I had grand plans to write once a month about Comfort Biking – the type of biking that I prefer to do, that doesn’t make me tangle with cars on streets too narrow to support decent bike lanes. And yet…. I haven’t done that much biking this summer, let alone biking in areas where I don’t feel as comfortable. So no Comfort Biking blogs.
Until now – with great fanfare, I present: The Arlington County Bicycle Comfort Level Map!!!!! This is a very exciting thing!!! BikeArlington and the bicycle planners at Arlington County have been working on this for at least two years. The entire point of this map is to show you which streets and roads in Arlington are “easy,” that is, more comfortable, and which are “difficult,” or less comfortable. The maps says, “It should be easy, intuitive, comfortable and most importantly, safe, to get around Arlington by bike for all residents from age 8 to age 88.” Acknowledging that not everyone feels comfortable biking close to motor vehicles is a very important step forward in making Arlington County more bike friendly, because once you publicly acknowledge this, it becomes easier to put the physical infrastructure in place to assist those comfort cyclists. The routes are color-coded: Blue routes are the easy ones, yellow “medium” and orange “difficult.” The back of the map shows definitions of each, with illustrations, to help map users determine which category they best identify with. Roads “strongly discouraged” are indicated in black lines. In one quick glance, it is easy to see which routes to take across the county – I can just look for the blue or yellow routes. And the “strongly discouraged” routes come as no surprise – Glebe, Lee Highway, Columbia Pike. All known for being pretty risky to bike on (although The Mechanic, of course, bikes on Glebe to get to work). The comfort level of streets isn’t the only thing marked on the map, but pretty close. Supporting bicycle features such as bike shops, drinking fountains, restrooms, libraries and community centers. Steep hills are marked with arrows, but can be found on any color road. Remember, this is about comfort around vehicles, not technical challenges. That would be an interesting map, however.
The reason why I initially wanted to start a comfort bike series was the unpleasant bike ride from Ballston to the REI just over the border in Fairfax. Sure, it’s in Fairfax County, where bike/ped infrastructure sucks at best, and just past Columbia Pike, which is pretty neglected, but even *getting* there is miserable, because there is really no way to avoid biking on S. Carlin Springs Road. Carlin Springs Road is a black line the entire way on the comfort map. Now I feel better – it is “strongly discouraged.” That doesn’t take the steep hill into account either. Steep hill to climb on a black routes? It’s been ages since we biked there and could stay that way. Sorry, REI.I encourage everyone to get their hands on this map, even if you don’t live in Arlington. It’s a great example of how the County was willing to crowd-source feedback from residents, test out routes themselves, and basically recognize the demand. This map will help with that “interested but concerned” population that is always talked about but no one really knows how best to encourage them. I think this map will go a long, long way in starting that conversation, not only here in Arlington, VA, but in cities and towns all over the country. If you are serious about bicycles as transportation, you need to see this map. Order a copy or two here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to use mine to figure out the most comfortable way to bike to (hilly) North Arlington.