To the Editor:
I am writing about the Beauregard Small Area Plan and the future of transportation in Alexandria. As chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, I appreciate that a bicycle network is included in the Plan and that new connectivity to nearby neighborhoods and trail networks is added. However, as I review the Plan with my friends and neighbors in the West End, I am concerned about conflicts between bicycle riders and walkers.
Illustrations of the Plan show a town center with numerous citizens walking between housing, shops, offices and transit stops. This a great illustration of the transit-focused development that has been so successful in communities across the USA. The difficulty here is that, along Beauregard Street, the wide sidewalks shown in these illustrations are designated "multi-user paths." That is, they will double as a bicycle lanes, directing bicycle riders to ride through the expected crowds of shoppers and commuters. This is not ideal and is contrary to other similar developments. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, for example, includes bike lanes throughout. In fact, this design creates conflicts that modern bicycle riders are instructed to avoid. Such instruction is promoted by Alexandria's Local Motion program.
While adding wide sidewalks would make to today's Beauregard Street much safer for bicycling, this approach makes little sense for the transit-centered Beauregard Street of the future. A modern approach would separate the cyclists from both pedestrians and motorized traffic. A good example can be seen on 15th Street in Washington, D.C., where the two-way bicycle lane is separated from the main traffic lanes by plastic bollards and from the sidewalk by a curb. The plan already allocates the necessary room — it specifies a 10-foot setback between the sidewalk and the buildings. That space would be better allocated to a bike lane.
The Beauregard Small Area Plan, which looks to be successful in many respects, simply does not account for the ongoing and expected increase in bicycling in Alexandria. This increase is being driven by improved utility bicycles for commuting and shopping (we expect another record-setting crowd on Bike To Work Day this year), by public promotion of health and fitness, by high gas prices, by the renewed joy of riding on our increasingly modern bike lanes and paths, and by the increasing scope of the Capital Bikeshare transit system, which moves about 5,000 people per day — about half of the DASH number. As an advocate for bicycling, I am aware of the popularity of Capital Bikeshare and receive inquiries almost daily. The most common question? "When will it come to my neighborhood?" My point is that planners need to design for the future.
Like most Alexandria residents, I am aware that our roads are already congested with automobiles and that our economic future and quality of life require effective and accessible mass transit. I agree with planners that simply allowing by-right development to add residents without providing non-automotive options to those new residents will make congestion much worse than it is now. As Alexandria shifts its transportation focus from moving automobiles to moving people, our leaders are asking us to modernize. I support this vision and ask that our leaders take the proper next step by modernizing their approach to bicycling facilities.
Chair, Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee