With events throughout National Bike Month, like today’s Bike to Work Day, more people are being exposed to bicycle travel and commuting in Fairfax County, and they may find that the county is getting a little bit friendlier to cyclists.
The Board of Supervisors launched a bicycle initiative in 2006. While progress hasn’t moved as fast as some advocates would like, the county now has a full-time bicycle program coordinator and is focusing on adding bike facilities throughout the county, particularly in areas around Metro stations.
The county doesn’t do hard counts, but anecdotally it seems that more people are biking, said Charlie Strunk, the bicycle program coordinator.
“On my bike route in, I used to pass two bikes and now I pass 12 bikes or more,” Strunk said.
In addition, places where the county has added bicycle parking at libraries and other public facilities seem to be filling up, he said.
Bruce Wright, president of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, said Bike Month events like Bike to Work Day and Bike to School Day continue to grow in popularity. There are two new pit stops for Bike to Work Day this year.
Introducing families with children to bicycling is particularly important, he said.
“I think that is going to bubble through the population and make a big difference,” Wright said.
The new indoor bike storage room at the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station parking garage is proving popular, Strunk said. More than 100 people have purchased memberships to use the facility, which can accommodate 200 bikes, even though the opening date for the Silver Line is still unknown.
The addition of dedicated facilities like on-road bike lanes and bicycle parking are the most important factors for cyclists, said Wright.
“We’re having to go back and retrofit a very car-dominated suburban community,” he said. “We’re slowly getting better facilities, but we’ve still got a ways to go.”
Among the newer facilities that Wright likes are the bike lanes on Lawyers Road and Soapstone Road in Reston, which were added just by re-striping existing pavement.
The county is finalizing a bicycle master plan that should go to the Planning Commission for review next month. This plan will provide a framework for infrastructure placement and bike-related policies, Strunk said.
“That is going to be the blueprint,” he said.
The new connections and bike facilities identified in the master plan will be added during road construction projects, redevelopment and through county funds.
Strunk cites the example of a bridge that was installed in Vienna to improve a bike route that had the unintended side effect of allowing students at nearby Kilmer Middle School to walk and bike to school.
The county also maintains a bike route map, available both in hard copy and electronically, that can help people find the safest routes to their destination.
Making people feel safe and confident about commuting or doing errands by bike remains the biggest challenge for the county, said both Strunk and Wright.
“We talk to a lot of people at different events,” Wright said. “The most common response is that I would [bike] if I could do it safely.”
Strunk said he would like to have the capacity to provide education and encouragement to potential bike commuters through a program like Bike Arlington, in Arlington County, which offers classes and events aimed at getting more people on bikes.
“To build the bike culture in Fairfax County, we need an education and encouragement side of things,” Strunk said.