Remarks to Fairfax Bike Summit

Stewart Schwartz
October 27, 2012

I am absolutely inspired by today’s event and by the amazing presentations we’ve seen and heard! Collectively today’s speakers have covered a wide range of issues including “complete streets,” bike-sharing, Safe Routes to School, and transforming the suburbs. This summit has highlighted the equally important roles of local and state government, private developers and the non-profit sector. This has been wonderfully comprehensive. Let’s have a hand for Bruce, Fionnuala and the whole FABB organizing team.

Today and for the past few years, I have witnessed the passion, commitment and follow-through of the bicycling community. You are in the vanguard of our movement for livable communities.

We are at a literal cross-roads in this region, in this nation and on this earth. We must grow more sustainably and use our resources more wisely. I say this not just as a strong conservationist, but as a Navy veteran. We must address where and how we grow — because it has tremendous implications in terms of our energy consumption, climate change, infrastructure costs, economic competitiveness, national security, and our health. We cannot afford to continue to sprawl.

Therefore, I’m taking the opportunity for a Coalition for Smarter Growth petition against the Outer Beltway, being pressed by our state Secretary of Transportation and outer suburban developers.

At the local and regional level, I am very hopeful. Here’s why: At Monday’s Fairfax Revitalization Conference, Chairman Bulova said that to address traffic we must address land use and in particular we must focus on redevelopment. I’m hopeful because of the leadership of Tom Biesiadny and the hard work of Charlie Strunk.

At the Council of Governments, the regional vision captured in “Region Forward” is a smart growth vision — a network of livable, pedestrian and bicycling friendly, transit-oriented centers and neighborhoods. Prince George’s, DC, Montgomery, Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria have all made walkable, bikeable transit-oriented development their top priority. At the same time, our earliest communities within the orbit of Fairfax County — the City of Fairfax, City of Falls Church, Vienna and Herndon — all have the fabric to continue to enhance the urban, pedestrian and bicycling environment of their communities. I am hopeful by the wonderful SRTS movement in Vienna and civic volunteers like Jeff Anderson. Inspiring!

This is the vision for which the Coalition for Smarter Growth and its partners have been advocating since our founding by the region’s leading conservation groups in 1997. FABB is both a great partner and leader in this livability/sustainability movement. Bicyclists are the cavalry of this movement!

Yet, are also concerned. We are concerned by a terrible federal transportation bill, MAP-21, which feels like it’s taking us back to the 1950’s and is erasing all of the gains made in the 1991 ISTEA reforms. It took herculean efforts to preserve the Enhancements program and funding for non-motorized modes and as you saw from Andy Clarke the large cuts we could face.

The war on bicycling during the federal debate was shocking and led in part by people from our very own region at AAA MidAtlantic.

Meanwhile, even as individual VDOT staff like Randy are working really hard to help local communities on projects like the road diets. What we are mainly seeing is a revolutionary back-tracking in state transportation policy and funding priorities. In 2007, a bipartisan effort led by Speaker Howell in the House and Governor Kaine approved a transportation funding package that included critical land use reforms — Urban Development Areas and Secondary Street Connectivity standards. Both have been eviscerated. Secondary street funding has been eliminated and every available dollar is being diverted from the multimodal transportation needs of our metro areas into highway expansion, including unnecessary, ineffective and wasteful rural highways. Hence the petition I circulated at the beginning of my talk.

Even here in Fairfax, as the county seeks a new path and a transit-oriented future, I am deeply concerned about the seemingly inexorable widening of every arterial and innumerable intersections, and the addition of massive interchanges. Far too much of the legacy transportation project lists are focused on creating these overly wide, high-speed roads that divide neighborhoods and that even if they have a bike lane or a side multi-use path, are a very hostile environment for bicycling.

From all of the evidence we are convinced that our smart growth solutions, the revitalization of DC and a network of mixed-use, mixed-income, walkable and bikeable transit-oriented centers is the most effective way to address traffic. And that more interconnected local streets work better than massively wide arterials.

The critics of bicycling investments are simply wrong. Bicycling is an essential part of sustainable and competitive growth and development. Tysons Corner, Merrifield and the revitalization of Route 1, Baileys Crossroads, Seven Corners, Reston — they can’t work without good bicycling infrastructure. FABB has worked hard to win bicycling investments to make Tysons Corner work.

Arlington has shown that transit-oriented development requires all of the pieces. Not just transit, but street networks safe for pedestrians and bicyclists, bike sharing, car sharing. Bike sharing won’t work without compact urban and town form. We can’t increase biking to work without complete streets. We might not see as many adults biking if as children they never experienced the joy and freedom of biking when young because they had recreational trails and safe streets. FABB has worked hard to reach out to the schools to win the commitment of parents, principals and teachers to support Safe Routes to their schools.

Officials need to recognize that TOD with bike/ped investment is not just a local but a regional transportation solution. Every person who lives in one of these convenient communities is someone who has the opportunity, and will likely take, far fewer daily car trips, who will commute in the peak hour by mode other than car, who drive shorter distances when they do drive, they will drive on a local street network that functions better than arterials, and might own one car or no car in their household in the most urban centers.

In short, bicycling is a central part of vibrant livable communities, central to smart growth and the revitalization of Fairfax’s aging commercial corridors. The key to the county’s competitiveness lies in the redesign and redevelopment of these corridors. Even for the most suburban parts of the county, recreational trails, bike lanes for commuters and safe routes to school are an equally essential part of creating an attractive and livable community. Fionnuala made the case just before that you don’t have to be an “urban” community.

Ultimately it’s about creating great places with great bicycling infrastructure for families and for attracting millemnials/Gen Y, also Gen X and down-sizing empty nesters that are essential for Fairfax’s competitive future.

Here is a summary of the most common suggestions made by you for action steps that should be taken in Fairfax:


So, as we close, I charge us all to continue to work for the following:

  1.  Support the transformation of our strip commercial corridors to livable communities with street networks and complete streets safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  2. Support the transformation of our road network to ensure all streets and arterials are “complete streets” — safe for pedestrians and bicyclists; and look for how local street connections can be made to improve interconnectivity as an alternative to arterial widening.
  3. Support Safe Routes to School for every school in the county!
  4. Support the recreational trails that can connect neighborhoods, allow children to gain cycling experience, and add to the quality of life.
  5. Support a robust county bicycle plan that includes all of these components.
  6. Support the county, state and federal funding needed to realize this vision and this plan.
  7. Ensure your elected officials hear you!
  8. And let’s work with partners around the state and make smart growth, transit and cycling a big issue in the upcoming Governors’ election!

And a final action step suggested by you: ADVOCACY — EACH OF US RECRUIT A NEW ADVOCATE

It is hard work to be civically active, but it is also satisfying. And it can also be fun as FABB has shown.

I am confident that we can win more livable, bicycle-friendly communities. So I hope you will please join your FABB leadership in this effort!