Budget Adds More Funding, But Not For Biking

With third straight year of zero funding for program, cyclists say some transportation improvements are threatened; county to look toward Arlington for model

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors formally a spending plan which put aside more money but, for the third consecutive year, not bicycle programs.

Although the county funds a full-time bicycle coordinator in its transportation department, the bicycle program has gone without funding since fiscal year 2011, according to Fairfax County staff reports provided to supervisors this year. 

The county's formal bike program was launched in 2006 as the Comprehensive Bicycle Initiative. Early projects included developing the county's first bike route map, retrofitting connector buses, and adding bike racks to county park and ride lots.

The program received $375,000 in fiscal 2009, dropping to $204,544 the next year before funding was cut altogether in 2011. It has remained at zero since. The county, however, has found ways to include some bike improvements in larger transportation projects funded by a tax on commercial and industrial properties.

Cutting program funding could affect, or already has affected, the completion of several countywide transportation plans, bike advocates say, including development around Tysons Corner and other areas of major construction.

Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay (Lee), who chairs the board's transportation committee, said he was looking for ways to achieve some of the goals of the Fairfax County bicycle plan, and that includes funding.

At Tuesday's meeting, he said Arlington County has done more to encourage biking and its approaches could become a model for Fairfax "now that the state is shedding its transportation responsibilities faster than you can say pothole."

He asked staff to examine how BikeArlington, part of Arlington County Commuter Services, encourages businesses to coax more people to ride bicycles.

The analysis will be presented at a future transportation committee meeting.

"The board has been really supportive in general but it hasn't translated into funds for the bike program," said Bruce Wright, president of Fairfax Association for Better Bicycling, who said more than 300 cyclists asked the board for more funding this year. "Times are tough but we also need to have some priorities, and we think providing some funding for bicycling should be a high priority. We've got lots of challenges here, but we haven't even really started in some ways."

Among the projects already affected is the Tysons Bicycle Master Plan, completed more than a year ago but still not approved by the county, Wright said. Bike parking guidelines have been in draft for more than a year and his organization fears the master plan for biking across the county, whose development is fully funded and should be completed this summer, could be next.

"That's a bad precedent. We don't want that sitting on the shelf. We don't want ... [other projects] to meet the same fate," Wright said.

The Tysons Metrorail Station Access Management Study created a list of short-term projects that would improve the bicycle network to, from and throughout the greater Tysons area, but they have yet to advance to scope, design or construction, Wright said.

Aside from an operating budget, the county's bike coordinator can draw revenue from the commercial and industrial tax, which was  enacted by the General Assembly in 2007 to give some localities another source of revenue exclusively for transportation projects.

The board dedicated $1 million of that funding to bicycle projects between fiscal 2009 and 2014, according to a staff memo to Foust, who asked for a briefing of the program's funding as part of the budget process.

It gave $11 million in funding for independent pedestrian projects.

Those figures do not include projects funded with federal money, general obligation bonds or larger roadway projects, staff wrote. 

The county bike coordinator, Charlie Strunk, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

In the next few years, much of the money will be used for pedestrian access projects in the areas around Silver Line Metro station.

A full list of county transportation goals for the next four years can be found here.

Though the tax has helped advance some projects, it's not enough to build out biking infrastructure realistically in Tysons or across the county the way it is often imagined in 30-year projections, some advocates told the board in public hearings.

The program has found some success in finding private partnerships and grants to fund certain projects, county staff wrote in a memo to Sup. John Foust (Dranesville).

But the absence of an operating budget hurts the most, Wright said, when the county can't do as much to encourage bicyclists to ride to work and on everyday trips, through outreach — which has made other programs like Bike Arlington so successful — and spot projects that improve the experience.

County staff wrote it has "significantly reduced its participation" in education, outreach and public programs, like Bike to Work Day, because of budget issues; it has continued some of those initiatives through private partnerships and district supervisor offices.

Bicyclists are encouraged by the county using the commercial tax, Wright said, but worry about the lack of a steady source of funding, particularly as state and federal funding and grants face higher demand.

"We've been scrambling through the countywide plan ... for now we're doing well, we're really excited about it .. but there needs to be resources to implement [plans] to really see changes on the ground," Wright said.

Leslie Neiss May 03, 2012 at 11:18 PM
How does urban/transportation planning equate to social engineering?
Ann H Csonka May 07, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Too much traffic, too much pollution even with cleaner exhaust standards, too few highway drive lanes --S-A-F-E-T-Y for those who choose to cycle. Obvious reasons, in a broad category of health and safety. Not to mention too much wasted time sitting in traffic. you cannot travel safely on a bicycle from any one place to another on MOST routes, yet we keep on building more highway lanes and fighting over the most basic rail service. Anyone can call anything "social engineering" by some definition, but it's pretty silly as a reason to not support cycling.. It could probably save more $$$ than it would cost...in lost work and family time and many other ways including gasoline. Mostly good comments. Maybe next budget?
Karl H. May 07, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Trying to get people to bicycle as a mode of transportation is not some kind of devious ploy to convince commuters to sell their cars and work out. It's actually really fast (especially if you can find a dedicated route and avoid stop lights), and far cheaper than a car. A lot of us in NoVa bike to work: during the summer, the racks at my office building are packed... I think we would really like to see our infrastructure dollars sunk into something (anything?) that isn't another traffic jam. We want going places to be easy. Impaired mobility is this areas largest blemish by far.
Matt May 14, 2012 at 02:37 PM
If there's been any "social engineering" done to this point, it's been done to encourage everyone to drive. The way our roads are currently designed, there is not even an option in many places beyond driving your car - there aren't sidewalks, bike lanes, etc. Infrastructure supporting walking and biking reduces wear and tear on roads (saves money), provides alternate routes for people who don't want to drive (healthier and reduces roadway congestion), creates more open and friendlier spaces, and drives up foot/bike traffic to local businesses (more likely to stop than if driving, increases business revenues). If we DON'T provide any alternatives, we end up with continually-increasing traffic congestion. I don't know about you, but even as a driver I appreciate it when there are more alternatives to get around, as it reduces traffic for me. Tyson's is a perfect example of an area that could benefit from this - there are tons of lunch destinations within "walking distance" of the many corporate offices, but everyone has to get in their cars to go there because the pedestrian infrastructure is so bad. So... there's a third "rush hour" in the Tysons area at lunchtime.
T Brown May 14, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Matt, excellent point. We have and continue to devote huge amounts of money, time, and energy, not to mention lifestyle choices, to the automobile. Choosing to open our transportation options up, even just a little, strikes me as good sense.


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