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Bike Culture: It Takes a Village . . .

Or in Arlington's case, a county.

Wednesday, in a Rosslyn conference room, people from organizations and county government offices across Arlington gathered together to focus on a common issue: improving Arlington’s “bike culture.” 

This column has touched on before, and the composition of the group that met in Rosslyn reflected an understanding of that challenge.

Bike culture isn’t more bike lanes – otherwise Arlington County’s transportation engineers could manage it alone. Nor is it simply better law enforcement – if it were, an Arlington County Police Department task force could handle it. It’s not even the challenging matter of getting more kids on bikes and keeping that interest as they grow – something Arlington Public Schools could handle. It’s all of these things – and much, much more.

The recognition that cycling plays a role in Arlington’s bigger picture – the one that values keeping Arlington a safe and enjoyable place to live, even as we grow – is something that is slowly making its way beyond the traditional bounds of cycling advocacy. In addition to expected groups mentioned above, representatives from the Crystal City and Rosslyn business improvement districts, the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service, and private businesses were on hand.

All of the organizations in attendance have long acknowledged a stake in making Arlington an attractive place to live and work. However, many of them are just now coming to realize that cycling can play a role in advancing that goal. Being able to get on a Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) bike to see Arlington and DC at the end of the day makes Arlington a more attractive destination for convention goers. The increased foot traffic brought by making Clarendon safer and more accessible for customers arriving by bike improves the prospects of its retailers. Simply put, cycling has tangible benefits for nearly everyone. 

Cycling advocates have certainly made these claims before, but it was often to an audience that politely listened and then went on about their own business. In Arlington, those audiences are now turning into cycling advocates themselves. They’ve come to the realization that what’s good for cycling is often good for them.

Building a bike culture is a long-term effort. These meetings will continue and are sure to evolve, with specific organizations focusing on certain aspects of the big picture. These specialized efforts, in sum, will play an essential role in improving cycling in Arlington. And as in so many other aspects of our Arlington community, the improvement of the common good will also improve our individual lives.

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Next week I’ll talk about some of the specific suggestions and ideas brought up at the meeting, from Arlington transportation director Dennis Leach’s desire to make cycling a “mainstream mode” of transportation to the League of American Bicyclist’s President Andy Clarke pushing for “transformational” initiatives.

Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, President of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor. 

Geof Gee January 30, 2012 at 03:09 AM
From my casual observation, discussions about bike culture are really good at motivating bicycling's base but largely divisive elsewhere. If common sense, incremental approaches has largely turned "audiences into cycling advocates for themselves" it would seem to be a good strategy to continue. Moreover, there are lots of improvements focused on building strong neighborhoods and communities that benefit a larger audience that would also be very good for bicyclists and pedestrians of all flavors. Simply based on our anecdotes, you and I are both well aware of the labels used to describe bicycle advocates. Most of them are pretty weak, in my opinion, but we can use them in pursuit of stronger communities. For instance, when people talk about ticketing scofflaw cyclists, I always agree and follow up that we should ticket all moving vehicles that speed, roll through stop signs, and so on. Washington Blvd. would be an easier ride for most people if cars were really going 30 mph or less. (If we gave everyone a 15% cushion, we could accept 35 mph or less ... no?) Just to be clear, I do think that there are cycling specific things we should pursue.

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