Tell Fairfax County to Adopt the Bike Master Plan

Fairfax County currently does not have a bike master plan. And that’s not good.

The proposed Bike Master Plan contains recommendations for developing a comprehensive bicycle network. It also includes guidelines for bike-friendly programs and policies. The plan vision is “Meeting the safety, access, and mobility needs of bicyclists today, while encouraging more people to bicycle in the future…making Fairfax County bicycle friendly and bicycle safe.” Without a master plan, Fairfax County Department of Transportation has fallen behind in implementing bicycling improvements.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the county’s Bicycle Master Plan (Phase II) on Wednesday, October 1 at 8:15 p.m. There needs to be a strong showing by residents who support the plan. Please consider attending the public hearing to show your support for the plan.

Details about the October 1st hearing can be found online here. You can sign up to testify at the Planning Commission using this form. The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on October 28. Look for another WABA email alert prior to that hearing.

We are also asking cyclists to sign the FABB Bicycle Master Plan petition urging the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to approve the plan.

This petition is from the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, a sponsored project of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association

Women & Bicycles Tip: Approaching Kidical Mass

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This entry is part of our Women & Bicycles blog series. Women & Bicycles is WABA’s outreach and encouragement initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes. These posts certainly aren’t exclusive to women, but they’re produced with and through the Women & Bicycles’ programming and staffing. Click here to learn more and get involved.

Kidical Mass
Family biking is becoming more popular, more normal, more safe, and more fun thanks to the Kidical Mass groups forming throughout the United States.

Kidical Mass groups are volunteer-run initiatives that organize family bike rides for all ages and all experience levels. The groups find flat (or flattest), short, and scenic routes that start or end with treats.These adorable and lively events help demystifying family biking and encourage more Americans to take it on for recreation and transportation.

In just a few years we’ve seen a surge in these groups here in the D.C. metropolitan area. Find one closest to you, tell your friends, volunteer, start your own, join the ride!

Safe Routes to School Moving Forward in Fairfax County Public Schools!

IWTSD 026The Safe Routes to School (SRTS) regional network is ending the year with several major successes in Fairfax County. After convening a special SRTS working group within Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Transportation and Safety division in June, FCPS has agreed to several initiatives that will highlight SRTS activities and increase the numbers of students walking or biking to school everyday.

FCPS will add SRTS specific language to their “Golden Wellness Award” scorecard, which is used to determine how closely the individual schools are implementing the FCPS Health and Wellness Policy. This sought after award will now include specific recommended activities, like Walking Wednesdays, Bike Trains, Walking School Buses, participation in International Walk to School Day (IWTSD) as well as Bike to School Day. In addition, delivery of bicycle and pedestrian safety education at the individual school will be a required element in order to win the award. The schools system’s 95210 A Day (9 hours of sleep, 5 fruits and vegetables, less than 2 hours of screen time, at least 1 hour of exercise and 0 sugary drinks) will be updated to include walking or bicycling to school as a suggested activity to get to the 1 hour daily activity goal.

FCPS has also agreed to create and host a SRTS focused webpage with resources for school administrators, parents, community champions and children who would like to see more SRTS activities at their school. This site will include policy, curriculum standards and sample lesson plans, state and local contacts, grant application resources, sample newsletter articles and resources for planning walking and bicycling events. FCPS will also prepare scripts and create videos specifically geared to youth bicycling and safe pedestrian practices for the Fairfax County public access television channels as well as the internal FCPS channels.

An annual survey of schools will be continued (modeled after the first one in May 2011) in order to adequately account for how every student is transported to and from school. Counts will be made of bus riders, walkers, kiss and ride users as well as data collected comparing those numbers to the assigned mode. The survey in May proved invaluable, allowing us to create a list of the top ten schools where with a little encouragement, FCPS could see an increase in the numbers of students walking or bicycling to school, thereby alleviating the extreme traffic jams due to the kiss and ride queues. Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB) is contemplating creating a “Green Transit” award for the top schools in Fairfax Co who increase their assigned mode numbers, whether it is by bus transportation or walking or bicycling. A survey of the 27 schools who participated in IWTSD will also be completed to determine their strategies, success and participation rate.

