A citizens advisory committee is working on a plan to create a countywide network of bicycle and pedestrian paths to connect residents with parks, schools, jobs, shopping areas and open space, and to reduce automobile use.
Proponents say many of Loudoun residents' daily trips are within biking or walking distance. Yet the 2000 Census said only 0.12 percent of the county's 200,000 residents commute to work by bike and only 1.23 percent walk to work.
The Board of Supervisors appointed the committee in July to develop a master plan for bicycle and pedestrian mobility. It's part of the revised countywide transportation plan that calls for improving transportation safety and efficiency, reducing the number of vehicles on roads and the length of their trips and encouraging use of public transit and other alternatives to vehicles.
The 19 committee members include rural and suburban residents as well as commuter, sport and recreational bicyclists and pedestrians. Many have cycled in other states or countries where it is a more common mode of transportation.
Committee members said they'd like to see paths and trails for a variety of uses such as walking, running, strollers, in-line skating and biking. Their plans do not include horse trails, because they said horses weren't available to a large number of residents.
Loudoun has several trails, some open solely to pedestrians, some to cyclists and pedestrians. They include 23 miles of the 45-mile Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park Trail from Sterling Park to Purcellville, Ball's Bluff Regional Park History Trail and Banshee Reeks Trails in Leesburg, and the Algonkian Regional Park and Claude Moore Park trails in Sterling.
There are also many established bike routes on roads that lack adequate safety features such as designated bike lanes or bike-related traffic signs.
Loudoun is not alone in its efforts. Arlington has painted bike lanes on some roads to connect major trails. The District has hired a consultant to redo its master plan for bikes, last updated in 1975, and recently painted five miles of new bike lanes on city streets.
Rockville is building the equivalent of a bike path beltway around the city and teaching bike safety to all schoolchildren.
Loudoun's advisory committee held two meetings over the summer and took a tour to observe bicycling and walking conditions in Loudoun County with Dan Burden, a nationally recognized authority on bicycle and pedestrian facilities and founder of Walkable Communities Inc., a nonprofit consulting firm in High Springs, Fla.
The committee also held two workshops this fall with residents and county employees. About two dozen people attended the second meeting at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville, ranging from twentysomethings who walk and bike to school and work to avid bicyclists, middle-age walking and biking commuters and elderly leisure bicyclists and pedestrians.
Round Hill Mayor Frank P. Etro Jr. said his Town Council had discussed creating a trail hub at Round Hill, where a few trails would meet, and connecting Routes 720 and 711. Some council members suggested connecting Hillsboro to Round Hill by trails and extending the W&OD Trail to Round Hill.
"There is a lot of interest in creating a trail system that connects to the Potomac Heritage Trail and crosses the [Potomac] River, and connects the W&OD Trail with the C&O Canal," said Will Stewart, a recreational bicyclist from Paeonian Springs. The Potomac Heritage Trail is a National Scenic Trail established by the National Park Service in 1983 in the corridor between the Chesapeake Bay and Allegheny Highlands.
Stewart and other residents said they would like pedestrian and cycling connections between Hamilton and Purcellville, a distance of less than three miles difficult to travel without a vehicle, and a connection at the Clarks Gap road crossing of Route 9 to the W&OD Trail.
Many were also interested in creating a connecting trail or bike path from Whites Ferry to the W&OD Trail.
Fredrick Willis of Sterling suggested constructing a bike lane along Algonkian Parkway and expressed the need for a safe crossing of Route 7. When he bikes to work, he said, he must ride between traffic and a sound wall along one stretch of the parkway.
"If I get a flat or other problem with my bike here, I'm really in trouble because there's not much room to walk a bike and the sound wall makes it very difficult to get off the road," he said. "I also suggest [the Virginia Department of Transportation] put up a few of their 'Share the Road' signs," yellow diamond-shaped signs with a bicycle icon, and the message "Share the Road," to remind drivers to be cautious and accepting of bicycle traffic.
Many participants stressed the need to educate drivers and cyclists on safety and tolerance.
"My husband and I have experienced [driver/biker animosity]," said June Lane, a committee member and recreational bicyclist from Sterling. "We were biking in Purcellville last August, just turning onto the W&OD Trail, saw a car coming and so pulled over out of the way. Then the driver pulled quite close and literally ran my husband off the road.
"It was obviously intentional. The driver had plenty of room. The assumption you have to make as a cycler is that cars always presume to have the right of way, and it's up to you to get out of the way."
The committee said data collected from public meetings would be compiled and given to Sprinkle Consulting Inc., one of the nation's leading firms in bicycle and pedestrian transportation research, planning and design.
Committee members hope to have a draft plan and recommendations by spring for review by the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
For more information on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan, call 703-777-0246 or visitwww.loudoun.gov/compplan/bikeped.htm.