FAIRFAX TRANSPORTATION

Braving Tysons Corner on a Bicycle Seat

Members of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling and Fairfax County officials pause after crossing Route 7.
Members of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling and Fairfax County officials pause after crossing Route 7. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 22, 2007

"BEEEEEEEP!"

The impatient driver leaving Moore Cadillac on Leesburg Pike yesterday morning had little use for the score of cyclists pedaling up the service road on a tour to find out if it is difficult to ride through Tysons Corner.

Their conclusion? Duh.

Traffic zoomed past at 50 mph. Highway noise and exhaust filled the air. Gaping potholes threatened.

"This is all just kind of terrible right here on Route 7," warned Bruce Wright, chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, who led county officials on a two-wheeled tour of Tysons yesterday to show where bikes can go, where they can't and what Fairfax County could do to make the region's largest employment center more bicycle-friendly.

Tysons is a canyon of suburban-style office towers, shopping malls and parking lots. It is disconnected from nearby McLean and Vienna by massive highways that cut through it, the Capital Beltway and the Dulles Toll Road. And it is the scene, every rush hour, of the region's most maddening bottleneck, a sea of thousands of red brake lights that overwhelm its two main thoroughfares, Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge Road.

"I never see bikers," said Eric Somuah, 29, a salesman at HBL of Tysons, a car dealer that sells Audis, Porsches, Aston Martins and Mercedes-Benzes along Leesburg Pike. Somuah was preparing for the day by tying a bunch of bright balloons to the front grille of a Porsche when the bicycles streamed by.

"Let's go! Let's go!" barked Dennis Frew of McLean over the din of traffic. A retired Navy patent lawyer and a member of the cycling group that put on the tour, Frew urged riders to cross Route 7 quickly because the signal was so short. "This is the worst part of the ride right here," he said.

Fairfax is poised to reinvent Tysons over the coming decade, and bicycles could be a part of it. Work begins this summer on an extension of Metrorail with four Tysons stations -- all with places to keep bicycles and none with parking garages. And several large-scale property owners in Tysons are planning major developments that will cluster high-density residences, as well as shopping and office space, around the new stations.

Walking and biking must be part of the plan, planners and advocates say. Leesburg Pike and Gallows Road need dedicated bicycle lanes, they say, as does Jones Branch Road, a pastoral boulevard that meanders along sprawling office parks in the northeast corner of Tysons. And the bridge across Chain Bridge Road that connects Tysons Corner Center with Tysons Galleria to the north.

Fairfax is more committed than ever to that goal, its leaders say. Kathy Ichter, director of the county's Transportation Department, rode along yesterday. Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), whose district includes part of Tysons, showed up at the start of the ride. A couple of county planning commissioners also joined the group, as did Clark Tyler, chairman of a county task force studying the future of Tysons.

The Board of Supervisors showed its interest last year when it created a new position within the county's Transportation Department with the sole objective of improving bike-ability. Charlie Strunk, who rode along yesterday, will develop a countywide bicycle trail map, identify places in the county where bike lanes and other improvements are warranted and choose a place in the county -- probably Tysons, Dunn Loring or the area around the Vienna Metro station -- to build trails and stripe lanes as a demonstration project.

Still, Strunk's got a long way to go. Fairfax has striped bike lanes along only six roadways, the most recent addition a three-quarter-mile stretch along Old Chesterbrook Road in McLean. Of a $100 million-plus transportation bond proposal that goes to voters in November, only a few million dollars will go toward bicycle lanes -- along Gallows Road from Dunn Loring to Tysons.

And in the meantime, the car dominates. As the cyclists meandered south on Gallows Road back to their starting point at Joyce Kilmer Middle School, a driver slowed at the rear, stuck impatiently behind the line and waiting for a moment to pass. As the last of the cyclists turned off the road, the car peeled out, tires crunching through gravel, its driver finally free.


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