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Snowy Trails Frustrate Bike Commuters

by Courtney Battle — January 28, 2014 at 6:05 pm 2,303 0

Snow-covered Custis Trail adjacent to Lee Highway (photo via @BikeArlington)

(Updated at 7:50 p.m.) The effects of last week’s winter storm were felt by one group of commuters for days following the last snowflake.

The inconvenience of traveling in the cold and sometimes icy conditions proved not only difficult for those traveling by car, but also for local cyclists. At Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting, resident Gillian Burgess expressed her concerns about clearing bike trails after snow storms occur in the area.

“We only have one car, and we have lots of bikes,” Burgess said. “Unfortunately, it’s not safe to take most of these bikes onto the trails in the state that they’re in. So I leave the car with my kids because I want them to be the safest, and instead I’m left with the choice of biking on very busy streets that are not safe.”

Ice remains on the Mount Vernon trail a week after storm“My husband and I first moved to Arlington years ago because we wanted to live the car-light lifestyle,” she continued. “Now we have two kids and one car, and we love it. And most of the time we love mostly biking and walking around Arlington. Unfortunately after it snows we don’t have that luxury. We have found that both after the storm in December and currently, trails do not get cleared.”

According to county Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel, the county does not have dedicated resources for clearing ice and snow from its shared-use trails.

“Staff have been collaborating this past year to find a viable solution to clear these trails,” McDaniel said in an email. “The Department of Parks and Recreation has made an effort to handle snow clearing on trails after addressing other priorities such as snow clearing for several County buildings, routes to schools and Metro rail stations, as well as assisting in the clearing of streets and walkways at other locations.”

Board Chairman Jay Fisette agreed that the county has encouraged walking and biking to get around — the “car-free diet” — and he said Burgess’ concerns were understandable.

Snow plow on the W&OD Trail in 2010“We have heard over time, increasingly the question about bike trails – and it’s a natural one because we’re promoting walking and cycling,” he said. “It makes complete sense that we [are getting] more questions from those who have drunk the Kool-Aid and participate in that culture and maybe even got rid of that car so that they can bike and walk and use transit more frequently.”

Tim Kelley, the marketing manager for Bike Arlington, wrote in Bike Arlington’s forums that the county’s 25 bike counters on its shared-use trails register “a big dip in usage during and in the days following a big snow storm.”

Fisette, who mentioned he is a cyclist himself, remains “unresolved” on the issue.

“I have probably the full range of questions about this as anyone would, you know, about resources, about prioritization, about effectiveness and the environmental impact,” Fisette said. “So I would just say that from my perspective, to have some sort of coherent input from [County Manager Barbara Donnellan] thinking about… what the options are for Board consideration might make sense.”

Ethan Rothstein contributed to this report. Photo (top) via Bike Arlington.

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