15 Sep 2014
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Making a Difference, One Cyclist at a Time

You need not wait for change at the oft-glacial pace of institutions. You can make a difference tomorrow.

Making a Difference, One Cyclist at a Time

This weekend, I took a risk — I braved the suburban wilds of Fairfax to attend the Fairfax Bike Summit.

All kidding aside, it was encouraging to see so many efforts — from the institutional to the individual — being made to improve cycling in Fairfax. Fairfax County staff talked about the new bike plan, which sets goals for the next decade. A major Tysons developer presented its plans for remaking Tysons in a pedestrian- and bike-friendly area. Heady stuff, to be sure. 

But the most inspiring? Came near the end, when one of the presenters — Fionnuala Quinn of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling — talked about how to bring more individuals into cycling. I’ve long thought that the most important benefits for cycling come through cultural change, and culture is changed one person at a time.

Getting safe cycling into school system education, getting transportation departments to build safe roads — that’s all important. But it often requires a lot of time, patience and the cooperation of large groups to accomplish. So what difference can one person make? Ms. Quinn had the answer for that question, distributing a flier that suggested actions that individuals can take to grow cycling. I'd thought — and written — about a lot of these ideas, but it was fantastic to see them all distilled into one sheet of paper.

So from here on out? I’m taking her flier and linking or slightly modifying it in ways that show people in Arlington that they can make a difference:

  • Be a role model by biking to the store/work/school. 
  • Be a bike buddy to a family member, neighbor, co-worker.
  • Organize an informal group ride.
  • Pay attention to local planning and transportation decisions.
  • Submit bike parking suggestions in local business comment boxes.
  • Attend public meetings and speak up.
  • Support your local, regional and national bike advocacy organizations.
  • Let elected officials know that you care about bike infrastructure.
  • Let schools know that you care about safe biking & bike education.
  • Learn local biking rules and regulations.
  • Especially support teens in your life to stick with biking.
  • Expect good design and give thoughtful input on the built world.
  • Be a self-appointed Fairfax, err, Arlington, Bike Ambassador.

While they’re a part of the puzzle, it’s important to remind ourselves that we don’t need to wait on the Virginia Department of Transportation, Arlington’s transportation department, or anyone else to make a difference.

We can start right now.


Speaking of getting involved, the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee — the original subject of this week’s column, until Fionnuala inspired me — will be meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the first floor conference room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd. The committee will be discussing how better to engage the Arlington public and could use your participation and input.

Are you reading this on Wednesday morning? Afternoon? Who knows. You may have power right now. As I write this, Sandy is bearing down on the East Coast. Metro, VRE, MARC — they've all shut down. But my bike? That's still open.

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

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