Thursday, March 31, 2011

Budget testimony before Fairfax Board of Supervisors

Two FABB board members testified at hearings on the 2012 Fairfax County budget. Below is our written testimony. As part of the testimony we asked for better traffic enforcement. I also told the Board about my ride to the hearing along West Ox Road. During the short time I was at the intersection of West Ox and Ox Trail, in front of the Navy School, three motorists blatantly turned right on red without stopping.

Motorists' behavior has become worse in recent years; the next time you pass through a signalized intersection watch the action of most motorists turning right on red. Most don't stop, creating dangerous conditions for cyclists who are using off-road facilities.

We asked for funding for the bike program, which was cut last year and was not restored this year, and we asked for a phasing out of kiss and ride lots at schools. At a time of very limited funds, the school system is spending millions building kiss and ride lots at renovated schools, helping parents drive kids to school who already have a seat on the bus or could walk. We also pay teachers and administrators to direct kiss and ride traffic before and after school.
Fairfax County Budget Public Hearings
Testimony of Bruce Wright, Chairman, Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling
March 29, 2011

My name is Bruce Wright, Chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB) and board member of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Tonight I’d like to discuss three topics that are important for encouraging bicycling in Fairfax County: 1 Funding for the bicycle program, 2. Safe Routes to School, and 3. Better traffic enforcement.

As you know, the county is making progress in this area. The bicycle program office is conducting the countywide bicycle master plan, starting with Tysons. That plan will be coming before you in the near future.

We’re also seeing more people commuting on bikes and we’re hearing from more people who want the option of using bikes for short trips. One thing we heard loud and clear during many of the public meetings on the future of Tysons, including the recent Tysons Metro Access meetings, is that residents want to be able to get around by biking and walking. When Supervisor Foust mentioned the need for bike and ped facilities during a recent Kojo Nnamdi show taping in McLean, he received an enthusiastic round of applause.

We need funds to build the bike facilities people say they want. I am here today to request that funding for the bicycle program be restored. 100% of the bike program operating funds were eliminated last year and significant cuts to the program were made the two prior years. This sends the wrong message to our residents who want safer bike facilities. The county cannot have a "comprehensive bicycle initiative," one of your basic budget priorities, without operating funds.

Kids don’t get enough exercise. Walking and biking to school are easy ways for them to get this exercise, and yet we pay millions for kiss and ride facilities so parents can drive kids who already have a seat on the bus or who live nearby and could walk. We appreciate your support for Safe Routes to School and we hope the School Board does more in the future to spread the word about the benefits of walking and biking to school and the costs we all pay when parents drive kids to school.

We could save thousands of dollars by eliminating some Kiss & Ride lots, money that could be put toward helping kids bike and walk to school. As a taxpayer I resent paying twice for some kids to get to school. As the school transportation head stated in a joint meeting with you in November 2009, "This is lunacy. What we should be doing is putting up barriers for those who drive kids to school." If residents knew the true cost of school kiss and ride lots, I’m confident they would support phasing them out.

Our streets continue to be dangerous places for bicyclists. In 2010 four cyclists lost their lives when struck by motorists. Many drivers no longer stop at stop signs or red lights when turning right, and they regularly exceed the speed limit without negative consequences. We need more traffic enforcement, not less. Not only would compliance increase, but the county would also receive additional revenue.

These concerns are about more than just bicycling; this is an important economic development and quality of life issue for Fairfax County residents. Many potential future employers and residents want to be in vibrant, mixed-use communities served by transit, bicycling, and walking. Developers in Tysons that we’ve talked to get it, and they support walking and biking and having vibrant, people-oriented streets.

One of our FABB members used to live here in Fairfax County across the street from the local elementary school and yet his kids couldn’t walk there. He wanted to live in a bikeable, walkable community but met resistance when trying to overcome some basic obstacles. He now lives in Arlington County with a bike lane in front of his house. Without a funded bicycle program, we’ll fall far behind our neighbors and other communities that want to attract younger families like his.

We've appreciated your support in the past for the Comprehensive Bicycle Initiative and the Safe Routes to School Program so please consider reinstating some operating funds to the bicycle program next year. Thank you.


I don't think you should have said "Our streets continue to be dangerous places for bicyclists." I am a cyclist and I don't agree with that statement. It is inflammatory and not true. Yes, some people have been hurt or killed, and there is a risk, but that statement is just over the top.
Michael, I think many of our streets are dangerous places for most cyclists. Being on the roads in any vehicle is dangerous. As an experienced cyclist I do ride on most roads, but for most people I think riding on many of our streets, especially high speed arterials, can be dangerous.

FABB's goal is to have streets that are safe for riders of all ages, and I think some Fairfax streets are especially dangerous places for most people to ride. I should probably have qualified the statement; many, many residential streets are not dangerous, but most of them do not connect to the rest of the community, forcing cyclists onto high speed arterials without any facilities for cyclists, streets that I don't consider to be safe places for the majority of people who want to ride.
Bruce, I agree with you 100% that our streets in Fairfax County are dangerous for bicyclists. I don't know what the previous commentor was thinking. I frequent the Merrifield area, right off the Gallows Road / Lee Hwy intersection, to patronize the local businesses, which within a very easy bike distance from where I live. Yet I would never bike there and only drive, because there is hardly a safe passable area there by foot or on bicycle. Motor vehicles drive too fast here and do not slow down for pedestrians. I see it over and over again, and it is just a matter of time before someone gets killed there. It is especially true since there are overwhelming traffic conditions here, and with the opening of the Mosaic district in 2012, that will only get worse.
There needs to be designated non-motor vehicle lanes in this area. Ideally there should also be a shared-use bridge over this intersection.
I am a Fairfax County resident and agree that many Fairfax County streets are dangerous for cyclists.
I think what Michael was getting at is that some experienced cyclists, using proper road riding techniques, sometimes referred to as vehicular cycling, can ride confidently on almost any road where bikes are legal, which is just about every road except limited access highways.

I don't disagree with that premise. When I have to I ride on most any road in Fairfax, but I don't think it's safe for many cyclists. I can probably count on two hands the number of people in Fairfax who have ever taken a cycling class. Knowing how to balance on a bike isn't the same as knowing how to ride confidently in traffic.

Anonymous, there are plans for bike lanes on Gallows Road, an extension of the lanes from W&OD Trail to the I-66 bridge. Sidepaths are planned for Lee Hwy/Rt 29/237. Even with bike lanes and sidepaths the Merrifield area will be a challenge for most cyclists. We need to make our streets "complete streets" that are accessible by everyone.

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