Give bike lanes a fair hearing

Give bike lanes a fair hearing

By Jonathan Krall, Alexandria

I am writing in response to an article entitled “Old Town bike lanes concept draws criticism” (September 18) The problem, according to the article, is that Old Town resident Townsend Van Fleet “believes officials have already made up their minds to add bike lanes” and that this reduces public meetings to “pro forma occurrences to satisfy the requirement for public input.”

The fact is that many city policies and plans, all thoroughly vetted by the public, already say that Old Town — and the rest of Alexandria — will have bike lanes. To say that there is something wrong with the decision to add bike lanes is like saying that there is something wrong with the decision to keep funding the DASH bus system.

The most recent census figures show that Washington is on track to become the strongest bicycling city in the country. Nearly 5 percent of D.C. residents primarily commute by bicycle, second only to Portland, Ore., among large cities. Bicycling in the metropolitan region is growing quickly in comparison to other cities. Of course we need bike lanes.

The specifics, however, remain to be determined through our public process. As with the King Street bike lanes last year, I expect that any plan presented by city staff will be discussed and modified in a spirit of compromise.

When given a chance, the public process works. The sad truth, however, is that a few residents of Alexandria have been actively working to subvert the public process by attacking plans that are in the early planning stages and have not yet been publicly presented. They spread rumors about those plans, such as that many parking spaces will be removed, and write letters to city councilors based on those rumors.

Earlier this year the Royal Street greenway was delayed through this subversion of the public process. The concept, an element of the bicycle and pedestrian mobility plan, is intended to siphon bicycle traffic off of crowded Union Street. As such, the waterfront commission supports it.

Still, Rich Baier, former head of the transportation and environmental services department, shelved it without a single public hearing.

The time has come for the city manager and city council to stand up for the public process. If we are to have a bicycle network that the majority of our residents will support, we must use the public process to debate actual plans instead of unfounded rumors.