With HOT Lanes Must Come Bike Lanes

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Oct. 14 Metro section reported that the Virginia Department of Transportation is teaming with two privately held commercial firms to build high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on Interstate 495 in Virginia. This project will require renovating all of the state's bridges over the Capital Beltway to accommodate the lanes, which are privately run toll roads. I hope that state and local officials remember to also accommodate bicycles over these bridges, which is required under the Fairfax Countywide Trails Plan (part of the county's Comprehensive Plan).

We have made repeated requests to VDOT, Fairfax County and the contractors to determine what bicycle facilities are planned for the renovated bridges. While VDOT has told us that such facilities will be built on all the bridges, without seeing plans we obviously are skeptical of this promise.

Fairfax County has grown from a sleepy jurisdiction of 275,000 people in 1960 to a bustling urban and suburban area today, with a population of more than 1 million, nearly twice the population of the District. Many county residents own bicycles, and people want to cycle to work and to stores and just to get from place to place. As such, they need a safe way to cross the Beltway.

There has been some bike-friendly progress in Virginia. We applaud VDOT for implementing its new Policy for Integrating Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodations. According to this policy, "Effective bicycle and pedestrian accommodations enhance the quality of life and health, strengthen communities, increase safety for all highway users, reduce congestion, and can benefit the environment." Recent fruits of this policy can be seen in the approved plan for the widening of Stringfellow Road, which incorporates on- and off-road facilities for bicyclists. The same policy should apply to the HOT lane plans.

This project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overcome the barrier to bicycle travel in Northern Virginia that I-495 turned out to be. Since 1964, when the Beltway was opened to the public, the river of automobiles flowing along it has been crossed by bridges designed almost exclusively for motor vehicles, severely limiting bicycle travel in an area that has become more densely populated and in need of better connections for non-motorized transportation. We don't want to make the same mistake twice.

To make Fairfax County a livable, bikeable community, we must provide transportation choices for our residents. VDOT and the private developers should be held to the same standards as other developers who are required to build the facilities indicated on the trails plan, including on-road bike lanes on the appropriate bridges.

If Virginia is willing to spend $1.7 billion to move motor vehicles in Northern Virginia, the requirements contained in the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan must be part of this project.

-- Bruce Wright


The writer is chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.

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