Bike Advocates Press Loudoun for Trail Improvements

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009

When Pat Turner moved to Loudoun County 20 years ago, it was easy to find streets to ride her bike on. The rural roads had few cars and there was room for all.

But as the area mushroomed, with houses and highways springing up almost overnight, the county made few provisions for bike lanes, bike paths or other amenities that would make Loudoun hospitable for cyclists.

Now, as the county works on revising its transportation plan, Turner says it is time to change that. Her advocacy group, BikeLoudoun, is lobbying Loudoun officials to name a bike and pedestrian coordinator who would advocate for cyclists and walkers and oversee the building of a network of bikeways throughout the county.

"Most counties have a bike coordinator," said Turner, who lives in Sterling, adding that she tried pushing for something similar 15 years ago when Loudoun's rapid growth began.

"Back then, it wasn't getting traction. Loudoun hadn't experienced the growth at the time, and they were still in this rural mindset like, 'Gee, we don't need anything like that.' "

Now people feel differently, she said, adding that in recent county surveys, residents have called for increased bicycle and pedestrian access.

Although some housing developments have paths for bikes and pedestrians, they tend to be contained within the development and "don't go anywhere," Turner said. And while a recent rule requires that new roads built by the Virginia Department of Transportation include more accommodation for cyclists and pedestrians, existing roads generally do not have bike lanes, bike paths or wide shoulders, she said.

The current Board of Supervisors is more "bike friendly" than an earlier board was, Turner said. Still, she said, she was worried that during an economic downturn the county would not allocate money for a bike coordinator.

County Supervisor Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac), who serves on the board's Transportation/Land Use Committee, was more optimistic.

"I think it's a critical piece of going forward in Loudoun County," she said. Noting that there had been two pedestrian fatalities in the same spot on Algonkian Parkway, she said, "We've grown quickly, and these are some hot spots that are being addressed."

Along with safety, she said, adding bike and pedestrian paths makes economic sense. "Not everyone is rich," she said. "People who are suffering financially, they need to have different ways to get around."

McGimsey and Turner touted the heavily used 49-mile W&OD Trail, which has a Loudoun segment, and said it could be enhanced with additional trails. Employees of businesses near the trail such as AOL and Orbital would be able to bike to work.

The impetus for better bike access, McGimsey said, has come from residents at community outreach sessions. "One of the top things that we heard in that outreach is that we need better pedestrian and bicycle access," she said, adding, "It's not a politician's idea."

The board is expected to come up with a transportation plan in the next couple of weeks, one that McGimsey hopes will include the bike and pedestrian coordinator.

"I'm very hopeful that the board is going to decide to do that," she said.

Bike path advocates say they hope to link the paths to economic development and tourism. BikeLoudoun, for example, hopes to produce a bicycle map that includes bed-and-breakfast locations.

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