Post #211: Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, 3/26/2019

Posted on March 27, 2019

I attended the 7 PM 3/26/2019 meeting of the Town of Vienna Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC).  The BAC reports to the Town’s Transportation Safety Commission (TSC), and from there to the Town Council.

This BAC matters, in the context of MAC zoning, due to the Town’s much-hyped multi-modal transportation study, aka, the traffic study.  “Multi-modal” means that in addition to cars, that study will include travel by bus, bike, foot, and possibly other means.  Our Town government bike experts should matter in the ensuing discussion.

I recorded the meeting, and if you click this Google Drive link, your browser should open up an audio player.  (If not, you can download it and listen to it.)  Many parts are unintelligible as speakers frequently did not use microphones.  Click here to get to my index of that recording (what was being discussed, when) is in this post, below.

In theory, the Town will post its own recording, but if so, I have yet to figure out where they are going to post it.  Click here to see my final section on Town governance for a further discussion.

Otherwise, the first part of this post is about Capital Bikeshare.

Capital Bikeshare

I arrived about seven minutes early and parked my bike, by itself, at the bike rack at the back of Town Hall.

About 1:30 into the recording, they discuss Capital Bikeshare.  I sent my analysis (first analyses, here) to Town staff overseeing the TSC, and they forwarded it to the BAC.  It’s not clear that they actually saw the analysis of alternatives or the flow maps showing all the bike trips in the Capital Bikeshare network.

I heard one idea that I hadn’t heard before, which was to put a Capital Bikeshare rack at the Cedar Park shopping center.  The idea is that many people who (e.g.) work on Church street bicycle in from that area.  Seems reasonable, but for a variety of reasons, I doubt a rack there would get much use.  (Starting with the 48-pound weight of the Capital Bikeshare bikes.)

For several reasons, it’s a good bet that we’ll get some Capital Bikeshare racks in Vienna whether or not anyone expects to see significant use:  They are “free”, and everybody else is getting some.  One BAC member noted that Fairfax was putting these racks in Merrifield,Mosaic, and that both the city of Falls Church and City of Fairfax are pressing forward with Capital Bikeshare.  All of these will be “free”, as I understand it — they will be paid for out of Fairfax County’s share of the tolls collected on I-66.  (See my first analysis, linked above).  Given that, the idea that we’d be the only ones to turn down “free” bike racks does not seem plausible.

I’m not quite sure why Fairfax County is so enthusiastic about this, but I suspect that they may be looking at ludicrously optimistic forecasts of use by consultants.  As I noted in my first posting on this topic, the feasibility study for Reston overstated actually use five-fold.  That means they are using a methodology that simply does not work.  Similarly, the Fairfax Corridor feasibility study suggested that Tyson’s should be a hot spot for Capital Bikeshare, when in fact the system there is moribund.  On a typical busy weekday, the entire Capital Bikeshare system in Tysons is used by six people.

The problem is that these consultants’ studies are doing some sort of prediction based on theoretical principles.  They have some sort of proprietary models for predicting Bikeshare use.  This is foolish, given that we now have data on actual use of Capital Bikeshare for many areas similar to those in the “Fairfax Bike Corridor”.  We now have use data from suburban Bikeshare racks on the Red, Silver, and Orange, and Green Metro lines, as graphed on this page.  (Turn off “Cluster on View”.  Phone users, use the little gray arrowheads to clear the text boxes off the screen.  This is best viewed on a full-sized computer screen).

Below is a snapshot of the page cited above, showing that all of these far-suburban communities and their extremely light Capital Bikeshare use.  In the image below, the color of the oval corresponds to the color of the Metro line these Bikeshare stations are located on.  On the actual map (referenced just above), you can hover over the individual Bikeshare stations to see the approximate daily volume of bike trips.

At this point, there’s no excuse for consultants to use methods that grossly over-predict Capital Bikeshare use.  Alternatively, before anyone relies on those models, they should be tested to see what kind of volume they predict, for the circled areas.  But, really, the preferred approach is that  whatever method they use for predicting Bikeshare use in the suburbs should be calibrated on the actual, observed Bikeshare use in the circled areas above.  Otherwise, we’ll have consultants using the all-system averages, which means extrapolating from what’s observed in downtown DC, and not the sparse use that is now known to be typical for these suburban stations.

Other items

Around 3:50, there is a discussion of the recent Town meeting with businesses to discuss parking.  Bicycles were essentially an afterthought in that meeting.

