Budget Adds More Funding, But Not For Biking

With third straight year of zero funding for program, cyclists say some transportation improvements are threatened; county to look toward Arlington for model

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors formally a spending plan which put aside more money but, for the third consecutive year, not bicycle programs.

Although the county funds a full-time bicycle coordinator in its transportation department, the bicycle program has gone without funding since fiscal year 2011, according to Fairfax County staff reports provided to supervisors this year. 

The county's formal bike program was launched in 2006 as the Comprehensive Bicycle Initiative. Early projects included developing the county's first bike route map, retrofitting connector buses, and adding bike racks to county park and ride lots.

The program received $375,000 in fiscal 2009, dropping to $204,544 the next year before funding was cut altogether in 2011. It has remained at zero since. The county, however, has found ways to include some bike improvements in larger transportation projects funded by a tax on commercial and industrial properties.

Cutting program funding could affect, or already has affected, the completion of several countywide transportation plans, bike advocates say, including development around Tysons Corner and other areas of major construction.

Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay (Lee), who chairs the board's transportation committee, said he was looking for ways to achieve some of the goals of the Fairfax County bicycle plan, and that includes funding.

At Tuesday's meeting, he said Arlington County has done more to encourage biking and its approaches could become a model for Fairfax "now that the state is shedding its transportation responsibilities faster than you can say pothole."

He asked staff to examine how BikeArlington, part of Arlington County Commuter Services, encourages businesses to coax more people to ride bicycles.

The analysis will be presented at a future transportation committee meeting.

"The board has been really supportive in general but it hasn't translated into funds for the bike program," said Bruce Wright, president of Fairfax Association for Better Bicycling, who said more than 300 cyclists asked the board for more funding this year. "Times are tough but we also need to have some priorities, and we think providing some funding for bicycling should be a high priority. We've got lots of challenges here, but we haven't even really started in some ways."

Among the projects already affected is the Tysons Bicycle Master Plan, completed more than a year ago but still not approved by the county, Wright said. Bike parking guidelines have been in draft for more than a year and his organization fears the master plan for biking across the county, whose development is fully funded and should be completed this summer, could be next.

"That's a bad precedent. We don't want that sitting on the shelf. We don't want ... [other projects] to meet the same fate," Wright said.

The Tysons Metrorail Station Access Management Study created a list of short-term projects that would improve the bicycle network to, from and throughout the greater Tysons area, but they have yet to advance to scope, design or construction, Wright said.

Aside from an operating budget, the county's bike coordinator can draw revenue from the commercial and industrial tax, which was  enacted by the General Assembly in 2007 to give some localities another source of revenue exclusively for transportation projects.

The board dedicated $1 million of that funding to bicycle projects between fiscal 2009 and 2014, according to a staff memo to Foust, who asked for a briefing of the program's funding as part of the budget process.

It gave $11 million in funding for independent pedestrian projects.

Those figures do not include projects funded with federal money, general obligation bonds or larger roadway projects, staff wrote. 

The county bike coordinator, Charlie Strunk, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

In the next few years, much of the money will be used for pedestrian access projects in the areas around Silver Line Metro station.

A full list of county transportation goals for the next four years can be found here.

Though the tax has helped advance some projects, it's not enough to build out biking infrastructure realistically in Tysons or across the county the way it is often imagined in 30-year projections, some advocates told the board in public hearings.

The program has found some success in finding private partnerships and grants to fund certain projects, county staff wrote in a memo to Sup. John Foust (Dranesville).

But the absence of an operating budget hurts the most, Wright said, when the county can't do as much to encourage bicyclists to ride to work and on everyday trips, through outreach — which has made other programs like Bike Arlington so successful — and spot projects that improve the experience.

County staff wrote it has "significantly reduced its participation" in education, outreach and public programs, like Bike to Work Day, because of budget issues; it has continued some of those initiatives through private partnerships and district supervisor offices.

Bicyclists are encouraged by the county using the commercial tax, Wright said, but worry about the lack of a steady source of funding, particularly as state and federal funding and grants face higher demand.

"We've been scrambling through the countywide plan ... for now we're doing well, we're really excited about it .. but there needs to be resources to implement [plans] to really see changes on the ground," Wright said.

