ARLINGTON -- After a lengthy and sometimes emotional public hearing, the Arlington City Council narrowly approved a $55.3 million plan Tuesday to add on-street bike lanes, sidewalks, and other hiking and biking amenities throughout the city.
More than 300 residents filled City Hall to weigh in on the proposed Hike and Bike Master Plan, which calls for building a 125-mile network of on-street and off-street bike facilities as well as 149 miles of sidewalks to help residents get from neighborhoods to city parks, schools and other destinations.
The council voted 5-4 for the plan, with Mayor Robert Cluck and council members Robert Rivera, Gene Patrick and Mel LeBlanc voting against it.
City leaders and supporters say adding pedestrian and cycling amenities will encourage fitness, help improve Arlington's air quality, provide residents and visitors with an alternate way to get around town, and attract new businesses and families.
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Resident Jodi Lee Ryan, who has multiple sclerosis, came with her service dog Cinder to urge the council to support the plan.
"My bicycle is my life line to the world. It doubles as a wheelchair when I want to do errands close to home. It is my recreation," Ryan said. "Many of my disabled friends ride. We want bicycle lanes."
But the plan also drew strong opposition.
Critics said that promoting on-street bicycling will add to traffic congestion and lower property values, and that bike lanes and paths will be expensive to build and maintain -- taking away money from other priorities. Some said residents should be allowed to vote on the issue, while others threatened to vote against council members who supported the plan.
"Don't ask me as a taxpayer to spend millions of dollars to pay for somebody's hobby," one man said. Another man, Rick Rose, shouted "You are pushing this down our throats. ... I see tyranny in Arlington."
A smaller plan
After the 21/2-hour public hearing, LeBlanc made a motion to reject the plan but didn't get enough votes. He said that he felt mixing cars and cyclists was dangerous and that he didn't support spending so much on recreation.
"The city of the future is not the city that puts bike paths in," LeBlanc said. "It's the city ... that has a very low tax rate and a very low debt ratio. The city of the future is the city you can move to and not be robbed by taxes."
Robert Shepard, who made the motion to approve the plan, said residents have had numerous opportunities to weigh in and have their questions answered over the two years that the plan was developed.
"Any notion that this was shoved down anyone's throat is frankly offensive to me," Shepard said.
The plan is significantly smaller than the original $88 million proposal, which called for 281 miles of on-street and off-street hike and bike paths.
Although that plan was recommended by the Arlington Planning and Zoning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Board, council members believed that it was too robust.
After several meetings, a City Council ad hoc committee led by Shepard devised the scaled-down $55.3 million version that focused more on recreational riding in linear parks.
The projects range from installing signs reminding motorists that they are sharing the road to building 14-foot-wide off-street paths. They would largely be paid for with bonds and be built over the next 30 to 40 years as roadways are expanded or rebuilt, city officials said.
The plan will be reviewed every five years.
The plan calls for building 64 miles of off-street bike paths, mostly through linear parks, at an estimated cost of $40 million, and 149 miles of sidewalks to fill in gaps in the sidewalk system for an estimated $15 million.
Bikes and parking
On-street bike facilities are a small fraction of the plan's costs. It will cost an estimated $230,000 to create 16 miles of on-street bike lanes, which are specially striped lanes that would run along the outside edge of city streets, and 43 miles of recommended bike routes, city staff has said.
For recommended routes, the city would paint markings, such as a bicycle, in existing traffic lanes and install signs to remind motorists that they are sharing the road.
Supporters say designated bike lanes and more signage will help make the streets safer for cyclists.
Eddie Holsopple, manager of Bicycles Inc. in Arlington, said he has been threatened by motorists as he has commuted to work and shuttled his daughters to school. His neighbor, who also rides to work, is often yelled and honked at, he said.
"We can make it safer by designating areas for motorists and bicycle riders," Holsopple said.
But opponents say a stripe of paint won't stop motorists from hitting cyclists.
Another concern for opponents was whether adding bike lanes on residential streets would prevent parking. That is not the case, said Jim Parajon, director of Community Development and Planning.
"On-street parking can exist with bike lanes. There is no signs that say you can't park. No one gets ticketed," Parajon said.
The plan was supported by groups including Bike Friendly Arlington, the University of Texas at Arlington, Downtown Arlington Management Inc., and the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau board. Opponents include the group Save Our Streets and the Arlington Board of Realtors.
The plan still needs a second reading for final approval. The council is expected to vote again when it returns in August.