There are more bike racks along Wilson Boulevard. Lanes have been re-striped in more bike-friendly designs. And Arlington’s multi-user trails have seen better maintenance. These recent improvements haven’t happened on their own. Arlington County staffers deserve real credit for working hard on these details that make this a more cycling-friendly place. The truth, however, is that Arlington’s own citizens are the ultimate motivator of these efforts. And any citizen who wants to can have a voice in the process.
Cycling advocacy takes many forms in Arlington. First and foremost – there are the individual actions taken every day. They range from asking a store manager to move a bike rack so more bikes can fit around it to taking the time to let the County Board know that cycling issues are important. While these actions are usually small on their own, they add up. Moreover, they form the basis of one of the most effective forms of cycling advocacy – creating a culture in which cycling for transportation is viewed as a legitimate choice for anyone.
It is, however, rare that an individual effort results in the big infrastructure changes that are necessary to make cycling safe and accessible to everyone. Harnessing the power of the many is why groups such as the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) came into existence. While WABA has been the primary advocacy organization in many area localities over the years, in Arlington it has acted more as a regional partner to Arlington’s existing advocates.
Arlington has long been home to cycling advocacy efforts - check out this photo of the opening of the “Four Mile Run bicycle path” in 1967. Arlington’s advocates have generally had a very good relationship with Arlington County, and the current Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) is the result of that partnership. Randy Swart, who has been advocating on behalf of cyclists in Arlington since the 70s, says that "we really got active when Charlie Martin organized us in the early 1980's. The County was receptive, and established the Bicycle Advisory Committee for regular input." The BAC has been in continuous operation since then, and serves as the primary conduit for citizen feedback to Arlington County on cycling issues.
The BAC meets monthly to review and comment on Arlington County projects that will have an impact on cycling in Arlington. While their recommendations aren’t binding, Arlington County staff have regularly modified and revised county plans in response to input gathered through the committee. Every BAC meeting is open to the public, and meeting summaries are posted at the BikeArlington site. The next BAC meeting – at 6:30p, Monday, March 7 at the Central Library – is geared specifically to making more people aware of the role that the BAC play in addressing the concerns of cyclists in Arlington.
Interested getting involved with the BAC? Check out the flyer (linked above) for the next meeting: "From Abroad to Arlington: Can European Cycling Lessons Be Applied Here? Join us for a short film and discussion!"
Can’t make it to a BAC meeting? Lots of discussion about Arlington cycling issues takes place at the BikeArlington forums, and issues raised there are often raised during BAC meetings.