Arlington has a new map for cyclists that ranks streets by “comfort level.” It illustrates the places where even kids or senior citizens would feel safe biking, helping people to avoid busy or fast roads. It also gives policymakers a tool for making the county’s bike network even better.

All images from BikeArlington.

A comfort map takes into consideration the volume and speed of car traffic, hills, and other issues to show the streets that are the easiest (or most comfortable) to bike on, regardless of whether or not they have bike lanes. It’s an attempt to illustrate a more honest assessment of the in-person usability of the streets, for biking.

There are five possible rankings on Arlington’s map: “easy,” “medium,” “difficult,” “strongly discouraged,” and “prohibited/major car route.” BikeArlington staff created the ranking criteria based on surveys to find out what people thought was important.

Ratings of “medium” and “difficult” went to routes where only experienced cyclists would be able to confidently bike them. The county’s various trails got an automatic “easy” rating.

Bike lanes alone don’t guarantee comfort

Bike lanes didn’t get automatic “easy” ratings because a lot of them are still difficult to ride in.

For example, while Hayes and Eads Streets in Crystal City got “easy” ratings, Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards were rated “medium.” That’s because the former has protected bikeways that separate bikes from moving cars while the latter has bikeways that aren’t protected.

The full comfort map.

You can’t get everywhere comfortably

Arlington’s focus on understanding and illustrating where people riding bikes feel the most comfortable is commendable. This is a neat and useful map.

But it also highlights how much work is left to do. For all the comfortable bike routes in the county, there are also huge gaps.

Few of Arlington’s major commercial main streets have comfortable bikeways for much of their length. Many are even blacked out as places where cycling is “strongly discouraged.” But those are the places people want to go, and the routes that connect one part of the county to another.

Alternate routes often aren’t easy to come by. Even where they do exist, they often involve lengthy detours or circuitous hopping around.

This map provides a valuable tool, but it also clearly illustrates how Arlington’s bike network is still a long way from complete. County officials have their work cut out for them.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Reston.