Behind the Scenes of Arlington’s Bike and Pedestrian Innovations

How do government leaders learn from one another?

One example is the recent tour Arlington County leaders offered to representatives from multiple Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) districts to showcase the county’s best practices in pedestrian and bicycle engineering.

VDOT engineers from as far away as Hampton Roads and Lynchburg, representing nearly all nine VDOT districts, came away with new ideas to encourage biking and walking, and with the impression that Arlington is an innovative county unafraid to experiment.

“Arlington was a great place to lead the tour. It has such a variety of thoughtful bicycle and pedestrian treatments in a relatively small, compact footprint,” said John Bolecek, VDOT’s statewide bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. (At 26 square miles, Arlington is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States.)

George Rogerson, a VDOT section manager, said the tour demonstrated how, “when it comes to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, in many cases Arlington is a living laboratory for the treatments and standards that VDOT and localities can learn from and implement.”

Those standards include bike and pedestrian facilities, and the programs to encourage these activities.

Among the bike facilities the VDOT guests toured were the Four Mile Run Trail, the electronic Rosslyn Bikeometer on Lee Highway, and the county’s first protected bike lane on South Hayes Street in Pentagon City.

Four Mile Run Trail

Arlington County completed a shorter and safer connection between two bike trails with the Four Mile Run Trail extension, completed in 2009. The new trail gives bicyclists and pedestrians their own separated lane under I-395 and atop a sanitary sewer line., creating a premier shared-use path on a raised structure under the bridges of I-395.

David Patton, a bicycle and pedestrian planner for the county, said the connection was possible because of federally-mandated upgrades to the sewer line to create a long-desired, safe, and convenient bicycle and pedestrian link.

Arlington’s data shows annual yearly traffic increases of approximately 13 percent on the Four Mile Run Trail, indicating that residents, workers, and visitors continue to discover its ability to improve their mobility and access.

Rosslyn Bikeometer

The Rosslyn “bikeometer” is a real-time display of bicycle traffic on the Custis Trail. It is the first of its kind on the East Coast, and became active on April 1.

The bikeometer is located at the so-called “intersection of doom,” where Lee Highway, North Lynn Street, and the I-66 off-ramp meet, and where there are a high number of automobile and bicycle collisions.

Arlington is in the midst of planning for safety improvements to the intersection, which will include widening of the trail and (with VDOT’s coordination) modification of the signal timings, signs, and markings. The data collected from the bikeometer will assist with these capital improvements.

In the interim, the bikeometer performs the additional function of signaling to commuters and residents that they are in a heavily-biked area. By creating this awareness, the bikeometer may already be reducing the number of conflicts between pedestrians and automobiles in the area.

To date, the bikeometer has recorded more than 300,000 bike trips, or about 45,000 per month.

South Hayes Cycle Track

Arlington’s first significant protected bike lane opened in August, as part of a group of bicycle improvements along a half-mile stretch of South Hayes Street in Pentagon City. The lane is separated from automobile traffic via bollards and parked cars.

David Kirschner (above left), coordinator of Arlington’s capital projects, said that while the general public’s response to the cycle track has been “deafeningly silent,” cyclists have responded enthusiastically.

Arlington plans to build more of the protected lanes as opportunities arise. Kirschner says cycle track costs are very low when improvements to streets are already planned. Meanwhile, state DOTs are gradually embracing the lanes, and the Federal Highway Administration plans to release guidance on design of the lanes soon.

TDM Programs

Arlington doesn’t just build the infrastructure that facilitates biking and walking. It is also a leader in transportation demand management (TDM), the programs that encourage these practices. “This isn’t a case of ‘build it and they will come,’” Chris Hamilton, bureau chief of Arlington County Commuter Services, said. “You need programs that encourage the use of this infrastructure.”

To that end, Hamilton’s bureau oversees programs such as BikeArlington, Arlington Transportation Partners, and Mobility Lab, which advocate for, teach, and research the best practices in the industry. “TDM programs have been shown to decrease the drive-alone rate by one-third and double transit usage,” Hamilton said.

Patton said that the Arlington team was successful in “conveying the depth and breadth of our approach to multi-modal multi-functional transportation, the real key to making bike-ped work.”

Bolecek reported back that VDOT participants gave the day rave reviews. “I know we will see some improved ideas and projects as a result of this trip,” Bolecek said.

Splash photo by MV Jantzen on Flickr. Story photo by the author.

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