County Scales Back Plans for Columbia Pike Bike Boulevards

Arlington County’s inadequate plans for Pike cyclists are getting worse: the Bike Boulevards Plan is being parceled out into tiny “new projects” that need to get in line for funding from the Board.

Today, bike commuters and other riders who want to travel to destinations on (or via) Columbia Pike can ride along side streets, or in the Columbia Pike roadway.  The County (via Pike Multimodal) has plans to re-shuffle the roadway on Columbia Pike.  For most of the length of Columbia Pike in Arlington, the roadway is about five lanes wide (one of several exceptions is the bridge over Four Mile Run).  Pike Multimodal faced several choices with what to do with the “fifth” lane where it exists: 1. Convert it into a bike lane (either curbside like on Wilson Boulevard or in the center like Pennsylvania Avenue NW in downtown DC); 2. Use the lane for mass transit vehicles (eastbound in AM, westbound in PM); 3. Use the lane for cars, such as a center turning lane.

Pike Multimodal’s choice is to keep the center lane for cars (as a turning lane).  (Remember this next time someone tells you that Arlington is a “gold certified” bike city or is a model for Smart Growth: in the biggest urban planning project underway since the building out of the Metro stations, the County chose cars over transit and bikes in one of the most important decisions to be made.)

While disappointing, this decision alone would leave the status quo alone and cyclists could continue to use Columbia Pike as a traveling route.  But a majority of the Board is also committed to building a streetcar in the curb lane.  Streetcar tracks and bike tires do not mix well.  So what Pike bike riders are facing is a County with a series of plans that will remove their commuting route.

The County’s answer to this problem is the Columbia Pike Bike Boulevards plan, a set of parallel, mostly on-street roads that would get bike “sharrows” so that motorists are aware that it’s a priority bike route.  It also was supposed to create safe crossings for bicyclists and pedestrians at intersections, along with upgrades to some existing pedestrian trails that will be incorporated into the bike boulevards.  They are slated to run (more or less) on S. 9th (the northern route) and S. 12th (the southern route).

But as originally designed, the Bike Boulevard plan had a glaring weakness: the boulevards did not run the full length of Arlington’s portion of the Pike.  This is particularly problematic on the eastern end of the Pike, as bike riders will not have any route from the Pentagon to Pike Town Center, on-street or off-street.  (An earlier post on the topic here.)

So, to sum up, the Bike Boulevard starts as a wholly inadequate replacement for the sole (on-street, un-designated) reasonably direct, reasonably safe route to/from the Pentagon and the nearby connections to the Potomac bridges.  So it’s a bad plan.  But earlier this month, the County announced* that the Bike Boulevards are being scaled back:

  • The 9th Street crossing at Walter Reed will not be included.
  • The 9th Street route will be split into 9th and 7th Streets in response to NIMBY complaints.
  • The Doctor’s Run Park trail upgrades will not be included.

Arlington bike riders who use Columbia Pike are being left out in the cold by the County’s plans for “revitalization” for the corridor.  This latest cut adds insult to injury.  Instead, the County should be focusing on how to get bike riders from the Columbia Pike corridor to the Pentagon directly and safely.

*The new cutbacks to the plan are Orwellianly under the heading “Enhancing Safety and Access”.

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