Arlington County bicyclists are demanding that the county start plowing snow-covered bike paths in much the same way that it now clears highways.
Hundreds of county residents rely on bikes year-round to get to work and need clear roads much the same as cars do, cyclists said. Moreover, Arlington's own Master Transportation Plan calls on the county to clear snow from the paths. Yet, when cyclists brought the concern to the county last week, county staff said they still hadn't determined how to plow the paths, infuriating the cyclists.
About 1,112 Arlington residents ride along the county's 86 miles of paths to get to work each day, according to June 2011 county report. But snow-covered paths make it impossible for those commuters to get to their destinations.
Jakob Wolf-Barnett, chairman of the county's Bicycle Advisory Committee, said maintenance of the bike paths is "falling through the cracks" because of misunderstandings between two county agencies: the Department of Environmental Services, which plows county streets, and the Department of Parks and Recreation, which maintains the bike paths.
"When there's a big demand for resources, a lack of directive tends to push [clearing the bike paths] off the list," he said.
The Bicycle Advisory Committee plans to speak with both departments to ensure the paths are cleared this winter, Wolf-Barnett said.
Snow-clogged bike paths force cyclists to ride among the cars and trucks on the plowed streets, endangering their safety, or to drive cars to work themselves, adding to the region's traffic congestion, cyclists said.
"People aren't just riding their bikes for recreational purposes anymore," said Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. "People depend on them to get to work year-round."
Susan Kalish, a spokeswoman for the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the county explored using existing snow-removal equipment and staff in the past but learned they needed more specialized equipment for the bike paths, which are typically much narrower than local roads.
"The county is still in the process of identifying resources to make trail-plowing possible," Kalish said. "This includes procuring properly sized equipment that would be capable of plowing narrow trails and bridges that could not withstand the weight of a heavy pickup truck, as well as identifying and training additional staff."
Wolf-Barnett said he was hopeful a solution could be found before the first snowstorm of the season hits Northern Virginia.