-fashioned, low-speed street grid and many attractions. As in other tourist destinations, our attractiveness as a place to bicycle represents a significant economic opportunity. For example, after a one-time investment of $7 million on bike lanes and bike paths on the outer banks of North Carolina, bicycling is estimated to generate $60 million in economic activity annually for that state.

Let us instead move forward by seeking common ground. Papp suggests that the Virginia Tech bicycle plan for Old Town should have been built — and I agree. That plan would provide bike lanes to separate bicycles from cars and from pedestrians, enabling all three to move forward without conflict.

Papp suggests that adding an attractive alternative bicycle route through Old Town would reduce the number of bicycles on crowded Union Street — and I agree. The wisdom of the Union Street plan is that it safely enables pedestrians to do what many of them are already doing: walking where they wish around the foot of King Street. Adding or improving alternate bicycling routes would shift the balance at that location further toward pedestrians, where it belongs.

Indeed, often the best way to lead is to see where the people are going and to get out in front of them, smoothing the path forward. That is what city council is doing in the Union Street plan, and it is what officials should be doing for bicycling in Old Town.

For example, officials tell me that Capital Bikeshare ridership in Alexandria is exceeding projections and that the four busiest stations are the two Metro stations (as predicted); the tourist magnet that is King and Union streets (as predicted); and Market Square. That Market Square has attracted so many rides shows that Capital Bikeshare is working as a transportation system for office workers as well as tourists. Further, Capital Bikeshare delivers people at a lower cost per ride than either Metro or DASH.

Finally, I’d like to address what Papp calls an “unnecessary backlash.” As a resident who isn’t running for public office, I have the luxury of coming right out and saying this backlash is necessary. Alexandria is undergoing a fundamental change from an automobile-centric transportation system to a transit-centric system.

Bicycling, which delivers people to transit stations more quickly than walking, is essential to our success. This is why Metro has been retrofitting and improving bicycle facilities at its stations.

The backlash is necessary because all voices must be heard in order to succeed, even the angry ones. And, once everyone has been heard, it is up to city council and the mayor to lead the way forward.

According to Jeff Speck, author of “Walkable City,” it is essential that this leadership come from the top. In an interview with Streetsblog, Speck said, “In more effective cities, there’s a mayor who sees that he’s more or less the chief designer of the city.”

Let us please move forward and build a proper, on-street bicycle network so we can put these conflicts behind us.
– Jonathan Krall
Chair, Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee