Wright Gate. Image from Google Street View.

Officials announced last week that the Wright gate entrance to Fort Myer will be closed from March 7 through mid-April for repair work necessitated by the heavy snows of 2010.

Wright Gate is located on the northeast side of the base and is a key entrance for bicyclists who pass through, especially going east to west (identified by the red arrow on the map below).

That’s because cyclists going west to east (or downhill) can pass from Ft. Myer to Arlington National Cemetery through the Chapel Gate (blue arrow). But, by Arlington Cemetery policy, cyclists may not go in the other direction.

With Wright Gate closed, cyclists headed uphill will have to take one of the numerous detours, either around the base to the north and along Arlington Blvd, or through one of the gates on the south side (green arrow) if that is even allowed. Either way, it unnecessarily adds time to cycling trips and commutes.

Image modified from Arlington County Bike Map.

The reasons for the policy are not particularly compelling, and are about traffic flow rather than security. The cemetery has between 27 and 30 funerals a day and anywhere from 4 to 5 funerals an hour. According to a cemetery spokesperson, with so many cemetery vehicles and the vehicles and buses that transport the military ceremonial troops to and from each service, there is a desire to closely monitor traffic, “not only in order to maintain the decorum appropriate for a national cemetery, but for safety purposes as well.”

But cyclists are already passing through the cemetery without bringing traffic to a standstill, destroying the decorum of the cemetery, or reducing safety. The number of cyclists who take this route is pretty small and would likely remain that way, and in reality, dwarfed by the number of other vehicles in the cemetery.

A cyclist pedaling quietly and slowly uphill is hardly less dignified than the tour buses that already ply the roadways. As for safety, I think it has been demonstrated that bikes and cars can safely share roads; it hardly improves safety to push cyclists to ride a longer distance on roads with more and faster traffic.

Now is a great time to experiment with rescinding the recent policy of not allowing uphill trips. This is a rather recent policy instituted by the previous superintendent of the cemetery who was fired after a few scandals. In fact, before the Custis Trail was built, this was the preferred route of cyclists heading through this area.

A policy change would require little work. There is already a guard at the Chapel Gate and it would be easy to have them check the IDs of, and visually inspect, the cyclists who pass through, just as they did before the policy change, and as they do at other gates. The cemetery could revert to the rule that required cyclists to ride a predetermined route (the one in blue on the map, for example) that avoided tourists and high traffic areas.

While it is possible that the cemetery route would become so popular that it becomes a problem, I think it’s unlikely (and probably a problem Arlington County would love to have to deal with). But if it did, the cemetery could simply limit the number of cyclists to the “appropriate” amount through a permit process. The permit process would remove those who might only occasionally pass through, and for whom the investment of time would not be worth it.

Permits would make the defined route easier to enforce: go off route, lose your permit. And if permitting was still too popular, they could further limit them with a hard cap or by requiring cyclists to commit to a certain number of hours of volunteering to keep their permit. Alternatively, they could limit the hours to only busy commuting hours.

But the policy currently in place does nothing to improve safety, decorum, or traffic flow within the cemetery; it only discourages bike commuting. The closing of Wright Gate is a perfect opportunity to experiment with reversing it.

Cross-posted at theWashcycle.