The bicycle lobby is out of control


By Kathryn Papp, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

The sudden appearance of outsiders lobbying to install bike lanes on a dangerous section of King Street is unwarranted interference. Together with the local bike lobby’s twisted reporting of the recent traffic and parking board meeting, they create undue animosity.

But this is what lobbyists do: Stand in the way of change that does not wholly benefit them alone.

In the past year, Alexandrians have been accused of fearing change and being rude, criminal and uncaring, while the bike lobby and others conduct a — perhaps unintended, but nonetheless — disruptive campaign targeted at people who are simply trying to get where they’re going, either on foot or in a vehicle. It is like an invasive species pushing into spaces successfully occupied by natives. In Alexandria, we are trying to create a new space that accommodates everyone.

Under cover of the mostly untried complete-streets policy, rhetoric from lobbyists was used to obscure the real difficulty of mixing multiple transit modes (cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicycles) while ensuring safe passage for all.

Despite attempts around the world, mixing modes can produce new accident patterns and many near misses.

This happens most often in places like this small section of King Street. At that spot, a high incidence of traffic accidents, a narrow roadway, limited sidewalks and steep hill all combine.

The city traffic and parking board was not disrespectful of the speakers at the meeting. It did listen carefully about how to reconfigure King Street. And it rightfully requested that speakers who did not do so (after three polite appeals) identify where they live. Some seemed to forget.

The amount of lobbyists from outside the city was surprising, as the review was not just about bikes, but also about how to change this small and very dangerous section of King Street to accommodate everyone. Safely executing this for multiple modes of transportation may be impossible without greatly increasing all-around risk.

City staff did a fine job crafting a compromise for parking. However, the design remains a solution crafted by planners, not traffic and safety engineers. It still demonstrates great potential for near misses and collisions.

This is a complex engineering problem, and the traffic and parking board was wise to delay a decision until an engineering and safety assessment is available and expert alternatives presented.

Finally, it was stunning to hear the bike lobby characterize cyclists as “traffic-calming devices” or “buffers.” The ethics of this rhetoric, which advocates deliberately putting cyclists in the way of harm, is immoral and irresponsible. As an early speaker, who was a safety expert, testified: The goal of situations like the King Street renovation is to reduce — not increase — risk to all users.

So, let’s try to put commonsense and safety, not political correctness, at the forefront of building better shared streets for everyone. Outside lobbyists — like the Coalition for Smarter Growth, complete-streets advocates and bike lobbying organizations — must remain secondary. The reality is that we all want our streets to be well engineered and safe. Rubber, not human beings, should be meeting the road when we’re through.




  1. You may accuse me of being an “outsider”, but I did in fact live in Virginia while I was in the Navy. The writer forgets that many people must pass through Virginia, even if they live outside its boundaries .
    I do believe that things like bike lanes and sidewalks need “Locals” from the town, in this case Alexandria. The issue is “traffic patterns”, i.e., the way people go, even if there are no arrows painted on the pavement. I have seen goof-ups caused by state traffic planners, who were sent down here [to Long Island], and they expected traffic to go the other way. Or they expected 30,000 vehicles a day to use the side street, which never sees more than 300.
    But I’d like to point out that Bike Lanes are for everybody. There seems to be a social stigma in some peoples minds, as if only the poor ride bicycles. This is not so. There are bicycles for every income budget. In New York City and Washington DC they have bicycle rental, or Bike Share sysytems. These rental bikes cost twelve hundred dollars, and it may be a good introduction to what a quality bicycle is like, for someone who’s never ridden any bike other than an el-cheapo.
    I could accuse you of being lazy, amnd say you’ve never ridden a bicycle, because it takes some effort. But instead, I will appeal to your laziness by reminding you that riding a bicycle is actually easier than walking…Each turn of the pedals equals FIVE turns of the rear wheel. So you go 5 times the distance you could otherwise walk.
    Another suggestion; if you’d like to avoid having Bike Lanes builtm in your town, try to be Couteous to the bicyclers, and especially don’t startle them by approaching to quickly and blowing the horn. Rear view mirrors for bicycles were not invented until 1994, and they are still not required- incredibly the driver of the motor vehicle bears the onus of watching where he’s going, imagine that!
    Also, King Street has four lanes, why not leave the cyclist alone , and let him use the full right lane, and pass or overtake in the left lane, as with any other slow moving vehicle?
    Lastly, my opinion is that King Street needs wider sidewalks, six feet wide, so most bicyclers will choose to share the sidewalk with pedestrians. Professional Bicycle Racers really don’t care.

  2. So, this is a “residents only” road. “Outsiders” and “lobbyists” should not have a say. OK, here’s an idea: Set up a toll. Anyone entering the road on one end, and exiting less than one hour later, pays a $10 toll.
    1. Residents rejoice – no more people speeding through their neighborhood.
    2. “Outsiders” stop showing up to community meetings, because… the toll
    3. Cyclists can safely ride the road center lane. Why not – driving too fast just results in a toll, yes?

    EVERYbody wins!

  3. If you weren’t there (or didn’t stay for the whole meeting, as the overwhelming majority of the anti- bike lane crowd did not), you can see this video of the meeting. Count how many lobbyists you see (0). Or how many people were repeatedly asked for their address (1). Or how many people gave an address from outside Alexandria (2or 3).

    And two of the “outsiders” (or maybe the only two–I can’t remember where the person speaking to climate change lived) were (a) a teacher at TC Williams who does not live in the city, but who counts, at least in my opinion as a member of the community just as all the police and firemen who live outside the city do (b) the Washington Area Bicyclists Association—and advocacy organization and not a lobbying firm or registered lobbyist, who was there to represent of the thousands of WABA members who are Alexandria residents. This was the person who was pressed for his address, and he was hesitant to do so before stating who he was and why he was there because he knew that the board would unfairly instantly dismiss him. Which they did. Maybe next time, I’ll speak for WABA. Or we’ll just have the members come and speak for themselves.

    I’m very seriously disappointed but sadly not surprised in the Times that they continue to allow absolute lies to be published as “opinion” on this matter.

  4. Anyone who thinks there are “outsiders” in relation to her town’s roads does not understand what those roads are. They are not the town’s property, they are the property of the people of the state. And their use is governed by state law, to guarantee access by all travelers and prevent “locals” from twisting their use to their exclusive convenience and creating hazardous situations for visitors.