Name: Chris Slatt
What He’s Doing: Organizing Bike 4 The Pike, a protest bike ride on June 23 to raise awareness about unsafe riding conditions on Columbia Pike, which is also home to the busiest bus route in the Commonwealth.
Lives in: Arlington County, in the Penrose neighborhood along the Columbia Pike corridor
Originally from: Finger Lakes region of New York.
1. The basics: Where’d you go to school and how did you get here? I came to the DC area in 1998 to go to college at American University. I moved to Arlington straight out of college, lived in a series of apartments along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor before buying a house in Penrose about 10 years ago.
2. You’re an information systems developer who studied computer information systems at American University. How did you get involved in the Arlington County transit scene? After buying our house, I started getting involved in civic affairs - our neighborhood association, policy conversations on local e-mail discussion lists, etc. Like most folks who show some interest and thoughtfulness around civic affairs, it got me an invitation to join a County Commission. Since most of my online discussion was about the Columbia Pike Streetcar, that invitation was to join the Transportation Commission. I’ve been working on transportation issues in Arlington ever since.
3. You’re organizing Bike4ThePike. What is this event and what made you do it? Bike for the Pike is a protest ride to raise awareness about the stressful, unsafe biking conditions on and around Columbia Pike, the years of delay that we have seen with trying to fix them and the gaps in the County’s current plans to make Columbia Pike a Complete Street. The County has budgeted over $165 million rebuilding Columbia Pike to make it a “complete street” according to the Capital Improvement Plan, and yet current plans wouldn’t even provide a complete bike facility that runs the full length of the Pike, let alone one that is safe, direct and low-stress. It’ll be a short ride, less than 2 miles, ending in delicious lunch at the West Pike Food Truck Party.
I’ve long been frustrated by the glacial pace of bike improvements on the Pike. Piled on top of that have been a number of bike crashes on the Pike in the last year including a mechanic at our local bike shop Papillon Cycles. Piled on top of that, my kids are getting older and wanting to bike places on their own two wheels. With all of that stacked up, along with Phoenix Bikes moving to the Pike soon and the Board set to adopt a new Capital Improvement Plan this year, the time seemed right to try to make a statement in support of cycling on the Pike.
4. You’ve previously written about the challenges of making Columbia Pike a more “complete street” (e.g., your post in Greater Greater Washington about the bike plan for Columbia Pike). Unless there’s a major upheaval, the Pike isn’t getting any wider. What are some of the most viable solutions that could be palatable to bicyclists as well as motorists who use it to commute every day? Space is really tight on the Pike, getting a gold standard bike facility like a protected bike lane on Columbia Pike would require some major trade-offs for other modes of travel. The County’s current plans will never win any awards, but if some of the gaps in those plans could be addressed, cycling on Columbia Pike would be significantly improved, especially for kids and less-confident adults.
The County’s plans rely on a combination of Bicycle Boulevards, which are quiet neighborhood streets specially designated for cycling, often with additional traffic calming measures and 10-foot-wide sidepaths which some would compare to a trail and others would compare to a wide sidewalk. Both of these are less than ideal bike facilities, but better than the status quo and very space-efficient given the space constraints on the Pike. Between the two, the County’s plans almost get a complete, connected facility stretching the length of the Pike except:
- There are no planned improvements or alternatives to the Columbia Pike Bridge over Four Mile Run, which has no bike facilities and whose sidewalks are narrow and directly adjacent to traffic.
- The 9th Street Bike boulevard dead-ends on either side of George Mason requiring a detour even further off the Pike to safely cross George Mason Drive.
- The 9th Street Bike boulevard has no safe way to cross Glebe Road. The County installed only a rectangular rapid flash beacon at this intersection, which does not legally require drivers to stop, and placed it with seeming no regard for how a cyclist is supposed to activate it.
- The 9th Street Bike boulevard has no safe way to cross Walter Reed Drive and the project to add a traffic signal hasn’t had a single website update in over two years.
- The Washington Boulevard interchange is challenging for cyclists, whether riding on-street or taking the 10-foot sidepath.
- There is uncertainty about whether the County will be able to achieve its plans on the far east end of the Pike now that Arlington National Cemetery is no longer interested in a land swap deal that would have included Arlington re-aligning that end of the Pike.
