Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Parked in my garage, I have a car and a bike. When I need to go somewhere, I have a choice of which to take, and I want to ride my bike. When I choose the bike, I’m happier, I’m healthier and I’m an active part of the community.
I stop to chat with neighbors. I shop at local stores. I see things that are out of the ordinary — the guy that is lost, the dog that escaped from its yard, the smoke coming from that empty house — and I can stop to help. Plus, I usually get a prime parking spot.
Biking is awesome for me, but what does it matter to you, if you’re in a car?
When I choose the car, I am another car in front of you at that stop light. My car will take that prime parking space right in front of where you’re going. I will be driving another car past your house, making your neighborhood a little less safe for the kids playing outside. My car will make that annoying pot hole just a little bigger and will spew more fumes into the air you breathe.
I will do what I can to figure out how to bike. Over the past two winters, with tips from BikeArlington, I’ve mastered biking comfortably in the cold and safely in the snow. With the help of Kidical Mass and the family biking community, I’ve figured out how to bike with two toddlers and a big pregnant belly.
But the primary factor to whether I will choose the bike — or whether I will choose the car and be in your way — is whether I can get where I need to go safely. This is where the community comes in.
When Arlington invests in safe routes for people who bike and maintains those routes, I will bike. What is a safe route? Trails are great, although they must be wide enough and designed to handle the traffic they get. Most neighborhood streets in Arlington work well. Protected bike lanes, like the ones Arlington installed on S. Hayes and S. Eads Streets, are also a great choice, especially when they are accompanied by the signage that we see in Pentagon City.
On the other hand, narrow bike lanes that offer only paint to separate vulnerable bikes from fast moving cars, like the ones on Wilson Boulevard, N. Quincy Street and Fairfax Drive, are not a good option. Sharrows and signs that “Bikes may use full lane” on busy roads like George Mason offer no protection — and with my toddlers and pregnant belly, I am not willing to risk it. Arlington needs to invest in making these routes safe.
Maintenance is also a key issue. For these safe routes to be usable, they need to be clear of snow and have smooth pavement. For a fraction of what Arlington spends fixing potholes and clearing snow from the main roads, Arlington could maintain all of its trails and protected bike lanes. The snow clearing on trails that started this year must be made part of the regular budget, and Arlington must develop a reliable system to maintain the pavement on our trails.
Finally, I will choose to bike when I am confident that I know where I’m going. Arlington has some great neighborhood streets that are safe and convenient routes for biking, but they are rarely straight and easy to follow. By developing a well-signed network of neighborhood greenways or bike boulevards, Arlington could encourage more people to choose the bike to get to the park, to run to the grocery store and to get ice cream — all for the cost of a few signs.
Even if you will never be one of those people to choose to bike, you should want the rest of us to do so. More bikes on the road means fewer cars in front of you at stop lights, more open parking spaces when you get where you’re going, fewer cars driving through your neighborhood, and less damage to our roads and our environment. Arlington can encourage biking by investing in safe routes, reliable maintenance, good signage and continued support for BikeArlington.
This investment will serve all of us, whether we choose to bike or drive.
Gillian Burgess is the current Chair of Arlington County’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the founder of Kidical Mass Arlington, and the former Vice Chair of APS’s Multimodal Transportation and Student Safety Special Committee. She lives in Cherrydale with her husband and two toddlers.