Why Arlington (and Every Place) Needs More Protected Bike Lanes

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]

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Chris Eatough, a former professional biker and the director of BikeArlington, envisions an Arlington County where there are more bikes than cars. In order to get there, says Eatough, the county needs to create a connected network of protected bike lanes.

Eatough has spent the last five years helping to guide the county’s transformation into a great place to get around by bike. He spoke about the state of the county’s bike programs at Mobility Lab’s Lunch at the Lab this week.

Eatough said that while Arlington’s leadership position in bicycling was forged by the creation of Capital Bikeshare, “Arlington is now falling a little bit behind as other communities roll out protected bike lanes more quickly.”

Protected bike lanes, also referred to as cycle tracks, are “like sidewalks for bikes,” according to People for Bikes. These bike lanes are often painted green and are segregated from automobile traffic by planters, pylons, curbs, parked cars, and, in the case of San Francisco, cactuses. While protected bike lanes have doubled in number nationwide since 2011, Arlington only recently opened its first protected bike lane this week in the Pentagon City neighborhood.

These lanes are integral to getting more people to choose bike instead of other modes. A Portland Office of Transportation study shows that 60 percent of potential cyclists are interested in bicycling but concerned over issues such as safety. A big way to address the concerns of this “interested but concerned” population cohort is by creating segregated lanes for bicyclists.

While installation of these lanes would admittedly result in a small reduction in on-street parking, said Eatough, “A small number of objections should not prevent change that benefits everybody.”

The benefits these lanes provide are tangible, and not just relegated to bicyclists. A study in New York showed that protected bike lanes decreased injuries to all street users by 56 percent. A Portland study showed that 96 percent of people feel safer on a street with a protected bike lane.

Protected bike lanes, as part of a complete-streets policy, are effective placemaking tools as well. These lanes can transform a street or neighborhood into a destination rather than just a place to travel through. In Washington D.C., for instance, 83 percent of residents in the vicinity of the 15th Street NW protected green bike lane consider it a valuable neighborhood asset.

BikeArlington, a program of Arlington County Commuter Services, is engaged in encouraging more people to bike more often. Eatough’s last day as BikeArlington director is August 28. He is leaving to become Howard County, Maryland’s first-ever bike and pedestrian coordinator.

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Protected bike lane photo by Dani Simons. Photo of Chris Eatough by M.V. Jantzen.

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