Posted Thursday, Feb. 03, 2011
By Susan Schrock
ARLINGTON -- While many residents say they support Arlington's efforts to promote recreational and commuter cycling, others oppose the city's plans to kick cars off 37 miles of traffic lanes to make way for bikes.
The Arlington Planning and Zoning Commission is set to reopen a public hearing today on a proposed Thoroughfare Development Plan and Hike and Bike Master Plan that will map out the city's transportation and recreation goals for the next 30 years, adding more than 100 miles of bike lanes on city streets.
City leaders say the current thoroughfare plan hasn't been significantly updated since the 1990s and no longer reflects the projected population's needs. The proposed plans would save the city millions of dollars in road construction and maintenance costs by recommending fewer new roads and lane expansions while adding amenities, such as on-street bike lanes, aimed at making Arlington safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
"We really don't have a bike-friendly community," said resident Pam Dawson, who added that she began cycling from central Arlington to River Legacy Parks last year as a stress reliever. "Bikes aren't going away. The city needs to change."
The commission could vote today to recommend approval or rejection to the City Council. The meeting was scheduled for Wednesday but was postponed because of inclement weather.
Other residents oppose narrowing streets for bike lanes and question whether the demand exists to justify the cost.
"There are roads in Arlington that need work. We are talking about throwing money at stripes and signs. Let's take care of the roads we have," resident P.J. Lockwood said.
This is the first time the city's thoroughfare plan strategically incorporates amenities for cyclists and pedestrians.
City leaders say improvements such as sidewalks and bike lanes can help take cars off the road and improve air quality, promote exercise, increase home values and make Arlington more attractive to investors.
Arlington does not have many cycling amenities. According to a recent public survey, 69 percent of respondents rated bicycling conditions in the city as "poor."
The city has only two miles of on-street bike lanes. The master plan calls for creating a 110-mile network of striped bike lanes on roads throughout the city that would connect cyclists to key destinations, such as parks.
Besides designated lanes, the plan also calls for 56 miles of paved shoulders, wide outside lanes and other improvements designed to make it safer for cyclists. By law, cyclists have just as much right to use the road as motorists, but the city could do more to make the shared paths safer, said Alicia Winkelblech, the city's chief transportation planning manager.
"Most cars are skittish around cyclists. When we put a designated facilities in place, the cars know exactly where the cyclists will be, the cyclists will know where to be, and you create a safer environment for everyone," she said.
One recommendation is to convert 37 lane miles designated for vehicles to bicycle routes. For example, a four-lane undivided roadway could be changed into a two-lane road with a center turn lane and designated bicycle lanes, Winkelblech said.
Mitchell Street between Fielder Road and Mary Street near downtown Arlington is one area where the city proposes a conversion to bike lanes. "We are talking about a very minute portion of the 1,200 existing lane miles in the city that we might want to convert for bicycle lanes," Winkelblech said.
Opponents included the Arlington Board of Realtors and Save Our Streets, a group of residents and business owners primarily downtown. Many streets between Green Oaks Boulevard and Randol Mill Road have wide enough lanes to be narrowed and restriped to include outer bike lanes, city officials said. Other roads, such as Center Street near Park Row Drive, could have new bike lanes constructed.
The hike-and-bike plan also calls for increasing Arlington's 30 miles of off-street bike trails to 148 miles.
The existing thoroughfare plan would cost the city $363 million if all 1,548 miles of road projects were built. The proposed plan, which deems 132 miles of planned roadways unnecessary, would cost the city $130 million less.
"We're not proposing to rip up any existing concrete or asphalt," Winkelblech said. "We are recommending we only go out there and build the roadways that are necessary."
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639