Arlington has long wanted to “move more people with less traffic,” and being a place where it’s easy to bike around is a huge part of that. Arlington’s not exactly doing poorly when it comes to being bike-friendly, but the county has fallen behind a lot of other places.
Where does Arlington stand compared to other locations? One measure comes from an organization called the League of American Bicyclists, which has a program called Bicycle Friendly America that hands out awards to communities, businesses, and universities to recognize how bike-friendly they are. Bicycle Friendly Community awards work on a scale of bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.
The League has recognized Arlington since 2003, when the county received a bronze award. That was upgraded to silver in 2007, and there’s been no progress since. It is worth noting that the Bike Friendly Community criteria may be especially difficult for big east coast cities to achieve; only two of the 29 Gold and Platinum level cities in the US—Cambridge and Hilton Head—are on the east coast. Perhaps it is sheer number of lane miles involved, or perhaps a product of older, narrow streets being harder to retrofit for protected bike infrastructure.
Whatever the reason, the League laid out several “key steps to gold” in a bike friendliness report card that was part of Arlington’s most recent renewal.
The ideas are a useful road map:
Update the bike plan
Arlington adopted its bike plan in 2008, meaning it’s now one of the oldest pieces of Arlington’s Master Transportation Plan. It came out at a time when sharrows were the newest innovation in cycling infrastructure, two years before the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack would see the light of day, and before anyone had heard of a protected bike lane.
The League recommends that Arlington update the plan; both Arlington’s Transportation Commission and Bicycle Advisory Committee have recently recommended the same.
Put money where its mouth is
The average gold level community spends 14% of its transportation budget on bicycling; Arlington spends 1%. Arlington has built a lot of bike infrastructure for very little money over the years by adding bike lanes while repaving roads, but this low-hanging fruit is largely exhausted.
Completing and extending Arlington’s bike network will require political will to convert parking or travel lanes to bike infrastructure, a large monetary commitment to move curbs and acquire right-of-way, or a combination of the two.
Adopt and implement a Vision Zero plan
Cities across the nation, including DC, are taking up Vision Zero plans with the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities. With fear of being hit by cars one of the major reasons people don’t ride bikes more often, making roads safer is a key piece of bicycle friendliness.
While Arlington has recently made major strides in addressing its most dangerous intersection for bikes, it is clear the County isn’t addressing these issues systematically, but rather on a one-off basis in response to citizen complaints.
Focus on equity
Arlington needs to develop a formal way to reach out to minority and low-income communities, the League says, and it needs to be sensitive to what keeps people in these communities from riding and ensure that they are included in the bicycle planning process.
Participating in bicycle planning in Arlington currently requires showing up in-person on a weekday evening to a meeting, which isn’t easy for restaurant workers and day laborers in Arlington who get around by bicycle not because they want to, but because they have no other choice. The result of this dynamic is that their important voice has been missing from the conversation.
Start an Open Streets event
A “Ciclovia” or Open Streets event that closes off a major corridor to auto traffic and offers the space to cyclists and pedestrians would go a long way toward encouraging people to try cycling.
Improve staff training
Having on-staff champions and elected officials who understanding cycling is crucial to improving bike infrastructure. To make this happen, Arlington should offer regular bicycle skills courses that include on-bike instruction and in-traffic cycling.
These courses would be beneficial for transportation engineers and planners who work in Arlington, including VDOT staff and other agencies with control over roads in Arlington like the National Park Service. Other county staff and elected officials would benefit from this as well.
Those are the League of American Bicyclists’ recommendations. What do you think Arlington needs to do to reach the next level of bike-friendliness? Arlington’s original goal was to earn gold by 2011. What should its new goal be?