Letter: Lack of Common Sense

Letter: Lack of Common Sense

To the Editor:

I oppose plans of the Transportation and Environmental Services Department (TESD) to install bike lanes on King Street. During this last year I gave little notice to the repaving and marking of Janneys Lane with bike lanes. But on Oct. 30 I attended a staff presentation regarding proposed bike lanes on the King Street hill west of the Metro. New vehicle lanes only 10 – 1/2’ wide were proposed along with painted bike lanes on both sides of the street. In response to a question, the city staffer responded that Dash and school buses were only 8’ wide. That statement and the claim that 12 cyclists per hour were using King Street piqued my interest. I personally measured the school buses – counting the rear view mirrors, they are 10’ wide. On a week night I stood at the top of King Street between 4:30 and 5:30 pm and counted two cyclists, not 12.

I was a member of the Traffic and Parking Board for five years so I have some knowledge of city traffic issues. For 20 years I ran the technology planning and procurement process for the FBI so I also have an interest and experience in cost effective government solutions. I have seen little of that in Alexandria and I correctly predicted that Mr. Richard Baier, director of TESD would move forward with the King Street bike lane plans even if the Traffic and Parking Board came to a different conclusion after its Nov. 25 hearing.

In his Dec. 20 letter to King Street residents, Mr. Baier cited his status as an engineer partly as justification to move forward with the installation and ignore the board’s recommendation. He claims that the narrow lanes will slow the vehicle traffic, provide for the needs of the cyclists and that the bike lanes will provide a buffer for the pedestrians. In other words, their plan will meet multiple needs and provide safety for all. At the hearing the staff claimed that they thoroughly researched the issues at hand to determine and apply “best practices.” Engineers and other technologists seldom give specific details as to what any “best practices” may be but simply use the generalized claim to deflect questions and doubts about their plans and decisions. My experience with engineers has also shown that they tend to focus on the technology and structure and give little genuine thought to the human factors.

Anyone who has been in the military or worked in law enforcement or worked as fireman can tell you that the mix of people and any type of mechanical device can quickly lead to disaster. Bicycles and vehicles certainly fall into the category of mechanical devices. The key to safety is simplicity and consistency. A firearms range instructor will carefully give and repeat commands to trainees over and over to keep their pistols pointed down range and make their weapons safe and holstered before turning. When people repeat safe practices over an extensive time period, those practices become inherent and imbedded in their minds and muscle memories. This minimizes the chance of a disaster arising from routine activities and keeps the mind free to deal with any unique hazards that arise in the field.

A drive up and down Janney’s shows that the finished product of traffic lanes provides little simplicity or consistency. Starting from Quaker going east, you start with a narrow vehicle lane with sharrows indicating lane sharing with cyclists. After East Taylor Run, a dedicated bike lane runs between the vehicle lane and curb side parking.

At Putman you only have a vehicle lane and a bike lane at the curb just before King Street. Returning west, you start with sharrows in the vehicle lane until West Taylor Run. At that point you have a bike lane at the curb overlaying space where curb side parking is allowed.

Starting at the Cloverway intersection a bike lane is painted between the vehicle lane and the curbside parking lane. That bike lane ends at MacArthur School but starts again after the school and continues until 200 feet before Quaker where the bike lane shifts to the right and then transitions into sharrows in the right side vehicle lane.

So what practices and behaviors are being imbedded in the minds and muscle memories of drivers in this complicated and inconsistent environment? First I must point out that there are so few cyclists on Janneys Lane that I have yet to encounter a single rider in my daily driving on that road. I constantly observe automobile drivers in the narrow lanes swerve slightly to the right when a bus or other large vehicle approaches from the opposite direction. I even find myself doing it. This is a behavior repeated over and over, without immediate consequences, because there are no bike riders in the lane to the right.

But there will eventually be a bike rider therein the lane and he or she may end up hurt or worse.

The plans for King Street are much more complicated and inconsistent than Janneys Lane and the street is much narrower. The vehicle traffic amounts to 13,000 to 15,000 vehicles per day so that is a lot of drivers imbedding hazardous driving practices in their minds and muscle memories. I live off Janneys Lane so the vocal advocates cannot say that I am only complaining about losing my parking. I am concerned about safety and the waste of taxpayer resources for unjustified goals.

It seems that the city staff really wants that platinum award from the League of American Bicyclists touted by a vocal minority pressing for these changes. Some King Street residents did some of their own counting and have good reason to doubt the bike traffic numbers claimed by city staff. Neighborhood parents laughed when I asked if they would let their children ride their bicycles on Janneys Lane and one responded, “I won’t let my children serve as a traffic-calming device.”

The City Council should take this matter out of the staffers’ hands and inject some common sense in this matter.

Tom Walczykowski, Alexandria