Arlington, VA

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Gillian Burgess

As Arlington grows, more people will travel around our County. Realistically, we don’t have space for more pavement, so we must find a way to allow more people to make more trips without clogging up our roads and parking lots.

Over the past few decades, Arlington County has steadily increased transportation choices, by making it safer and easier to walk, bike, and take transit to get around. Despite our growth, traffic congestion has stayed steady. This year, Arlington has the opportunity to make another such improvement on Washington Boulevard.

Arlington County is planning to expand the transportation network between East Falls Church and Westover by adding bike lanes on Washington Boulevard between North Sycamore Street and North McKinley Street. Best of all, the Virginia Department Of Transportation will contribute by painting the travel markings to incorporate bike lanes after the street is repaved later this year.

These lanes, which are called for in both the East Falls Church Area Plan and the Master Transportation Plan, will make biking west from the Metro and east to Westover (both of which will have Capital Bikeshare stations by the end of this year) much easier.

The route between the Metro and Westover shops via Washington Boulevard is shorter, flatter and easier to follow than via the trails. The lanes will connect to the current bike lanes on Washington Boulevard stretching east to George Mason Drive.

In order to fit in the bike lanes, VDOT will reallocate space that is currently used for parking cars in front of 21 houses, mostly on the south side of the road. This reallocation of space will allow for bike lanes in both directions.

The County has studied parking along Washington Boulevard and has observed parking patterns that support reallocating this space. People will generally have to go only one block farther away to find a free parking space and, in most places, people will only need to cross the street. Additionally, County staff believes that there will be significant available parking on side streets (which were not in the study, but should have been).

Bike lanes on Washington Boulevard will improve the transportation network for everyone in this area.

By allowing space on the road for people on bikes, people biking on Washington Boulevard will be safer, and cars won’t get stuck behind slower moving cyclists.

By making biking more comfortable, less hilly, and easier to follow, more people will choose to bike, improving traffic and parking availability.  Moreover, by diverting some bike traffic off of the W&OD and Custis Trails, these bikes lanes will improve the experience for people on our trails.

Putting in bike lanes now is also fiscally responsible. Because the lanes are being installed with repaving, the costs above what would already be spent for repaving are negligible.

By building out a transportation network that gives people options beyond the car, the County stands to save significant money in the future.

Arlington is building more schools, parks, and community centers, and car parking is a significant cost to these projects.  By making it easy and attractive to get to County locations by foot, by bike and via transit, we can reduce the amount of parking needed — with significant savings to the County.

Reallocating this space from parking to bike lanes is a good deal for the County and for the neighborhood. Change, of course, is difficult, especially for those immediately impacted. The County should look for creative solutions to ease the transition.

For example, Arlington could look at options for allowing Sunday-only parking on some of the neighborhood streets around Resurrection Lutheran Church. Arlington should also work with the schools and preschools in the area to ensure there are safe places for children to be dropped off and picked up by car or bike or on foot.

Westover and East Falls Church are becoming interesting, dynamic activities centers. With the opportunity to add an elementary school at the Reed School beside the Westover Library, delicious restaurants at the Westover shops, and expected development near the East Falls Church Metro stop, we can expect activity — and travel — through this area to increase.

Adding bike lanes on Washington Boulevard is an important step in improving our transportation network to address the increased needs in this area.

More information about this project can be found on the County’s project site.  The County is accepting public comment on the project until Friday, March 17.

Gillian Burgess is the current chair of Arlington County’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the founder of Kidical Mass Arlington, and a member of the County’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission and APS’s Advisory Committee on Transportation Choices. She lives in Cherrydale with her husband and three children.

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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 the author’s organization or of ARLnow.com.

Gillian BurgessEvery May, millions of Americans take to the streets, trails and paths on two wheels to enjoy the feeling of the wind in their hair, the sun on their helmets and the pedals under their feet in celebration of bike month.

This May has been a wonderful time to bike here in Arlington. In addition to the mostly beautiful weather, we have had some very successful events, which show the growing popularity of cycling in Arlington.

Bike and Walk to School Day, which was on Wednesday, May 6th this year, was a record-setting success for Arlington Public Schools. Arlington was fourth among U.S. cities with registered events at 33 schools, including diverse participation from neighborhood and county-wide schools. Students arriving on bike or foot were treated to VIP entrances and rallies, a special obstacle course for cyclists, and lots of goodies.

