Inaugural community bike summit held at Mason

(Photo courtesy of Frank Muraca)
(Photo courtesy of Frank Muraca)

Bicyclists and transportation professionals held an inaugural summit at George Mason University to discuss ongoing projects and issues relating to bicycling in Fairfax County.

The Fairfax Bike Summit, sponsored by Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, Mason, and Fairfax County, was held in the Hub on Oct. 27.

Attendees received presentations on progress of different bicycling projects across the county, including improvements to bike path connectivity in Tysons, the county’s plan to improve bicycling infrastructure, and ways to get involved in the bicycling community. They also heard presentations on how other communities are changing their communities to be more bicycle-friendly and what Fairfax can learn from them.

Bruce Wright, chairman of FABB, said he was impressed by what Mason has done to promote bicycling on campus, citing the new Patriot Bikeshare and the plans for a Mason-to-Metro bike path.

“Mason is doing lots of good things for cyclists,” said Wright.

Tyler Orton, bicycle program manager for the Office of Sustainability at Mason, said that the university has been actively working to make bicycling easier on campus.

According to Orton, Mason has nearly reached maximum capacity for bike rack space, and will be adding many more in the near future. Additionally, the university now requires new construction to consider bicyclists when planning construction.

“Any new construction has to accommodate all forms of transportation,” said Orton.

Apart from progress at Mason, one of the key goals of the summit was to promote the Fairfax County Bicycling Master Plan, which was first approved to be created in 2005.  

“The purpose of this plan is to establish a system of on and off roads that will serve as a bicycle transportation network in Fairfax County,” read a summary of the master plan. “Included in that network will be a wide range of specific improvements that are needed to accommodate and encourage bicycling within and between the County’s.”

“We’re pretty behind the curve in terms of where we need to be in bicycling,” said Tom Biesiadny, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. “We’re a big county. Improvements are incremental.”

Biesdiadny presented a draft of the county’s master plan at the summit.

“We are trying to meet the needs of cyclists today, but also addressing bicyclists in the future,” Biesiadny said. One example of this is an agreement between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Fairfax County, to look at ways to install designated bike lanes when VDOT repaves roads.

Biesiadny said this was a significant step in improving bicycle connectivity in the county.

“[VDOT] used the same standards in Fairfax County that they used in places like Wise County and Culpepper County,” Biesiadny said.

Biesdiadny pointed out some key differences between Fairfax and other counties in Virginia, such as population changes and different urban characteristics. 

“We can’t use the same one-size-fits all standard,” Biesiadny said.  

Wright believes that the master plan is a step in the right direction when it comes to improving safety and ease of bicycling in the county.

“Our biggest problem is our big roads and a lack of connectivity,” Wright said.

Wright said that there is more to cycling advocacy than simply pushing for more bike racks and paths.

“It’s really a mindset change rather than more infrastructure,” said Wright, emphasizing the need for more education and promotion of cycling as an alternative to automobile transportation.

The first phase of the plan, which focuses on improving bicycling systems in Tysons, was completed in May 2011. Phase II of the plan, which will focus on the rest of the county, is now underway.

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