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Virginia county's bike program spends millions, clogs traffic

Snow in Northern Virginia didn't help Capital Bikeshare ridership.
Snow in Northern Virginia didn't help Capital Bikeshare ridership.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Northern Virginia county of Arlington wants to get people out of their cars and onto bicycles, but the swap is costing millions of dollars — and making traffic more dangerous.

Via a “Complete Streets” initiative, local planners are instituting “sharrows” for cyclists to share roads with motorists.

“The county sees itself as a model for ‘livability and sustainability. In reality, it’s creating unsafe situations,” said Joe Warren, a member of Arlington’s Transportation Advisory Committee.

He charges that the county is pressing ahead without proper traffic studies.

Arlington’s Master Transportation Plan states: “Our thoroughfares will bring people and communities together, rather than separating them. They will not be designed to speed traffic through the county.”

The goal? Enable Arlington togrow without having to increase road capacity.”

The county’s plan envisions benefiting “the greatest number of people and to maximize return on investment.”

Neither of those objectives is being reached by bike.

The county has dedicated more than $12 million in capital spending for bicycle projects through 2019. It’s earmarking millions more for the Capital Bikeshare program that rents out bicycles.

But Warren, a cyclist himself, said bike ridership in Arlington remains “infinitesimally small.”

A survey of Capital Bikeshare users found that 42 percent would take a bus or Metro if the service were not available.

“There’s very little diversion (of car traffic),” Warren told Watchdog.org. He called the county’s multimillion-dollar bike adventure “a tax on everyone else.”

Bikeshare’s Arlington branch forecasts that its $304,356 operating deficit in 2013 will more than double to $687,230 by 2018.

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