Arlington peddles bikes at expense of cars, taxpayers


SHARROW: Giving cyclists equal access to roads is an accident waiting to happen, say skeptics of Arlington’s bike program.

By Kenric Ward | Virginia Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. — 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.

For the greater good?

BIKESHARE: The Capital Bikeshare is adding stations throughout Arlington, and losing more money.

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 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.

Trouble on the Sharrows

Photo by Kathryn Watson

DANGER AHEAD: Without widening roads, Arlington is giving bicyclists equal footing with auto traffic.

The real-world logistics of bicyclists sharing lanes with motor vehicles are not as rosy as Arlington’s plan envisions.

Critics say sharrows allowing cyclers to use the middle of roadways are particularly dangerous. The addition of cramped on-street parking and the narrowing of traffic lanes — all part of the master plan — compound the problem.

The latest accident data from 2011 show an average of 50 bike-vehicle collisions a year. Motorist complaints about single cyclists backing up traffic lanes are on the rise.

“We’re waiting for the first fatality,” Warren sighs.

Meantime, the Arlington Civic Federation, a coalition of local leaders, assails the county for neglecting road repairs while tax dollars are siphoned to a $1 million bus stop, non-existent streetcars and dubious bike projects.

“The county says it wants to ‘move more people without more traffic.’ But their actions show otherwise,” Warren said. “They just want to see what they can get away with.”

Kenric Ward is chief of’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

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