While local cycling enthusiasts are familiar with area bike paths and alternative routes, many would-be cyclists are hesitant to navigate Fairfax County’s framework of major highways and neighborhood roads that lack sidewalks and bike lanes.
But a new transit initiative aims to improve safety and biking conditions. Western Fairfax County residents are invited to voice their opinions about the Countywide Bicycle Transportation Plan, at an open house at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6. The meeting will be held at the Sully Governmental Center.
The Sully open house will be the seventh of eight public meetings being held throughout the county to garner input from residents. The final open house will be held in Fairfax toward the end of this month.
“We have many suitable and enjoyable areas to ride in Fairfax County and it would be wonderful if more residents realized how many trips are already very bikeable,” said Fionnuala Quinn, vice chair of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB). “Biking on some of our beautiful trails and using our lovely neighborhood streets to get around can really alter your perspective about Fairfax traffic woes.”
“That said, we have very few dedicated bicycling facilities and the county hasn’t developed a ‘bicycling culture’ yet,” Quinn added. “There is certainly much to be done to create a safe and comfortable bicycling environment countywide.”
The Countywide Bicycle Transportation Plan provides recommendations in major areas Quinn calls “the five E’s.” They are engineering, encouragement, education, enforcement and evaluation. Within these areas, the study assesses bike lanes and other on-road bike facilities, bike trails and parking, Bike to Work and School Day, community bike rides, bike safety classes, bicyclist counting and rules of the road, just to name a few.
“FABB has been advocating for a bicycle master plan from their initiation [in 2005] as it was recognized that in a large, complex county, a detailed plan was necessary,” Quinn said. “The county has been very supportive of developing the plan. Once it is adopted, adequate funding will be required for it to be implemented.”
Developing the Sully District
“This is everyone’s big chance to let their county officials know about specific safety problems in their neighborhoods or to alert them to connections that should be added to create better internal access and shortcuts for getting around,” Quinn added.
One specific topic residents are open to address at Tuesday night’s meeting is how new and improved bike paths can lead to safer, more convenient ways for locals to commute to work and school. For example, many area schools, like Bull Run Elementary on Route 29/Lee Highway, do not allow any students to bike or walk to school because there is no safe route that allows them to do so.
Fairfax County Department of Transportation Bicycle Program Coordinator Charlie Strunk has big plans for the Sully District.
“The Centreville area does present challenges … but it also offers opportunities,” Strunk said. “I want to focus on two projects currently in the design phase. One is the Bobann Drive Bikeway. This old roadbed runs parallel to I-66. We plan to improve this shared-use path providing a direct connection from the Centreville area to Stringfellow Road and the adjacent park and ride lot. The new Stringfellow Road will have wide outside curb lanes for bikes and we’re adding secure covered bicycle parking at the park and ride lot.”
“The second project that we’re excited about is a new bike map which we’re calling ‘Western Fairfax Bike the Sites,’” Strunk continued. “This map will layout a family-friendly bike loop that passes by many of the historical sites in the area. It will be fun, educational and a healthy way to explore some of Sully’s history.”
County residents who are unable to attend public meetings in their district can give input on the project through an online survey, open through Saturday, March 31.
Northern Virginia’s growing bike culture
Some areas of Northern Virginia, namely Arlington County, are already proponents of the region’s growing bicycling trend. Fairfax hopes to join in and promote the sport as a safe, convenient mode of transportation and recreation in the state’s most populated county.
“Arlington has a ten-year jump on us, plus their urban environment is more conducive to bicycles,” Strunk said. “Regionwide, biking is taking off. Just look at D.C. On the Virginia side, Alexandria is doing a lot and we’re starting to see more bicycle amenities in Vienna, Falls Church and the campus of George Mason University. Look at how Bikesharing has taken off and expanding. We will see it in Fairfax County in the not-so-distant future.”
So far, the Fairfax County Bicycle Program has made strides in promoting better bicycling communities. Recent accomplishments include equipping all Fairfax Connector buses with bike racks, partnering with VDOT to retrofit roads with on-road bike facilities, including 22 miles of bike lanes, and issuing the county’s first bicycle route map with a network of preferred on-road routes and major trails.
“We are making progress,” said Strunk, “but there’s more to do.”