Around 4:10, you can hear reference to (apparently) a Town of Vienna Trolley. I did not know that was under consideration.  If you search the Town of Vienna website, the only reference to “trolley” is to the fact that, back at the turn of the last century, we were connected to DC via a trolley line.

Around 5:05, there is mention of “wayfinding“, meaning, posting signs so that people know where to find things around Vienna.

At 5:45, discussion of Town of Vienna community rides begins.  The first such community bike ride this year will be May 17, which is also national bike-to-work day.  One thing I learned is that these community bike rides have (or possibly) need a commercial sponsor, and finding sponsors is problem.  Similarly, towns can sponsor “pit stops” along the W&OD for national bike-to-work day, and these are also sponsored by local businesses.  (E.g., they might offer food and drink.)

It does not appear that Vienna will have an official pit stop on bike-to-work day, but I could not tell.  For sure, they had a hard time getting corporate sponsorship for it.

So the Vienna community rides are scheduled for May 17, June 7, August 2, September 27.  If you are interested in the May 17 Bike-to-Work day, see the Metro DC website for it, at this link.

At 20:30, they begin discussion of initiatives for training and education regarding bike safety and bike rules, including training in the schools.

Around 23:00 the return to sponsoring a “pit stop” for bike-to-work day.

Around 30:20 they return to education regarding safe bicycling and bike laws.

Around 34:30, bike-to-school day comes up, which will be May 8, 2019..

May 4 is the Town of Vienna bike rodeo.

At 42:00, the new Vesper Trail came up, connecting the northern part of Vienna to the Spring Hill metro station, starting on Vesper Street in Vienna.  Listen to the audio for details on a planned ride to the ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 16.

At 43:15, there is discussion of the VDOT paving schedule, what that means for bile lanes, and the fact that there Fairfax County is putting bike lanes on Abbotsford Drive, but those bike lanes will not, as of yet, connect to the W&OD trail.

At 45:35, they mention the April 1 Town meeting where the “multi-modal” traffic study will be discussed.

At 47:10, discussion of the April 24 Town of Vienna green expo, end of April, in the Community Center.

At 48:30, there is a summary and wrap-up of the meeting.

Some notes on Town governance.

I realize that few people care about bicycles.  That said, I’ll point out the following.  This is all with the caveat of “as far as I can tell”.  So, as far as I can tell:

  • The agenda for the BAC is not posted on the Town website.
  • The minutes from BAC meetings are not posted on the Town website.
  • In theory, the Town will post an audio recording of this meeting, but where they are going to post that, I have no clue, because … see the last two points.
  • There is no one page, on the Town website, devoted to bicycling.

The Town Council, Planning Commission, and Board of Architectural Review have their agendas, minutes, and recordings posted on Granicus.  But not entities such as the BAC, or the TSC.  At least, for the TSC, there is a place to post the minutes, and you can see the most recent minutes (November 2018) at this link on the Town of Vienna website.  But for bicycling?  Nothing, as far as I can tell.

The Town will, in theory, post an audio recording of this meeting.  But as far as I can tell, there is no place to post that now.

In short, the only way to know what the BAC is doing, or to keep current on what the TSC is doing, is to attend the meetings.  That’s quaint, but it’s not really in keeping with … well, living in the 21st century.

On the last bullet point above, in theory, the Town is going to great trouble to get people to use alternative modes of transportation.  Yet, if you are a resident, and want to know what the Town has to say about bicycling, there is no one place to go.  Bits and pieces of Town bicycling policy and information are spread over the website. There is no “bicycling ombudsman page” for the Town.

Just for example:  Go to the Town of Vienna website and try to find a map of signed (posted) bike routes in Vienna.  Near as I can tell, there isn’t one.  Maybe in the Google era, that’s obsolete.  But maybe that’s a pretty basic piece of information that you ought to provide if you want to call yourself bicycle-friendly.  You can see the Fairfax County map here, and zoom in on Vienna.  I guess that’s what we’ve got. If you want a bike map of Vienna, look for it on the Fairfax County website.

As I was leaving, unlocking my bike from the rack, a TSC member questioned me  about the Town’s proposed mandatory bike light ordinance.  (This was the first I’d heard of it, and presumably the Town is considering something more stringent than existing Commonwealth law governing bicycle lights.)  I explained that, in the city, the front bike light is strictly for defense — it doesn’t need to light up the path ahead, it just needs to make me visible to oncoming traffic.  That piece of advice may have been the most useful thing I did all evening.