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Fairfax wants millions more to push bikes, pedestrians

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Like its next-door neighbor in Arlington, Fairfax County has grand visions for alternative transportation, and planners want to spend millions more taxpayer dollars to get there.

A proposed $100 million transit referendum earmarks $85 million for new bikeways and pedestrian paths. The outlays come on top of more than $200 million in bike-ped projects already approved.

“This doesn’t make any more sense than a $1 million bus stop,” Supervisor Pet Herrity said, referring to Arlington’s notorious “Super Stops.”

One of the more controversial pieces isn’t even in the $85 million package. A $92 million overpass spanning the Dulles Toll Road reserves more than 35 feet of the 59-foot-wide bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Referendum supporters say transportation funds, including a host of new taxes approved by the General Assembly last year, are not enough to meet the biking and walking needs of Virginia’s most populous county.

Cyclists seek more room to pedal, and environmentalists want more vehicles off the roads.

Bruce Wright, chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, urged the county last month to hire additional full-time staff to push travel by bike.

“More people are looking for ways to get around using active transportation and relying less on cars,” Wright said.

Herrity said he supports “reasonable bicycling projects,” but he told Watchdog.org the county’s plan is a bridge too far.

“We’re looking to spend more than we can possibly utilize,” he said, pointing to plans for a 10-foot pathway near the Lorton landfill. “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”

Other questionable ventures already in the pipeline include:

  • A half-mile walkway along Soapstone Drive in Hunter Mill (price: $1.2 million).
  • Completing “missing links” alongside Sleepy Hollow Road ($4.3 million over a distance of less than five miles).

Even some cycling enthusiasts are skeptical.

“Bike lanes (between roadways and curbs) become debris collectors,” said Dan Lehman, a member of the Potomac Pedalers club.

Because acquiring rights-of-way for freestanding bike paths would be even more expensive, the county plans for more road sharing.

But proposed “Sharrows” — where cars and bikes are directed to use the same traffic lanes — can be flat-out dangerous.

“They create road rage of a different kind,” Lehman observed.

Approaching a June 3 board vote on whether to put the $100 million referendum on the ballot, Fairfax’s 10 supervisors have sent mixed signals in the face of growing public criticism.

“There might be a different proposal by then,” Herrity predicted.

County officials couldn’t immediately provide distance data to determine the per-mile costs of the proposed bike-ped projects. Current usage figures also were not available.

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