Alexandria To the Editor:
Imagine my surprise when an environmentalist policy wonk in D.C. emailed me to note my appearance, along with Justin Wilson, on radio WAMU. The subject was Alexandria’s considering bike registration and fees. As my radio comments were based on a public comment session at City Hall, this was appropriate. However, what followed the next day was a policy statement, not from Alexandria’s Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) department, but from the City Attorney’s office observing that registration was probably no longer needed in our modern times for bike recovery purposes. True — as the National Bike Registry, now on the city’s web site, clearly demonstrates.
We can now consider ourselves half way there. No longer does the city have to spend the time and money to register bikes in Alexandria; and bicyclists’ property is protected. This is a plus. However, there is still the issue of annual fees from cyclists who rightly expect road and bike facilities to be safe and maintained in good condition. At this time, unlike all other vehicle owners who use the roads in Virginia, bicyclists are “free riders,” an economics term used to identify those people who use a common resource without incurring any cost to do so.
The T&ES department is now undertaking a comprehensive review of Alexandria’s Municipal Code and Ordinances for bicycle usage to ensure they comply with state regulations and support and reflect regional “rules of the road” for cyclists. This is an excellent way to make a fresh start and put bikers on improved footing, as they move through the region and state.
It is also an excellent time to create and suggest policy frameworks in Virginia that can ensure all road users are treated equitably on pay-for-use. An annual fee for bicycles should be instituted at the state level and distributed for building bike facilities at cities’ request. Another funding option is one being proposed here in Old Town, i.e., developer contributions as part of building a new hotel. Although that will not alleviate urban sprawl and may contribute to already overtaxed streets in Old Town, it is an option. A much better use of developer “amenities” would be to require (not suggest) that all new commercial buildings and residential housing developments throughout the city include bike facilities. This is not currently being done.
So, I hope when the T&ES review and recommendations on bike usage in Alexandria are available for public review and adjustment — prior to council vote — that we are presented a comprehensive policy and legal framework that is equitable and forward looking for everyone who shares the roadways, including pedestrians. If done right, this comprehensive set of recommendations could serve as a model for other cities, and in Virginia for state action on a new fee structure to support increased bike use. We all need to quickly do our part to go car-free in the near future. The planet deserves it.