FCPS officials also committed to working in tandem with Fairfax County transportation planners to submit an application for a SRTS non-infrastructure grant in the spring and also agreed to begin the process of determining which school locations would most benefit from an infrastructure grant, when the application is revised and those grant opportunities announced.

The FCPS SRTS Working Group will continue to meet quarterly throughout 2012 to update partners on progress, monitor initiatives and strategize for system wide events, including Bike to School Day (in conjunction with Bike to Work Day) in May and International Walk to School Day in October.

Author’s Note:  This article inadvertently left out those on our Fairfax County SRTS Task Force who have worked tremendously hard to achieve this progress in the County.  Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB), Trails for Youth as well as Wolf Trap Elementary parent, Jeff Anderson and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Transportation Advisory Committee member Jenifer Joy Madden were central to this effort.

What are those kids doing?

On your way into work tomorrow, you may notice vast hordes of children walking, bicycling and making their way down the street. It’s quite likely that they will be pretty loud and boisterous, making you look out your window to see what the commotion is. Have no fear-it’s just International Walk and Bike to School Day!

Seeing kids walking or bicycling to school used to be as common as butterflies in your stomach on the first day. Now however, not so much. Parents’ work schedules, ultra heavy backpacks, speeding commuter traffic and worry that your child is not safe on their walk to school have all contributed to the decline of walking to school from nearly 50% in 1969 to only around 13% in 2009. Walking or bicycling to and from school every day shows children that incorporating an active lifestyle into their daily routine is easy, and as a bonus, it’s fun!

This year the District of Columbia has a record number of schools participating-22 spread out all over the city. WABA, DDOT and Children’s Hospital representatives plan to celebrate the day at our main event at Anne Beers Elementary in Ward 7 where US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is going to lead one of their four “walking” school buses. So join us by starting your day off with a nice brisk walk or an invigorating bike ride with your child tomorrow, to school, to your bus stop, or even around the block. And if you have to drive, be extra aware of those roaming bands of children and parents making the most of their morning by walking to school.

International Walk (and Bike!) to School Day Embraced by Fairfax County Public Schools!

This year, for the first time, Fairfax County Public Schools are embracing International Walk to School Day on October 5 system-wide.  In the past, participating in IWTSD was suggested, but not strongly encouraged by the administration, so few schools participated. A positive, strong message was sent by Superintendent Dale to lend his words of encouragement and support in a press release last week  (see below). With the support of Superintendent Dale we are hopeful that more schools than ever before will join in a celebration of healthy daily activity and walk or bike to school on October 5!  Fairfax County Police will join in on the action by coordinating their pedestrian safety initiative to occur in the last week of September. In addition, the Fairfax County Council of PTAs drafted their own statement of support in an email to all members and praised Superintendent Dale’s initiative.

This exciting development came about thanks to months of work by our Fairfax County Safe Routes to School task force, made up of WABA staff, FABB, Trails for Youth, parents and concerned Fairfax County Board of Supervisor members.  It’s not to late to register YOUR school for IWTSD!  Please see walktoschool.org to register!

Gina Arlotto is the DC and regional Safe Routes to School Network Coordinator.  Her work focuses on making it safer for children to walk or bike to and from school.

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FCPS embraces International Walk to School system-wide in 2011 – Make sure your school is part of October 5th.

Over the past year, interested parents, citizens and representatives of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB), Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA) and Trails for Youth have been meeting with leaders from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the FCPS School Board, the FCCPTA and the Fairfax County Education Coalition (FEC) to encourage FCPS to address the decline in children walking and biking to school. As a result of these meetings, on October 5th FCPS is embracing a system-wide promotion of International Walk to School Day – an effort to promote physical activity and reduce traffic congestion and pollution near schools.

Superintendent Jack D. Dale and Fairfax County Executive Tony Griffin are joining forces to encourage county residents to take part. “Walking is a simple way to incorporate physical activity into your day,” said Dale. “We encourage all FCPS students and families to participate in this day and to use walking or biking as a means of getting to school whenever possible.”

