Arlington National Cemetery plans to exclude bicyclists from most of its roads this month to control "whistle-blowing gangs of youths" on bicycles who officials say have been disturbing visitors to the nation's most famous cemetery.
Bicyclists still will be permitted to ride along one route around the cemetery's northern perimeter, a gesture to the more than 50 commuting cyclists who use cemetery roads daily. But several local bicycle groups already have expressed concern about the move. Some bike commuters are unhappy because the only route they would be permitted to use - primarily along Sherman Drive - is the steepest in the hilly cemetery.
The bicycle exclusion was announced in the July 13 Federal Register by the U.S. Army, which operates the cemetery. The notice said "the inconsiderate behavior of some bicyclists, who use cemetery roads for recreational purposes, has created severe problems in the cemetery." The new rule goes into effect in 30 days, unless Congress objects to it, according to cemetery superintendent Raymond Costanzo. Anyone may comment on the proposal during that time.
Costanzo said last week he took the action because he'd received protests from several Gold Star mothers - the mothers of servicemen killed in action - who regularly visit the cemetery. The mothers complained they "have been harassed by gangs of young bikers," Costanzo said. He also received similar letters of protest from retired officers and enlisted men's organizations. He said no one had been injured, but that visitors had been intimidated by the bikers, usually traveling in groups of sometimes a dozen or more, who frequently forced visitors off cemetery roads. He said there have not been complaints about commuting bicyclists or individual bikers.
At present bicyclists are permitted on most cemetery roads during normal cemetery hours, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer and until 5 p.m. from October through March. Cars and buses are prohibited from using cemetery roads, except for relatives of those buried at Arlington who are given permits to drive to grave sites.
Howard Harris, the new president of the Federal Bicycle Council, which represents hundreds of federal employes who commute by bike, said he has asked the Army for more details on the bicycle exclusion. He is concerned that the action may be a prelude to a total ban of bicycles from the scenic cemetery.
Several individual bike commuters hope the Army will consider keeping at least one additional road open to bicyclists, one that offers a less hilly route through the cemetery. Karen Hummer, a writer-editor at the Smithsonian Institution who has been biking to work through the cemetery for two years, takes "an easy route" through the southern part of the cemetery and said she didn't think she could "make it" up Sherman Drive.
Martin Stutsman, a Food and Drug Administration employe and bike commuter, uses the hilly Sherman Drive route but thinks inexperienced bicylists would be deterred by it. Stutsman recently tried to pass out notices of the cemetery's bike plans to other bicycle commuters, but said he was stopped by cemetery police. Stutsman said he was concerned that the bike commuters, bicycle groups and even Arlington County had not been notified of the Army's plans.
One of Arlington's major bicycle commuter routes on bike paths along Rte. 50 (Arlington Boulevard) now dead ends at Fort Myer, which partially surrounds the cemetery. Cyclists are forced onto major high-speed commuter roads during hours when they cannot go through the fort and cemetery.
However, Arlington is expected to build a bypass bike route around the northern edge of the fort and cemetery this fall. The $81,000 bike path already has been funded and now is awaiting state Highway Department approval.
The country also has long-range plans for a southern cemetery bypass bike trail and already has funds for a bicycle-pedestrian bridge over the George Washington Memorial Parkway connecting Rosslyn streets with Roosevelt Island and Roosevelt Bridge, according to the country's chief public works planner Kenneth Hook.
The Park Service is expected to approve the bridge and has plans of its own to extend the George Washington Memorial Parkway bike path from Memorial Bridge to Roosevelt Island. But no changes are expected between Roosevelt Bridge and Spout Run until a highway study of that area is done this year or next, according to Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley.