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Arlington County Keeps Count Of Cyclists

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The bike-o-meter on the Custis Trail counts the number of cyclists crossing from Virginia into D.C.
Photo by Twitter user Greg Billing
The bike-o-meter on the Custis Trail counts the number of cyclists crossing from Virginia into D.C.

Arlington, known for is progressive transportation policies and smart-growth planning, is counting how many commuters get to work on bikes. So it makes sense that downtown Arlington has the first bike-o-meter on the East Coast.

Standing about eight feet tall with a digital tabulation display, the bike-o-meter is situated a stone’s throw from the Key Bridge near the intersection of Lee Highway and North Lynn Street on the Custis Trail, a few blocks from the Rosslyn Metro station.

“There are trip wires in the ground, so this counts in real time how many bikes go by this location,” said Jay Fisette, the Arlington County board chairman, in an interview with WAMU 88.5. “We have counted for a long time. We have 30 counters under the ground throughout the county on trails, at intersections, and on roads.”

The county is counting bicycle commuters not for its health – although officials hope people will be inspired to ditching their cars for some exercise on a bike when they see the bike-o-meter – but to help its transportation demand management, part of Arlington’s vision of multi-modal commuting and dense, mixed-use development around its Metro stations.

Planners need data. For instance, an estimated 6,000-8,000 walking/biking trips are made daily across the Key Bridge connecting Arlington and Georgetown. Fisette hopes the bike-o-meter can provide a more precise figure.

When this reporter met Fisette shortly after morning rush hour ended on a recent weekday morning, more than 600 bicycles had already passed the bike-o-meter.

“We spend a lot of time in this community in order to understand how best to develop the multi-modal system,” Fisette said. “It’s to better know where to invest the dollars, to encourage more people to take alternatives to driving alone. To degree you can get people into alternatives, you improve the environment, their health, and you improve the community overall.”

“This particular intersection,” said Fisette about Lee Highway and North Lynn Street, “has a lot of safety issues that have been identified.” “We have some improvements underway over the next year. But we are also looking, as we update the Rosslyn sector plan, at more systemic improvements at this very intersection. It is challenging because of the number of cars that go through along with a high volume of bicycles.”

Arlington’s commitment to multi-modalism is reflected in its high rises, too. Data about bicycle commuting led to policies that require every new high rise have a shower, locker room and bicycle rack.

“Everybody who drives by here should appreciate each of those cyclists who took their bicycle today because it is one less car on the road,” Fisette said.

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