Yesterday I attended the Fairfax Bike Summit, an event sponsored by the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB). The focus of the summit was to explain the role of bicycling in the plans for growth in the Tysons Corner area. The underling purpose of the summit was to get the Fairfax cycling community talking to each other and to government officials. The summit was held at George Mason University (GMU). I decided to drive for a number of reasons.
First, I tweaked my left knee while dodging traffic in DC on Friday night. I’m sure it will be fine in time to do battle with the elements on Monday morning.
Second, I rode over 220 miles since last Saturday. I am TIRED! An extra two hours of sleep was definitely needed.
Third, there are no direct, bicycle friendly routes from Mount Vernon where I live to GMU. This irony is perhaps the reason why Fairfax bicyclists need to organize against the status quo. It’s only about 23 miles door-to-door but it would take me near three nerve-racking hours to get there.
Fourth, GMU is located in the middle of some of the least bike friendly environs I have ever seen. My wife and I looked at houses out near GMU in the late 1980s. We found a house we liked in a subdivision off Braddock Road, The only way to leave the subdivision was to drive. As a runner and cyclists, this was utterly unacceptable to me, 25 years ago. Today, that same subdivision is about a mile from the new commuter rail station. From what I could tell you’d still need a car to get there.
After parking my car, I walked through the GMU campus with Kristin Haldeman from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (a.k.a. Metro). She came to give a short presentation about the soon-to-open Silver Line of the Metrorail system. The new line will eventually go to Dulles Airport. I bought my first car in 1985. It had a manual transmission. To get used to driving the stick, I drove out to Dulles, because there was no traffic out there! Times have changed.
There were five sessions with speakers and panels of speakers. I was pleased that every one of the speakers kept my interest.
The first speaker was an urban designer who championed the smart streets philosophy: build streetscapes with people, not just cars, in mind. He also told us how local activists are persuading a middle school in upstate New York to allow its students to ride to school. (Although he didn’t say, it’s in Saratoga Springs. I’ve seen the school. The school administrators should be ashamed of themselves for banning bike commuting.)
In the first panel discussion we heard from a concerned mother who organized a Vienna Virginia neighborhood to get a network of trails built and connected. The crown jewel of this effort was a bicycle and pedestrian bridge across the Dulles Toll Road to Wolf Trap Farm Park. Her trail system will be a feeder system for the Tysons of the future. Doctor Gridlock talked about how “car may not be king, but it sits next to the throne.” He’s the self-described Dear Abby of Washington area commuters. For a guy who listens to stress for a living he’s remarkably calm. We heard from the bicycle coordinator of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. He described how Vienna Virginia has begun to embrace everyday cycling. (They have little choice; the town’s main streets are a parking lot on weekends.) Kristin showed off the new Sliver line: five new stations, four in Tysons itself, and a fifth in Reston. The Reston station has a parking garage that will contain an awesome secure bicycle facility for over 150 bikes! They even thought about room for trailers and unconventional bikes. (Yay recumbents!)
During lunch I had a chance to check out the displays in the lobby. Lots of bike bling and interesting people milling about. I talked with Friday Coffee Club regular Pete Beers, who led a ride from Tysons to GMU earlier in the day. He is either fearless or insane. (I think he’d say “both.”) I met Greg Billing and Nelle Pearson of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. I’ve heard of them and seen them at events but never had a chance to introduce myself. And I finally got to meet fellow blogger Elizabeth (and her fiancé Micah) . She works across the street from me in Rosslyn. We plan on being the first bike bloggers to sample the wares at the new alehouse in her office building when it opens. She had a tote bag with her that she designed and sewed herself. She is one talented person.
We had a choice for our afternoon sessions. I wanted to attend the safety session but I also wanted to hear the presentation that Nelle was so diligently pouring over at lunch. Nelle won. She didn’t disappoint. She told us about her efforts to expand the cycling community to include women, minorities and the poor. Another panelist talked about how planners need to take into account the aging population. Simple things like extra benches, more bathrooms, and curb cuts mean a lot to the elderly. Another speaker talked about how the Herndon day labor gathering place has helped its workers, mostly Hispanic and often undocumented, use bikes for daily transportation.
The second session I attended focused on how bikes are good for business. We heard from the owner of Green Lizard, an uber bike shop on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail in Herndon. I have to stop there someday and get a cuppa joe. The head of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) (of which I am a member) discussed how its Bike Friendly Business program is getting employers to see bikes as a source of revenue and employee retention. And an official from Arlington County showed how trail sensors collect data that County officials use to influence all aspects of planning.
The summit closed with some “take aways” from the head of the LAB.
Here are my take aways:
Fairfax County is about 25 years behind the times. The number one thing it needs is re-education. Bicycles are not toys. If they are included in the transportation mix, they can reduce the need for parking and road capacity, make the citizenry healthier, improve the environment, and make the county a better place to live and work. Most of the planning involved accommodating big concentrated development. This is fine as long as we remember that people have to live in these places. People have been talking about Tysons as a successful “edge city” but they don’t realize how many people like me refuse to go there. Or Fair Oaks. These places are islands of stress that suck the life out of you. In much the same way, the US 1 corridor where I live is a traffic snarled mess. I went there on my bike today to go to a bank. The half mile stretch I rode shows very little in the way of thoughtful street design. This corridor has the oldest and poorest citizens in Fairfax. If we don’t get it right in Tysons, there is not much hope for my part of the county.
In a couple of weeks, I hope to attend a meeting on the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) US Bike Route 1 study. VDOT is considering revision to the routing of this signed north/south bike route. Judging from the materials I picked up at the Summit, this should be of interest to touring .