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Vehicle, Bicycle Collisions Up in Fairfax County

Officials hopeful bicycle master plan will make roads safer for Fairfax County cyclists.

Accidents between vehicles and bicycles in Fairfax County are happening more frequently this year — the latest claiming the life of a Falls Church woman.

There have been 54 collisions between vehicles and bicycles this year with one fatality, up from 44 accidents between bicyclists and vehicles with no fatalities in 2011.

On Nov. 12, Elizabeth P. Shattuck, 58, of Falls Church, was hit by a pickup truck while she was walking from the north to south side of Columbia Pike. Police pronounced her dead at the scene, marking the first Fairfax County death resulting from a bicycle versus vehicle accident in two years. The accident is still under investigation, and charges have yet to be filed.

Greg Billing, a spokesman for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said there are an increasing number of people taking to the roads on bicycles across the region.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in crashes between vehicles and cyclists as more people are getting into cycling,” Billing said. “Enforcement is a huge issue across the region and there are a lot of motorists out there that are distracted and speeding and don’t see the cyclists on the roads.”

The upward trend began around 2010, a year that in Fairfax County brought 49 collisions between cyclists and vehicles with four fatalities.

Throughout Virginia, there were 621 collisions between vehicles and cyclists with 12 fatalities in 2010. In 2011, those numbers rose to 730 collisions with six fatalities, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 52,000 cyclists injured in collisions involving vehicles in 2010. They resulted in 618 fatalities.

Making Roads Safer for Cyclists

Fairfax County is trying to make it safer for cyclists to travel along the roads by developing a countywide bicycle master plan. According to the phase one report of the project, one of the county’s goals is to make bicycle travel a viable transportation choice. To accomplish that, according to the report, Fairfax County must achieve a bike parking rate of 80 percent capacity at the four Tysons Corner stations within six months of opening the Silver Line. By 2014, the plan charges the county with doubling the bicycle commuting rates to Tysons Corner.

Charlie Strunk, bicycle program coordinator for Fairfax County, said his division is wrapping up its research and data for another presentation to the county’s Planning Commission in the first quarter of 2013. Strunk said the master plan will include educational components for cyclists and motorists, policy recommendations and the expansion of the county’s infrastructure to add bike lanes and trails.

“This plan is data intensive,” Strunk said. “Policy and infrastructure are the two biggest areas of the master plan.”

Since the Virginia Department of Transportation is responsible for the roadways in Fairfax County, it sets the criteria that determines whether a bike lane can be added to a road.

Cindy Engelhart, VDOT’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said the location of bike lanes is determined by proximity to high-density housing and employment centers. She said routes between those areas would need to have a demand or need for a bike lane.

The cost of a traffic study to install bike lanes varies depending on how much work has to be done, she said. The cost for VDOT to install bike lanes is between $217,600 and $719,100 per mile.

“This is determined by evaluating how fast the speed limit is and how much volume of traffic currently uses the road,” Engelhart said. “Low speed roads like neighborhood roads do not need a special bike lane. On those types since the speed is low and the number of cars are low, so bicycles can blend with the traffic using the regular lane without any special design.  Other road types may already have a wide shoulder which can be used instead by bicyclists so a bike lane is not needed.”  

Until then, Billing said enforcement of traffic laws to protect cyclists is a must. But cyclists need to be more proactive and wear reflective gear and make sure their cycles have lights and reflectors, he said.

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