(I’m a day behind in my blog. You’ll just have to wait until tomorrow for today’s exciting tale.)
It was a pretty typical Wednesday in March. Temperatures in the 40s in the morning would give rise to violent weather in the evening and overnight. I took what nature gave me and set out on The Mule for a ride to work at sunrise. The sun did not disappoint.
I was in a trance for most of my ride to work. The only notable event occurred when I passed one of the Mount Vernon Trail loonies near the airport. This was the guy who was tossing debris and yelling at the traffic on the adjacent parkway near Belle Haven Park south of Old Town Alexandria on Tuesday. Today, he was walking against traffic and waving an American flag. Henceforth I shall call him The Patriot. Come to think of it he does look a little like Bill Belichick.
The approaching storm front made for much radar monitoring in the afternoon. Work. Radar. Worry. Repeat. About 3 p.m. the ominous cello music began in my head. You could see a thin line of really nasty stuff headed toward DC. (I think we’re gonna need a bigger bike.) I hit the road just before 5 and had only to deal with a headwind mixed with few sprinkles here and there.
After much fast (well, for me anyway) pedaling I pulled into the Mount Vernon government center for a meeting regarding the re-paving and re-striping of Sherwood Hall Lane (SHL), a busy two-lane street that connect US 1 with two other north/south roads, Fort Hunt Road and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
The bike parking was pathetic which pretty much tells you all you need to know about Fairfax County’s attitude toward bicycling. I locked The Mule to the post of a parking sign and went inside.
The room was half full but became packed within an hour. Mount Vernon has the highest percentage of retirees in Fairfax County and most of them seemed to be in attendance. Tables showed maps of the proposals, all of which included bike lanes on both sides of the proposed re-striped SHL. According to Charlie Strunk, Fairfax County’s bicycle coordinator, the bike lanes are part of the Fairfax County Bicycle Master Plan and are paid for out of the county bicycling budget. The road varies in width so some sections have parking on both sides, some have a middle turn lane and parking on both sides, and some have either the middle turn lane or parking on both sides of the road.
The VDOT and Fairfax County folks in charge of the project gave a presentation about what they were doing. SHL gets repaved every ten years. The re-striping is intended as a traffic calming strategy needed for three reasons:
Police and local politicians had identified numerous safety concerns
The road is very wide which results in frequent speeding
Traffic volume has increased because US 1 is gridlocked during rush hour and on weekends. This gridlock is caused by the extensive residential development and an increase in commuters to Fort Belvoir to the south.
During and after the presentation, citizens commented and asked questions. It was interesting to see how many people feel that parking in front of their house is an entitlement, even though most of them have access to on-street parking a few yards away on a side street. Some of the audience remarks were snarky, some procedural (this is DC, afterall), a few were downright inane (“Why do you need two bike lanes?), and some were thoughtful. My favorite was this one:
“A man on PCP drove up on my neighbors lawn. If she had been in her front yard, she could have been killed! We need that parking lane as a buffer!!”
What I was pleasantly surprised by was the number of people from the bicycling community including my neighbor and fellow blogging bike commuter and Friday Coffee Club attendee Jeff who showed up in support of the bike lanes. There were three or four people from Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB). A bike commuter (She’s fast. She passes me every day.) who is a member of Potomac Pedalers spoke respectfully about the need for the bike lane for bike commuters and club rides.
Some children from Hollin Meadows School were the icing on the cake. They read a statement that explain how they wanted to be able to walk to school. They need a crosswalk and a traffic signal to do so. (Go kids!)
Shortly thereafter a homeowner said that he opposed a traffic light because it would lower his property value. That’s when I kind of lost my introversion and spoke up.
“Thank you for making these changes. I am not a member of Potomac Pedalers. I own three cars. I ride my bike to work every day and to use it to do errands on the weekends. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be able to do so safely in my neighborhood. Secondly, 23 months ago at noon on a crystal clear day, my wife had the audacity to walk across Sherwood Hall Lane. She was run over by an SUV. Frankly, I care a whole lot more about safety than about property values.”
Jeff gave me a you-done-good nod. Then he spoke. It turns out his kids go to Hollin Meadows too.
A couple other concerned bicyclists approached me. One took my contact information for a followup meeting of the Mount Vernon Bicycle Advocacy Cabal.
A reporter asked me for my information as well. (If somebody sees my name in a story, please let me know.)
The project team agreed to extend the period of public comment for one week. My guess is that they will swap some turn lanes for parking but the bike lanes will stay. Time will tell.
I walked out into the cold, dark, windy night. The temperature had dropped about twenty degrees and the wind was roaring. Thankfully, I had only ½ mile to go before home. I made it in a breeze.
Observation: Sunrises are a drug.
Category: Community Meeting
Observation: Thanks to the people who spoke up about the bicycle lanes at the meeting. My guess is that there were about 10 people who spoke up for bicycle and pedestrian issues.