To address those, the County should:
- install a dedicated bike/ped bridge immediately next to the existing bridge over Four Mile Run to provide dedicated space for bikes & peds, connecting to the 10-foot sidepath already built on either side
- solidify a medium to long-term plan for bridging the George Mason Drive gap, which could include either more on-street facilities in that stretch of the Pike or a bridge over George Mason connecting the two dead-ends of 9th Street
- install a traffic signal or HAWK at 9th & Glebe
- expedite the installation of a traffic signal at 9th & Walter Reed Drive
- complete a thorough multimodal safety review of the Washington Blvd / Columbia Pike interchange and implement safety fixes
- build the Army Navy Country Club connector NOW rather than a decade from now and redouble efforts to tie it into the Bike Boulevard network so that there is an alternative route to Pentagon City from the Pike if the County is unable to complete the planned sidepath east of Washington Blvd.
5. Tell us about your commute. Where do you work, what methods of transit do you use and how long does it take to get to and from work? My commute varies pretty significantly from day to day and week to week. Five days a week I have to be down by the King Street Metro by 8 am for what somewhat approximates a typical office job, except it’s part-time (4 hours a day). In addition to that, my wife and I own a dance studio (Perfect Pointe Dance Studios) with two locations - one in Arlington on Lee Highway, the other on the south end of Springfield near Newington. On days where I only have to be at King Street or just King Street and the Arlington studio I like to bike - it’s about 35 minutes down to King Street, 35 minutes home, 35 minutes up to Perfect Pointe Arlington - I generally take Walter Reed Drive to Kenmore Street to the Four Mile Run Trail to Commonwealth Avenue getting back and forth to King Street. Going to Perfect Pointe I’m partial to winding my way through neighborhood streets in Penrose, Arlington Heights and Ashton Heights then hopping on Fairfax Drive in Virginia Square to the Custis Trail to Harrison Street. I think the exercise, the fresh air and the beautiful views along the stream make me more productive when I get to work in the morning.
On days which I have to be in Springfield in the afternoon I drive the whole day - about 20 minutes down to King Street in the morning, 15 minutes over to Springfield in the afternoon and 20-35 minutes depending on traffic coming home to Arlington in the evening (mostly because there aren’t safe, direct bike routes to get to the south end of Springfield and partly because I don’t know if I could make the extra time required work with my schedule).
6. Do you ride in the snow or when it’s snowing? I used to bike in the snow before we opened Perfect Pointe Springfield. Now that biking is a “sometimes” commute mode instead of the default, it’s so easy to just drive that I tend to do so.
7. Tell us about your bike(s). Where did you buy it, how long have you had it and does it have a name? My commuter bike is a Breezer Beltway Infinity that I bought from Papillon Cycles in 2014. I love how little maintenance it requires; between the belt drive, disc brakes, hub-powered lights it is the ultimate “just get on and ride” bike for me. When I have lots of cargo to carry or when I’m going out and about with my kids, I ride a bakfiets.nl cargo bike that I bought in 2015. It was life-changing for us as a family, making the journey just as enjoyable as the destination and letting me really enjoy sharing Arlington with my kids in a away you don’t get driving past it in a car. None of my bikes have names.
8. We assume you’ve taken your bike onto Metrorail rides. What are some of the ways Metro can improve a bicyclist’s Metro experience? I think with Metrorail’s current ridership problems, now might be the time to start allowing bikes on Metrorail at all hours, perhaps limited to the front and rear car. It works for BART, which is very similar. It would be good for mobility in the region, facilitating more bike + Metrorail trips, and it would bring additional fare revenue to WMATA.
9. If you started a bicycling gang - the bicycling equivalent of the “Sons of Anarchy” - who would be your founding members? (You can have three.) I often feel like I’m already in a bike gang - a large percentage of my non-commute bike trips are made en-masse with my family and our friend’s family who lives across the street. Between the two families we’re a pack of 5 to 7 bikes, depending on whether my kids are riding solo or in the bakfiets. If I were intentionally starting a bicycle gang, I think it would be focused on advocacy (of course) a la the fictional “All Powerful Bicycle Lobby” as satirized on Twitter. The three folks I’d most want by my side doing bike advocacy in Arlington are:
- Gillian Burgess - chair of Arlington’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and founder of Kidical Mass Arlington, which runs family-friendly bike rides throughout Arlington.
- Mark Blacknell - Washington Area Bicyclist Association board member, long-time Arlington bike advocate and owner of one of the only bicycles in Arlington that looks more ridiculous than the bakfiets
- Judd “Lumberjack” - a great guy I met exclusively through Twitter and bike social events who embodies the fun and social aspects of biking and is always willing to help out.
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