Alexandria – A Bicycle Ambivalent City

I am not one to get involved in bicycle advocacy. I am not good at it and feel uncomfortable doing it. Every once in a while I go to a meeting and speak my mind. Tonight on the way home from work I met two bike advocates from the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. They were handing out materials along the Mount Vernon Trail just north of Old Town.

Randy and Erin of ABPAC
Randy and Erin of ABPAC

They gave me a couple of handouts. One was a plea to cyclists not to blow through stop signs in Old Town. I whole hearted agree with this, although I do think that Old Town overuses stops signs which invites cyclists and drivers to disregard them much as drivers once tuned out the national 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. A few yield signs would not harm pedestrian safety.

Speaking of yield, the handouts would have been more credible if they had not spelled yield as YEILD (in caps). Ugh.

The handouts also suggest using Royal Street as a north/south route through Old Town to avoid congestion. When I head north to work in the morning, I avoid Royal Street for a number of reasons:

  1. To get to South Royal, I have to make a sharp left turn after some bollards at the base of a hill to go under the Wilson Bridge. Also, I have to avoid curbs that are excessively large and perform no apparent useful purpose. In the dark or shade, they are hard to see.
  2. Once I cross under the Wilson Bridge I have to ride up on the sidewalk to follow the trail around a security gate. The sidewalk has a bollard in it, because “In Bollards We Trust” is the official motto of the Wilson Bridge design team.
  3. After the bollard the trail goes back to the street via a curb cut. In the morning this is the end of the drop off line for St. Mary of the Holy SUV School. Kids are getting out of cars, carline helpers are directing them and the SUVs> It’s just a recipe for somebody getting nailed.
  4. Once I clear that mess and get on South Royal I have to deal with a back up of SUVs (and a few mnivans and BMWs). The drivers are in a hurry to get to work and are spread all over the street making biking unsafe. (Not to put too fine a point on it but whoever thought this was a good idea is an idiot.)
  5. The alternative on Union Street involves no sharp turn after the bollards allowing me to maintain speed from the downhill.
  6. The ride under the bridge and over to Union Street is pretty and one of the nicest stretches of the Mount Vernon Trail.
  7. Unlike Royal Street, Union has no traffic, no traffic lights, and only a handful of stop signs. (It does have the occassional speeding car but Alexandria police can’t be bothered with cars in Old Town for some reason.)
  8. You get to see the river and sunrises and the occassional famous person.

In the evening Union vs. Royal is a toss up. On the weekends I prefer Royal because King and Union can be a mess of humanity.

I tried to use the interactive map the city provides for comments but it was not very useful. A good try but no cigar. I tried to send ABPAC an email but alas gmail says the email address they provided me is no good. (Update Sept. 18: my email finally did go through. I have no idea what the problem was. If you have a comment, pet peeve or praise, send it to ABPAC or the city government. They hear from grabby Old Town residents all the time. I am sure they’d love to hear from you.)

Alexandrians who don’t ride bicycles don’t get the concept of riding for basic transportation. They just don’t. And the city officials still don’t. Here are two simple examples. In the 400 block of North Union, homeowners often park their cars perpendicular to the curb so that other parkers do not block their driveways. Sometimes these perpendicular cars block the sidewalk. More often they obstruct the bike lane cause cyclists to merge with car traffic that is not expected them. I have never (and I am talking about over 20 years) seen a ticket on one of these cars. This tells the homeowners that the city condones obstructing the bike lane; that bicycles are second-class.

Approaching 406 South Union Street
Approaching 406 North Union Street

In the 200 block of North Union Street is one of the first sharrows in the city. It is placed on the right of the road, directing cyclists into parked cars. You’d think that after ten years the city would get rid of it.  I like to think of it as a monument to Alexandria’s official ambivalence to cycling.

For these reasons and more I think the League of American Cyclist should take away Alexandria’s Bicycle Friendly City award and replace it with its first Bicycle Ambivalent City Award.

I think progress in Alexandria will continue to be slow and sometimes frustrating but I applaud Randy and Erin for their efforts today. I really do. If you want to help, you can check out the city’s bike ped plan at http://www.alexandriava.gov/pedbikeplan or atttend the public meeting at the Minnie Howard School Library ay 3801 West Braddock Road on September 30 at 7 pm. Ironically, the school is located in one of the least bike friendly parts of town.

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9 thoughts on “Alexandria – A Bicycle Ambivalent City

    1. All I was trying to do was provide comments. That’s words. I don’t need a map. I ride the route I was talking about 300 times a year. If the people on the Alexandria government end aren’t familiar with the Wilson Bridge, Union, King or Royal Streets we have a BIG problem. A simple first step to solving these problems: the responsible people should get on a bike an ride from the Washington Street deck to King Street via S Royal at 7:30. The Union Street issues are there every evening. If an eight year old can’t safely ride it, there is a problem.

  1. I saw that table just past the wooden bridge last night, but I had some decent momentum coming off the bridge and didn’t feel like stopping. I would have told them they could try fixing the top of that same hill where they were located. The sidewalk there is a joke and so I see people walking, cycling, running, etc on the street the wrong way.

    I usually take Royal both ways and come from the same area as you, albeit I tend to enter the MVT by Belle View rather than further down (sometimes I cross at Tulane). All the issues you identified are right. If they prefer I come to a complete foot down stop at every stop sign, that’s fine, then I will just take Washington Street, which will drove them nuts even more.

    It would have been nice if they connected around the security gate on both sides or at least left room on the left or right of it for a bicycle to easily fit by. The bollards, while annoying, don’t bother me too much. It’s the occasional rock sitting there on that sharp left that has me convinced I’m going to take a nasty fall. The reason I don’t like Union is I hate the section of path from the train tracks over to the power plant, find it’s usually crowded with tourists, and I’ve had a few close calls with people pulling out of those parking garages and pretending like I’m invisible.

    As for the Alexandria’s suggestion on stop signs, if they mean full foot down stops then I’ll just take Washington Street. I’m sure they would love that.

    1. Please send your comments to ABPAC. The email address seems to be working now. I agree that the MVT Slaters Lane area is pathetic. If you want to go riding on Washington Street I must warn you that you may incur the wrath of Mrs Rootchopper. Then again, I may incur the wrath of Mrs Rootchopper 🙂

  2. I may also incur the wrath of my own wife, but I wouldn’t be above doing it to make a point to city or county officials. I enjoy taking Wisconsin Ave in spite of the DC Council :).

    Will shoot them an e-mail. Even some of those minor fixes would be great. But I won’t even bother crossing my fingers knowing how long a shot they are.

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