Ben Glass May 02, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Gee. And how much does the county bike coordinator make?
T Ailshire May 02, 2012 at 01:29 PM
I applaud the decision not to fund this (and other) social-engineering initiatives that aim to make people perform according to some specified standard. If you can't solve it with brainpower, you can't solve it with dollars. If Fairfax County internalized this fact, we'd see much more efficient government.
Wien May 02, 2012 at 02:44 PM
It takes brainpower for the ideas and concepts, and dollars for the implementation. Bike Arlington and Capital Bikeshare were successful due to good planning and good innovation, but you still need the tax/private dollars for implementation. There are good initiatives out there already, the brainpower is there, but it takes more than good intentions to complete an infrastructure project. Compare that to many school districts, where they have all the funding in the world (over 50% of each tax dollar in some counties can go to schools) and often lack the brainpower to implement lasting or effective change.
J Anderson May 02, 2012 at 03:00 PM
As usual in these types of initiatives, long term is overcome by short term. Sad to hear you think this is social-engineering, what w/ transportation being second to education in Fairfax. I wish you well as you sit in your car (hopefully not texting) as others figure that bicycle commuting is likely the most efficient use of resources we know of. And for those who view it as fringe - you car-based folks get the added benefit of less cars to deal with in the long run. And plenty of research is showing that the kids today and young adults are embracing alternatives to cars - it's actually cool to ride a bike again.....so by not putting the Bicycle Master Plan into play means we are doing the future generations a disservice.
Mike May 02, 2012 at 04:04 PM
More people are biking around Fairfax, and the numbers are growing every year. From my perspective (that of a conservative who opposes the tax hike and a Fairfax bike commuter and cycling hobbyist), it has everything to do with safety for a problem that exists today and nothing to do with your vividly imagined social engineering project. We're a county that habitually elects board members who are addicted to irresponsible spending, so I have mixed feelings on any type of spending increases. But it's important to acknowledge some problems exist even if you don't personally want to be bothered by them.
Pete Kirby May 02, 2012 at 05:27 PM
This may be a chicken-egg thing, but I see one or two bicycles during the entirety of my commute. Unless there is much more demand for services from the cycling community at large, I think the county is doing the right thing by cutting funds for this work during a time of economic recession. Bring it up again when the economy is better, and you'll likely see more support
Wien May 02, 2012 at 06:10 PM
There are comments on both sides of the debate. On the one side, many people say we shouldn't build infrastructure when there aren't a lot of bike commuters. On the other, many say "if you build it, they will come." It's impossible to really know which side is correct without hingsight. But for me personally, and I'm just one taxpayer so I don't speak for all, I do not bike from the Town of Vienna to my clients in Tysons for one reason: safety. It'd be an easy 2.5 mile commute if there were a safe way to get into the Tysons area; there's no way I'm trying to cross Route 7 on a bike, it's dangerous enough as a pedestrian in a crosswalk. I make the commute one day a year, on Bike to Work Day, to help raise cycling awareness. I take all neighbor roads until Route 7 area, then I get off my bike and walk it along the sidewalks over Route 7 and around Tysons. Again, I'm just one person, but if they built a safe avenue for commuting by bike, I'd probably commute by bike on many days. I'd imagine there are many more like me who are frustrated with the car commute and would do the same. Enough to make the infrastructure benefits worth the cost?...not sure, but in my personal experience, if the built it, I would come.
Amelie Krikorian May 03, 2012 at 12:27 AM
I wish there were more plans to allow people to bike safely. I see a lot of bikers who are determined to bike to work, for either health reasons or because of concern over global warming, risking their lives because they don't have safer options. I think there are a significant number of people in Vienna and Oakton who work in the Tysons area and if 123 wasn't so narrow already a bike lane would be a real plus.
Jacqueline Bilowus May 03, 2012 at 02:42 AM
I live close enough to my office to bike to work, but I won't because it's not safe to ride my bike down Route One. If there was a sidewalk, I'd do it. Sidewalks are needed, not just for bikes, but for people that walk to bus stops. We need more sidewalks.
T Brown May 03, 2012 at 07:19 PM
I see dozens of bike commuters every morning on my ride into work. I suspect if each of you were regularly on a bike, you'd notice them, too. I don't see how increasing our commuting options is social engineering. We're not asking commuters to listen to Limbaugh on their way to work. The point is to give them options.
Leslie Neiss May 03, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Arlington County's program is an excellent model to follow.
Leslie Neiss May 03, 2012 at 11:18 PM
How does urban/transportation planning equate to social engineering?
Ann H Csonka May 07, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Too much traffic, too much pollution even with cleaner exhaust standards, too few highway drive lanes --S-A-F-E-T-Y for those who choose to cycle. Obvious reasons, in a broad category of health and safety. Not to mention too much wasted time sitting in traffic. you cannot travel safely on a bicycle from any one place to another on MOST routes, yet we keep on building more highway lanes and fighting over the most basic rail service. Anyone can call anything "social engineering" by some definition, but it's pretty silly as a reason to not support cycling.. It could probably save more $$$ than it would cost...in lost work and family time and many other ways including gasoline. Mostly good comments. Maybe next budget?
Karl H. May 07, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Trying to get people to bicycle as a mode of transportation is not some kind of devious ploy to convince commuters to sell their cars and work out. It's actually really fast (especially if you can find a dedicated route and avoid stop lights), and far cheaper than a car. A lot of us in NoVa bike to work: during the summer, the racks at my office building are packed... I think we would really like to see our infrastructure dollars sunk into something (anything?) that isn't another traffic jam. We want going places to be easy. Impaired mobility is this areas largest blemish by far.
Matt May 14, 2012 at 02:37 PM
If there's been any "social engineering" done to this point, it's been done to encourage everyone to drive. The way our roads are currently designed, there is not even an option in many places beyond driving your car - there aren't sidewalks, bike lanes, etc. Infrastructure supporting walking and biking reduces wear and tear on roads (saves money), provides alternate routes for people who don't want to drive (healthier and reduces roadway congestion), creates more open and friendlier spaces, and drives up foot/bike traffic to local businesses (more likely to stop than if driving, increases business revenues). If we DON'T provide any alternatives, we end up with continually-increasing traffic congestion. I don't know about you, but even as a driver I appreciate it when there are more alternatives to get around, as it reduces traffic for me. Tyson's is a perfect example of an area that could benefit from this - there are tons of lunch destinations within "walking distance" of the many corporate offices, but everyone has to get in their cars to go there because the pedestrian infrastructure is so bad. So... there's a third "rush hour" in the Tysons area at lunchtime.
T Brown May 14, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Matt, excellent point. We have and continue to devote huge amounts of money, time, and energy, not to mention lifestyle choices, to the automobile. Choosing to open our transportation options up, even just a little, strikes me as good sense.


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