My doctor’s office is in an office building near an interstate highway in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s 10 miles from my house. I rode there for my 10:30 appointment. The first half of the ride was on the Mount Vernon Trail. Then came some city streets in Old Town Alexandria. I climbed the hill in the bike lane on King Street. The installation of the bike lane created a big ruckus, with one of the homeowners along the street actually raging about it in the Wall Street Journal. From what I can tell, the bike lane works fine.
I turned onto Janney’s Lane which becomes Seminary Road. I followed painted bike lanes and sharrows for a couple of miles, sharing the road with vehicles big and small.
Not one of these bike lanes is protected. They are just paint. It’s a wonder that when I pulled into the parking lot at the doctor’s office building I saw a bicyclist leaving. He told me that the only place to park was at the railing in the front of the building. And so I did.
Errand No. 7
Category: Personal Care (1st use)
Place: Doctor’s office (I’m gonna live!)
Observation: The League of American Bicyclists calls Alexandria a Bicycling Friendly City at the bronze level. I think it should be called a bicycling tolerant city, at best. Over a month ago I gave some remarks to the Alexandria Traffic and Parking Board about a dangerous intersection. The Board voted unanimously to remove a sign and replace it with a No Turn on Red sign. The old sign is still there.
Today I took a picture of the car blocking the Union Street bike lane at 420 N. Union. This bike lane is part of the Mount Vernon Trail and it gets heavy bike traffic at rush hour and on weekends. This car has plenty of company. Often the entire lane is blocked. Sometimes the entire sidewalk is blocked. Sometimes both.
It’s been there for more than a week. I spotted a parking enforcement officer parked nearby. So I asked him why he doesn’t ticket obvious parking violators such as this.
He told me that they had been routinely issuing $40 tickets to Old Town residents who park in their driveways in such a way as to block the sidewalk and/or the bike lane. According to the officer, residents complain that they are “parking in their driveways” and “have nowhere else to park.”
As you can see from the photo, driveways in this area of Old Town are little more than curb cuts. As such they are too short to fit most cars. Every house has a garage, but the residents won’t park in them. Of course, there is nothing to prohibit them from parking parallel to the curb like anyone else. In short, their argument is bovine scatology.
But the ticket office at City Hall feels their pain. Their tickets are routinely dismissed. So the ticket officers have stopped ticketing. It was not clear whether the officers were told to stop ticketing or whether they gave up out of frustration. In any case, the officer said, “The city is trying to work something out.”
What’s to work out?
The League of American Bicyclists designated Alexandria as a “Bicycling Friendly City.” How many other BFCs allow parking in the bike lane for days at a time? Maybe the League needs to reconsider its award process. Maybe I need to reconsider my membership.
I am not one to get involved in bicycle advocacy. I am not good at it and feel uncomfortable doing it. Every once in a while I go to a meeting and speak my mind. Tonight on the way home from work I met two bike advocates from the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. They were handing out materials along the Mount Vernon Trail just north of Old Town.
They gave me a couple of handouts. One was a plea to cyclists not to blow through stop signs in Old Town. I whole hearted agree with this, although I do think that Old Town overuses stops signs which invites cyclists and drivers to disregard them much as drivers once tuned out the national 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. A few yield signs would not harm pedestrian safety.
Speaking of yield, the handouts would have been more credible if they had not spelled yield as YEILD (in caps). Ugh.
The handouts also suggest using Royal Street as a north/south route through Old Town to avoid congestion. When I head north to work in the morning, I avoid Royal Street for a number of reasons:
To get to South Royal, I have to make a sharp left turn after some bollards at the base of a hill to go under the Wilson Bridge. Also, I have to avoid curbs that are excessively large and perform no apparent useful purpose. In the dark or shade, they are hard to see.
Once I cross under the Wilson Bridge I have to ride up on the sidewalk to follow the trail around a security gate. The sidewalk has a bollard in it, because “In Bollards We Trust” is the official motto of the Wilson Bridge design team.