Students at all school levels are encouraged to walk or bike to school or walk to their bus stop on October 5. Parents are encouraged to accompany their children to school and to work with their school and PTA or PTO to assemble walking groups for the event. Schools that want to participate can register online at the Walk to School website.

We need your assistance in getting the word out so that local schools can join with the SIX that have already signed up and started their planning for International Walk to School Day. In addition, the FCCPTA passed a resolution earlier this year in support of Safe Routes to School.

In 1969, approximately 50% of children walked or bicycled to school and 87% of children living within one mile of school did. Today, fewer than 15% of school children walk or bicycle to school. As a result, kids today are less active, less independent, and less healthy. So as to better understand how to find solutions to this 35% decrease, FCPS has created a Safe Routes to School working group made up of FCPS and County employees, members of the community from the groups mentioned and the Fairfax County Police Department.

Wolftrap Elementary School and Vienna Elementary School are two of several Fairfax County public schools which have established bike and walk to school initiatives.

Wolftrap began its program with general bike and walking education for all students in addition to establishing a monthly run Wolfie’s bike train where students bike to school together when weather permits. The school also moved its Kiss and Ride drop-off and pick-up spots in order to separate automobile traffic from pedestrian traffic. Vienna Elementary is embarking on a plan to create Walking Wednesdays and has applied for a grant to install missing sidewalks along many of its walking routes.

Both schools joined Cunningham Park Elementary School in May 2011 to have a Bike and Walk to School Challenge between the three schools. Over the course of the week, 400 children biked and 2100 walked to school and each school saw parent use of Kiss and Ride drop by nearly 50%. Several public officials joined in during the week and some shared their perspective on walking to school. In addition, you can read about how the installation of a bridge near Kilmer Middle School ultimately led to so many students bicycling to school that the PTA had to install new racks.

For more information, read up on Safe Routes on the FABB site or contact srts@fabb-bikes.org.

Another Important Benefit to the R Street NE Improvements

DDOT’s plan for improving R Street, NE by connecting it to the Met Branch Trail and improving the road for bicyclists, has an important ancillary benefit: the improved route for children attending the numerous schools located in close proximity to the MBT, but not able to reach school via the trail, due to an incomplete trail to street grid connection. The current conditions of this area illustrate the barriers that school children face if they were to come down the MBT: a trash strewn, overgrown, abandoned lot to cross through with concrete barriers and illegal parking blocking the sidewalk on R Street.

McKinley Tech, Ideal Academy PCS, City Lights PCS, and Friendship Academy PCS are schools which draw hundreds of children from beyond a neighborhood boundary, due to the fact that they are a DCPS application only science and technology magnet school (McKinley) or public charter schools, which by definition, have no neighborhood boundary that they serve, drawing instead from the entire city for enrollment. In addition, Langley Education Campus, a DCPS pre-k through 8th grade school, is also located next to McKinley. And while Langley is a DCPS school with a traditional neighborhood boundary from which it draws, they are also a Science and Technology magnet school offering Chinese language instruction which is a very attractive curriculum for out of boundary families.

Many of these students are already taking the Metro to school every day and exiting the Metro system at the New York Avenue station. The connection of R Street to the Metropolitan Branch trail would enable these students the ability to walk up the trail and cross directly onto their school grounds, rather than attempting the extremely dangerous crossing of Florida and New York Avenues from the Metro, which is the current route most students take. This intersection is bad almost any time of day, but at school arrival and dismissal times, when it sits squarely in the middle of rush hour, children and parents are traversing a dangerous path in order to get to school. These R Street improvements would eliminate the need to cross New York and Florida Avenues at street level entirely, since they could walk up the stairs to the MBT and proceed to their schools.

The improvements to R Street and the connectivity of the Met Branch Trail into Northeast Washington are welcome improvements from DDOT. Not only would the R street improvements help pave the way to make it safer for bicyclists to ease off the MBT and onto a cross town route, but it will also make it easier for many hundreds of students get to school without the anxiety and potential harm of a dangerous street crossing.

Gina Arlotto is the DC and regional Safe Routes to School Network Coordinator.  Her work focuses on making it safer for children to walk or bike to and from school.