The Road Best Traveled

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cycling across Tysons Corner has been described as more dangerous than traveling from the Baghdad airport to the Green Zone. The same story unwinds across Fairfax County: Along Braddock Road, Lee Highway, Huntsman Boulevard and many other thoroughfares, cyclists put their lives in jeopardy trying to share the road with fast-moving traffic.

Fairfax leaders and cycling advocates want to give cyclists a break, and their biggest accomplishment to date debuts tomorrow: a bicycling map of the county.

It might not sound like much, but the map's publication caps more than a year of work to develop safe and straightforward routes crisscrossing Fairfax. It also coincides with Bike to Work Day, a national effort to encourage commuters to save gas and get some exercise. In Fairfax, two-wheeled commuters can stop at any one of six pit stops during the day for snacks, drinks, free bicycle tuneups and prizes.

They can also pick up a free map.

"What it's going to do is allow people to find routes that allow them to get around the county," said Bruce Wright, who heads Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.

The map will be valuable to the hundreds of cyclists each year who call Wright or the county wanting to know how to get from their houses to work, he said. It will also serve as the first step in identifying where routes can be improved and where facilities can be built.

The county's commitment to improving bike facilities began nearly two years ago, when the government hired a full-time coordinator to develop the map and figure out how to make cycling safer, easier and more fun. Charlie Strunk, a longtime county employee who took the job, has focused on the map the past year.

"There was a lot of work that went into it," he said. "A lot of people think you put a line on the map and call it a day, but there's a lot of data collection. We surveyed over 1,000 miles of roadway."

The map features two types of bicycle routes: preferred and not preferred. The point was to identify how to get from point A to point B in ways that are easy, enjoyable and safe, Strunk said. The map plots a route, for example, from the Braddock District to Fairfax City without requiring a ride along busy Little River Turnpike. Similarly, it plots a route from the Vienna-Fairfax Metro station to George Mason University that takes advantage of a paved path connecting Five Oaks Road and Plantation Parkway.

"Those paved connectors are really important," Wright said. "That's one of the bigger values of the map. If you didn't know, you would see a sign that says, 'No Outlet.' "

The map was produced by Toole Design Group in Hyattsville, and it cost the county about $150,000. About 30,000 copies will be printed this year and will be available at the government center, the county's nine district offices and bicycle shops across the region, Strunk said.

Wright said the map has its limitations: As a first edition, it undoubtedly will contain errors. He encouraged users to contact the county about mistakes so future editions could be more accurate.

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