After the bollard the trail goes back to the street via a curb cut. In the morning this is the end of the drop off line for St. Mary of the Holy SUV School. Kids are getting out of cars, carline helpers are directing them and the SUVs> It’s just a recipe for somebody getting nailed.
Once I clear that mess and get on South Royal I have to deal with a back up of SUVs (and a few mnivans and BMWs). The drivers are in a hurry to get to work and are spread all over the street making biking unsafe. (Not to put too fine a point on it but whoever thought this was a good idea is an idiot.)
The alternative on Union Street involves no sharp turn after the bollards allowing me to maintain speed from the downhill.
The ride under the bridge and over to Union Street is pretty and one of the nicest stretches of the Mount Vernon Trail.
Unlike Royal Street, Union has no traffic, no traffic lights, and only a handful of stop signs. (It does have the occassional speeding car but Alexandria police can’t be bothered with cars in Old Town for some reason.)
You get to see the river and sunrises and the occassional famous person.
In the evening Union vs. Royal is a toss up. On the weekends I prefer Royal because King and Union can be a mess of humanity.
I tried to use the interactive map the city provides for comments but it was not very useful. A good try but no cigar. I tried to send ABPAC an email but alas gmail says the email address they provided me is no good. (Update Sept. 18: my email finally did go through. I have no idea what the problem was. If you have a comment, pet peeve or praise, send it to ABPAC or the city government. They hear from grabby Old Town residents all the time. I am sure they’d love to hear from you.)
Alexandrians who don’t ride bicycles don’t get the concept of riding for basic transportation. They just don’t. And the city officials still don’t. Here are two simple examples. In the 400 block of North Union, homeowners often park their cars perpendicular to the curb so that other parkers do not block their driveways. Sometimes these perpendicular cars block the sidewalk. More often they obstruct the bike lane cause cyclists to merge with car traffic that is not expected them. I have never (and I am talking about over 20 years) seen a ticket on one of these cars. This tells the homeowners that the city condones obstructing the bike lane; that bicycles are second-class.
In the 200 block of North Union Street is one of the first sharrows in the city. It is placed on the right of the road, directing cyclists into parked cars. You’d think that after ten years the city would get rid of it. I like to think of it as a monument to Alexandria’s official ambivalence to cycling.
For these reasons and more I think the League of American Cyclist should take away Alexandria’s Bicycle Friendly City award and replace it with its first Bicycle Ambivalent City Award.
I think progress in Alexandria will continue to be slow and sometimes frustrating but I applaud Randy and Erin for their efforts today. I really do. If you want to help, you can check out the city’s bike ped plan at http://www.alexandriava.gov/pedbikeplan or atttend the public meeting at the Minnie Howard School Library ay 3801 West Braddock Road on September 30 at 7 pm. Ironically, the school is located in one of the least bike friendly parts of town.
Last Thursday our area was hit by strong thunderstorms. South of Alexandria, microbursts hit the Belle Haven and Belle View areas of Fairfax County and Dyke Marsh especially hard. The Mount Vernon Trail in this area was closed as was the adjacent George Washington Memorial Parkway. Within a day and a half the trail and the Parkway were cleared of obstructions.
This tree came down across the Mount Vernon Trail in the same storm. Unfortunately, for trail users, this tree fell in Jones Point Park just south of Old Town in the city of Alexandria.
The League of American Bicyclists (of which I am a member) designated Alexandria as a bicycle friendly city at the silver level in 2013. You’d think that getting silver level status would mean that the city regards the users of the Mount Vernon Trail with respect. Not so much,
The failure to remove this downed tree is testimony to what’s wrong with the awards. Alexandria tolerates cyclists. I have to wonder whether Alexandria would even merit bronze status without the Mount Vernon Trail, a federal government trail.
If the city thinks I’m being harsh, prove me wrong. Remove the tree. And the next time this happens don’t wait days and days until trail users call you out on your inaction.