Bike to Work Day 2015 (photo via Bike Arlington/Facebook)Many APS staff biked to work, including at least one principal, and were rewarded with gift cards. A huge thanks to Tom Norton, the APS Safe Routes to School Coordinator, and to all APS and Arlington County staff and partners who had a role in this great day. Pictures can be found online using the hashtag #BWTSD15.

For adults (and kids who were towed along), Bike to Work Day was Friday, May 15th. It was also hugely successful. Arlington hosted six pit stops, including a new stop along Columbia Pike in Penrose, where cyclists could stop on their way to work and be treated to coffee, treats, swag, and lots of excited cheering from superheroes, unicyclists and elected officials.

In all 2,596 people registered for the Arlington pit stops and almost 17,500 registered for pit stops across the region. Both were a 4% increase over 2014. Over 1,000 of Arlington registrants were first timers! BikeArlington, WABA and their partners deserve thanks for hosting this great day. Pictures can be found online on the BikeArlington website and using the hashtag #BTWDDC.

With so many new riders, the growth in Bike to Work Day was no surprise. More impressive is the general growth of cycling in Arlington and the region. Anecdotally, we’ve all noticed more cyclists on the roads and on the trails, and that we’re seeing a more diverse group of people on bikes.

Bike racks at local schools and offices are filling up on “normal” weekdays. My family’s preschool has multiple families biking with their toddlers. Bike parking along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor fills up at night and on the weekends. It’s great to see more women, more people of color, and more families cycling on streets and trails.

Data backs up our experience. Many of Arlington’s automated counters of bicycle and pedestrian trips along some trails and bike lanes have shown significant increases in bike traffic. Some – like the counter on the Mount Vernon Trail south of DCA – have shown a greater than 20% increase from May 2014 to May 2015. Clearly, Arlingtonians are hopping on bikes more often.

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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.

Gillian BurgessParked 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. Read More

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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.

Gillian BurgessArlington is on the cusp of the most formative decision-making process of recent history: the master planning process for our school system, through which we will create more schools.

The outcomes will impact everyone in the community. We will see reduced or increased congestion on our streets, a wise use of Arlington County’s resources or wasteful spending, and either increased access to services for everyone or only concentrated benefits.

Because of the importance of this process to all of Arlington, the best outcomes will occur through close cooperation between Arlington County government and Arlington Public Schools . Before us is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to come together to both meet the urgent capacity needs of today and lay the foundation for the next generation of Arlington families.

A new, collaborative planning process should make use of both the County’s award-winning expertise in transportation and smart development and our school system’s award-winning expertise in educating children. I am confident that active involvement by our talented APS and County staffs, elected officials and interested residents in developing this new process will lead to success. A broad, inclusive public process will work.

Arlington is a great place to raise a family. It has incredible parks, bike paths, charming neighborhoods, and some of the best public schools in the nation. These characteristics are no accident, but rather the result of decades of award-winning planning and smart development by the County and APS.

It is for these reasons that I have chosen to raise my family here. And I am not alone. Arlington’s public schools are bursting at the seams and continue to grow rapidly. As this growth has overwhelmed school system capacity, the processes we have relied on to plan school capacity in the past are no longer sufficient.

In the past, long-range planning by APS and County government have largely been separate efforts with different time horizons. The County’s long-range planning considers how corridors or study areas are used over 20 or 30 years. Schools, on the other hand, base their planning efforts on shorter-term projections, and are focused more on the classroom.

In the face of a shortage of public land and our rapidly-growing population, we must do a better job of integrating these processes. We must plan, locate, fund, and build school facilities to serve the long-term interest of all our children and community members. We need to look at the system as a whole rather than ad hoc discussions that consider only one location or need.

Our historically separated planning processes have resulted in historically separated budgets. As we consider the schools’ master planning process, it will be important to look at costs and benefits to Arlington as a whole, whether expenditures are going to be part of the APS budget or the County’s budget.

For example, if a particular school location would require many buses that would increase maintenance costs for our roads, those costs should be considered when evaluating that site. We should also consider costs and benefits not immediately quantifiable that we know will have a significant impact on County and APS budgets over time.

This new, improved collaborative master planning process should be guided by shared values and solid principles. Here are some values and principles that I believe should guide the process. Read More

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