As park officials prepare to open the 38-mile Cross County Trail on Dec. 17, the Board of Supervisors is asking county agencies to figure out ways to better incorporate bicycles on roads and trails.
In an effort to encourage the use of bicycles in traffic-clogged Fairfax, the board agreed Monday to ask the county departments of Transportation and Planning and Zoning to consider such proposals as creating a countywide map of bicycle facilities and identifying roads that could accommodate bike lanes without considerable construction.
Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) proposed the effort. With the planned completion of the Cross County Trail, Connolly said, "the time has come to actually look at our bicycle policy."
The Cross County Trail knits together a network of existing trails through some of the county's most scenic areas, from the Occoquan River in southern Fairfax to the Potomac River in Great Falls in the northern end of the county.
"This is a momentous occasion for Fairfax County," said Michael A. Kane, director of the Park Authority, in a news release announcing the opening ceremony, to be held at 10 a.m. Dec. 17 at the Accotink Stream Valley portion of the trail in Annandale.
"The Cross County Trail is all about connections," Kane said. "The trail is so much more than just a trail. This is common ground that provides a pathway of connectivity for all residents."
An intricate network of bike paths crisscrosses Fairfax. But responsibility for construction, maintenance and providing information about them is divided among government agencies.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has jurisdiction over the popular Washington & Old Dominion trail, which runs 45 miles along an old railroad route through Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, as well as the cities of Falls Church and the towns of Vienna and Herndon.
In Fairfax, eight major bicycle trails -- including the Accotink Creek Trail and the Burke Lake Park Trail -- are maintained by the county, as are a number of smaller trails. The Park Authority will operate the Cross County Trail.
With bicycle trails scattered among agencies, Connolly said, "I just think we need to pull that all together."
The supervisors also asked county agencies to examine the possibility of creating a staff position devoted mostly to bicycle facility planning and of forming a pilot bicycling network in one part of the county.
The county already has money it could invest in bicycle trails, Connolly said. Included in the $165 million transportation bond issue approved last month by voters is about $5 million for the construction of trails and sidewalks.
Allen Muchnick, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, called the proposed bike policy overhaul a "step in the right direction." He said that Fairfax desperately needs a comprehensive map of bike-accessible routes in the county and a full-time bicycle planner who is accountable for bike projects. He noted that Arlington is far ahead of Fairfax on the issue; the county has a bicycle project manager and a bicycle promotion planner.
Connolly introduced the resolution that led to the creation of the Cross County Trail with county and federal government support.
Bill Niedringhaus, a hiker, first presented the idea to the Park Authority in 1995. According to a news release, Niedringhaus took a map of Fairfax and highlighted the public land in green. He noticed a continuous green line snaking from the north to the south across the county, with three or four gaps. He formed a group called Fairfax Trails and Streams, lobbied at bond hearings and enlisted Connolly's support.
"I realized that Fairfax County had a jewel in its midst," Connolly said. "Why not work to connect these existing parcels of land, acquire and obtain needed pieces of property and easements to make one long trail?"
The opening ceremony Dec. 17 is at the new bridge near the Camelot Swim Club overflow parking lot. Light refreshments will be served. To get there, take the Capital Beltway to Route 236 west and turn right onto King Arthur Road. Next, turn right onto Camelot Drive. Camelot Swim Club is off Camelot Drive near Saxony Drive. For more information, call 703-324-8726 or 703-324-8662.