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Letter to the Editor: Educate Drivers About Bicyclists

To the Editor: Bike Lanes on King Street are unsafe but even more, they are unnecessary.

They are unnecessary because:

  1. There are alternate safe paths for bicyclists to the metro and Old Town.
  2. Those few bicyclists who use this route have a direct route to the Metro and beyond using the vehicle lanes on King Street.
  3. A bicyclist is a driver, not a “rider” on a bike.
  4. A bicycle is a vehicle.
  5. King Street is a road for vehicles.

The city planners in their “2008 Complete Streets Plan” show this stretch of King Street with motor vehicles and bicycles sharing lanes. The plan projects King Street will have low bicycle traffic use; .6 percent of Alexandrians commute to work on a bicycle. Few use King Street.

The city planners are stating that bike lanes on King Street will calm traffic. How can bike lanes here, with so few bicyclists calm traffic?

It is rather ironic, today, when people are pursuing equal treatment, accommodations, civil rights, marriage rites, that the drivers of bicycles, are demanding, separate accommodations — separate space on the roads.

Every road in Alexandria is already a roadway for bicycles which are vehicles. Virginia law states that they have equal right to the use of all city roads and can command the whole lane width of a city road.

So, why would they want bicycle lanes on King Street? Do bicyclists not want to wait in traffic which is almost standing still during rush hours? Bike lanes would enable them to speed to the bottom of the hill, bypassing the stopped vehicles. Those few bicyclists who use King Street can use the alternate, almost parallel route through the George Washington Masonic Memorial grounds with no impediments.

It’s unsafe because narrowing King Street traffic lanes, by designating about 30 percent of the street with bike lanes, increases the risk of collisions and vehicles veering out of their lanes to avoid them.

When founded, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) had as its goals, (1) education and (2) advocacy, In 1997 when it moved its offices from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington, D.C., and focused increasingly on advocacy at the federal level. During the last few years, LAB abandoned its role of protecting members' interests and it dropped most of the services to become just another Washington lobbying and fundraising group.

On the local level, Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) still recognizes that bicyclists legitimately ride with the traffic and offers classes educating bicyclists how to properly and safely ride in the road with the traffic.

Alexandrians and other drivers in our city need to recognize bicyclists are legitimate drivers. Rather than add bike lanes, educate the motor vehicle community — with signage, red light cameras, speed boards and speed enforcement by our police force — bicycles belong on the road as an integral part of the traffic.

The "Bicycle Friendly Communities" (BFC) program fails to encourage communities to educate citizens about best practices. It focuses on building facilities and spending money on planners and consultants who may not know how to operate bicycles properly. “Bicycle Friendly Community Awards” favors cities having “miles of separate bike lanes” whether those lanes are safe or not. Alexandria, having received the silver (BFC) award, seems to covet a higher award, with more bike lanes without considering the safety of the cyclists or the neighboring residents.

Bike lanes on King Street is easy — a bandage — that turns residents and bicyclists into adversaries. Education is difficult but the crux of the matter: Educate motorists to accept bicyclists as legitimate partners on our streets.

Darlene Johnson

Alexandria