Data & Anecdotes Abound: More People Are Biking in Arlington

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Henry Dunbar Tweet Us @BikeArlington@BikeArlington November 15, 2017

Henry Dunbar is the Director of Operations for Active Transportation. He is a year-round bike commuter and wants to make it easy for everyone to get around by whatever mode they choose, except driving alone which should be harder.

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New data—and a multitude of other signs—show growing bike culture in Arlington.

Cultural shifts happen slowly, but when they become apparent, signs are everywhere. Thus was the case when last month the Census Bureau released its 2016 American Community Survey results, and Arlington’s Bicycle Commute Mode Share was revealed to be 2.4%. This represents a three-fold increase in people riding their bikes to work when compared to 2009. Bike Commute mode share is one of the more important benchmarks used by the League of American Bicyclists during its evaluation of Bicycle Friendly Communities.

Arlington is currently a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community and has been striving for gold since 2007. Mode share was noted as an area in need of improvement, so the statistical increase is welcome. However, informal feedback from reviews of Arlington’s 2015 Bicycle Friendly Application said they didn’t feel they could bump us up to Gold for another reason: They didn’t see the anecdotal evidence of a Bike Culture as they rode around and reviewed our county.

Much has happened since the 2015 review, and along with the new mode share peak, I’ve noticed many things in the past few months that indicate a shift is occurring. They include:

1. More schools are asking for bike racks.

Since the start of the school year, our office has received or be copied on several requests from APS staff and different schools asking if we could help them secure more bike racks. This is the first time in my three years here that we’ve had more than one request.

2. More people are using Bikeshare.

Capital Bikeshare trips in Arlington have increased 13.5% in 2017 over 2016 through the end of September. We’ve already had four months with more than 30,000 trips in 2017, while only having topped that mark twice in the previous six years.

3. More bike meet ups are happening.

As my colleague Erin Potter noted in her Coffee Club blog, you can do this any day of the week in and around Arlington. And Freezing Saddles, a winter bike riding competition that attracts over 250 riders, is about to kick off. And community and bike shop-organized rides are abundant.

4. Arlington elected officials show up to meetings on a bike.

Not because it’s about bikes, or because we set it up, but just because it was the option that made sense to them. This has happened more than a few times in the past few months, notably with County Board member Katie Cristol and School Board Member Nancy Van Doren.

5. Sometimes it’s hard to park.

I regularly attend meetings at the County offices at Courthouse Plaza and have had to search for a place to park because the visitor racks by the door have been full during the day.

6. Waiting at a light with other people on bikes.

During a normal commute, it is now rare that I’m alone in the bike lane on any given block. But it’s even happening on dreary days. On a recent cold, drizzly Friday, when I thought for sure I would be the only one dumb enough to be out on a bike (which was always the case a couple of years ago), I suddenly found myself in a small 3-rider pack grinding up Wilson Boulevard. And it was bliss.

Working Towards Gold

We are by no means where we want to be as a bike-friendly county. By comparison, Cambridge, MA, the only Gold-level Bike Friendly city east of the Mississippi River has 6.1% bike commute mode share in 2016. But as we continue to work on updating the Bicycle Elements of Arlington’s Master Transportation Plan and build out the low-stress network of trails and protected bike lanes, it is encouraging to see signs that the culture of biking is changing and growing in Arlington.

Did we miss any changes you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments!

  • Steve says:

    I ride through party of Arlington on my commute to and from work. I love the bike lanes, but there are a couple challenges. In many places there are tree branches almost down to handle bar height and while I love the lanes inside the parked cars, the street sweepers don’t seem to go back there to clean and there is a lot of grime in the lanes. Also cars turning right almost never look at the bike lanes before turning when there are cars parked. Even with all of that, I still love that you’ve put them in and I use them daily.


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