Letter: Value Those Bicyclists

Letter: Value Those Bicyclists

To the Editor:

I am writing to respond to a letter, "Bike Share Now Needs City Money," printed in the May 24 Alexandria Gazette Packet. As chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), I was asked to attend the Waterfront Commission Meeting where the Capital Bikeshare station options were discussed. For me, this letter raises three concerns.

My first concern has to do with money. On this topic, the letter is making a mountain out of a molehill. My understanding is that the federal agency overseeing this grant changed the rules mid-stream and money that was planned to be used for operations ($186,000 out of the $6,000,000 grant) needed to come from elsewhere. That $186,000 in grant money is still with us and can be used for other projects — I hope the City Council puts it to good use.

My second concern has to do with the idea that adding Capital Bikeshare to Old Town amounts to an attempt to "stuff 10 pounds into a five-pound bag." On this topic, the letter is making a mountain out of a molehill. To illustrate, I will repeat what I said at the Waterfront Commission meeting: The Mount Vernon Trail carries nearly one million people per year, mostly on bicycles and mostly rolling down Union Street. In other words, about 2,000 bicyclists per day visit the Alexandria waterfront. Capital Bikeshare, by contrast, will roll out this summer with only 70 bicycles in the entirely of Old Town. Next to those already present, an additional 70 bicycles constitutes a very small molehill indeed.

In fact, those 2,000 bicycles per day already include some of those red "CaBi" bikes. They are often seen visiting Old Town. Why? Because bikeshare stations in Washington D.C. are sited at attractions and along bike routes. Old Town is a major attraction on a major bike route. In other words, the Old Town waterfront is where the Capital Bikeshare customers already are. I am glad that the Waterfront Commission, if not the letter writer, wisely supports Capital Bikeshare.

My third concern is that those 2,000 cyclists per day are not represented on the Waterfront Commission. How do we know those cyclists are there? Because we counted them as part of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project. Alexandria BPAC has been counting cyclists and pedestrians quarterly, at locations all over Alexandria. Each time we do this our three largest numbers are, in order, the Mount Vernon Tail north of Old Town (1 million per year, 85 percent on bicycle), the Mount Vernon Tail south of Old Town (650,000 per year, 80 percent on bicycle), and Mount Vernon and Commonwealth Avenues (450,000 per year, 40 percent on bicycle). While City staff uses numbers from this volunteer effort in its planning, these counts are not yet part of their own traffic-counting efforts and have not been widely disseminated. It is time to recognize this large constituency by including representatives from our growing bicycling community on our boards and commissions.

Those 2,000 cyclists per day are not only a part of our community, they are also an opportunity. Studies show that for a store front business bicycle traffic is like foot traffic — it is easy for a cyclist to stop and shop. People who shop by bicycle shop locally and shop often. They are important to our community and to our finances. We should make a greater effort to welcome them with better bicycle parking and with bike lanes leading away from Union Street and towards our shops and attractions. As it stands today, we have groups of cyclists, typically 5-10 per group, rolling down Union Street every day. And yet there is not one parking corral or other facility to encourage these groups to stop and spend money. In closing I ask that those of us who support commerce and tourism in Alexandria support measures, such as bike lanes and bike parking, that will better welcome our local bicycling community to Old Town.

Jonathan Krall

Chair, Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee