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Biking, Walking Advances in Alexandria

The city hires a pedestrian and bicycle coordinator.

Alexandria resident Jerry King gets to Washington, D.C. by bike faster than he gets there by Metro. King said by Metro it takes about 45 minutes but by bike the trip takes about 35 minutes.

Recognizing that biking and walking can be a solution to some of Alexandria residents’ transportation problems, the city council hired a new pedestrian and bicycle coordinator on March 20.

Excessive motor vehicle traffic is “one of the most acute problems we face,” said Alexandria City Councilman Rob Krupicka. Two ways to alleviate this problem is to make it easier to walk and bike, Krupicka said.

“I think Alexandria is a good place for biking and walking but it could be a lot better,” Krupicka said.

For about the last six years Alexandria government has been seeking to promote non-automotive modes of transportation, said Director of Transportation and Environmental Services Richard Baier. During this period it has taken various steps to promote walking and biking .

To improve the city’s biking and walking convenience and safety, the city council has been seeking to hire a pedestrian and bicycle coordinator for the last two years, Krupicka said. In March the city hired Yon Lambert for the job.

Lambert previously worked for a South Carolina consulting firm that sought grants to promote bicycling and walking for municipalities.

Alexandria already has a bicycling and walking network, Lambert said. Part of his job will be to improve this network.

Lambert said he would be reviewing the network to find gaps or shortcomings in it. In about six months time Lambert hopes to be able to present a 10 year plan for improvements to the city’s walking and biking infrastructure.

Lambert will work to bring in outside funding for the projects.

He will also work with the newly founded nonprofit BikeWalk Alexandria and the Alexandria Commission on Persons with Disabilities in creating policies to promote biking and walking.

Lambert said he saw his primary responsibility was promoting safety.

Along with reducing traffic congestion and assuring safety, Lambert also sees the promotion of biking and walking as a health care issue. “A lot of cities have realized over the last decade how we’ve engineered physical activity out of our daily lives,” he said. “And now we’re trying to engineer it back [in].”

On Feb. 14 the council approved the Alexandria Community Pathways program. The goal of this program is to “improve and enhance non-motorized opportunities for transportation and recreation throughout Alexandria.”

Some of the concrete steps the Community Pathways program calls for are:

• the development of an educational program promoting pedestrian safety;

• “staff to work with the community to evaluate and recommend pilot programs to test various parking, bicycle, pedestrian traffic calming and other strategies;”

• city staff to make sure pedestrian and bike pathways are adequate in development projects;

• city staff to make sure that the city’s infrastructure is safe for kids to walk to school.

In the long run city government will be promoting dense development around the city’s Metro stations, City Councilman Ludwig Gaines said. Those living near these stations are more likely to use walking, biking and/or Metro use for transportation.

Meanwhile, along with Alexandria’s government, city residents are also taking steps to promote bicycling.

IN OCTOBER 2005 some residents founded BikeWalk Alexandria.

For about 10 years the government had a volunteer bicycle study group advising it, said King, president of BikeWalk Alexandria. The government maintained the study group on the condition that its chairman sat on a city parks and recreation committee. Last fall no one wanted to sit on this committee. Instead of simply dissolving, the group decided to transform itself into a nonprofit group outside of government — BikeWalk Alexandria, King explained.

This group is the first local chapter of BikeWalk Virginia.

The local group’s primary goal is to promote biking and walking safety in the city. It will do this primarily through lobbying the city, King said. The group will try to increase the number of biking and walking trails in the city and improve the maintenance of existing trails.

Some trails are poorly maintained now, King said. He gave the example of Holmes Run Trail under I- 395. This gets clogged with debris after rain storms, he said.

The group would also like to see improved trail links with Fairfax and Arlington Counties, King said.

Those people interested in joining the local group should join BikeWalk Virginia and indicate their desire to be a member of the Alexandria chapter. They can join at http://www.bikewalkvirginia.org/membership.htm or by calling 757-229-0507. Membership is normally $25 per year, though family and student memberships are also available.

One local observer believes that bicycling in Alexandria is growing. “There’s a lot of people who are commuting now who were not before,” said Big Wheel Bikes Assistant Manager Ernest Clark. Rising gas prices are contributing to this shift, he said.