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Developing the Loudoun County Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan

The process of identifing benefits, reviewing regulatory requirements, developing goals, and creating the Loudoun County (VA) bike/ped mobility plan.

From Loudoun County Department of Planning

Map of Minnesota



Bicycling and walking are popular activities in Loudoun County both for transportation and recreation. Walking and bicycling are pleasant and enjoyable activities in a number of residential developments throughout the County that were built with sidewalks, street trees, and paved trails. The Washington and Old Dominion Trail (W&OD Trail) is a well used and cherished resource that traverses the County from east to west.

In many places, however, travel by foot and bicycle is difficult. Pedestrians face many physical barriers in the public right-of-way, including discontinuous sidewalks, dangerous road crossings, high speed traffic, and sidewalks that are blocked by poles, fire hydrants and other obstacles. There are no bike lanes in the County, and neighborhood bike paths often are narrow and winding, and do not connect to destinations.

While growth of the road network has accompanied Loudoun’s dramatic population growth in recent years, expansion of the bicycle and pedestrian network has not. Bicycling or walking is often not a safe or convenient option.

In July 2001, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors adopted the Revised General Plan and Revised Countywide Transportation Plan (CTP) providing a development framework based on smart growth principles. The Revised General Plan calls for completion of a Countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan to help implement Loudoun’s vision of a transportation system that:

  • Recognizes the intrinsic value of bicycling and walking, and
  • Advances bicycle and pedestrian mobility as a transportation goal.

This Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan (Plan) is the product of many hours of work by a Citizens’ Advisory Committee and extensive public input, and its incorporation into the CTP provides a framework for a multi-modal County transportation system.

The central element of the Plan is the identification of a countywide network of recommended bikeways and walkways to improve non-motorized transportation and access. In addition to the network, policy and program recommendations are provided to support and encourage more cycling and walking. Road and land development policy, and school, park and transit access policy are specifically addressed. Promotion, safety education and enforcement programs are also recommended to encourage everyone to share the roads and pathways safely. An institutional framework discussing funding, network maintenance, program staffing and ongoing citizen involvement is proposed to begin charting the course for plan implementation.

Because of the Plan’s primary focus on transportation, recreational walking activities as well as hiking and horseback riding are not addressed in this plan but rather in separate planning efforts. However, citizen participation efforts identified the desire to provide connections to recreational facilities.

With an adopted bicycle and pedestrian plan, Loudoun County can ensure that bicycle and pedestrian accommodations will be more fully integrated into local, state and regional transportation improvements. State and federal transportation policy with regard to bicycle and pedestrian accommodations continues to evolve and improve, creating new priorities and opportunities for funding. A clear articulation of local bicycle and pedestrian needs is vital to ensure that the transportation investments will improve and expand opportunities for bicycling and walking in Loudoun, as well as for driving and using public transit.

A. The Importance of Bicycling and Walking in Loudoun County

Transportation and Safety Benefits

Bicycling and walking are a much needed element of the transportation system in Loudoun County.

  • Nearly half of all travel trips taken in the U.S. are 3 miles or less in length; 28 percent are less than 1 mile. Most trips of these distances are easily made by bicycle or on foot. To increase the share of these trips that are made biking or walking, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is needed to form important connections between residential communities, employment and shopping areas, civic centers, parks, recreational trails and cultural attractions.
  • Many people in Loudoun County need a mode of travel that is an alternative to the automobile. Because of age or economic circumstances, many Loudoun County residents - children, low-income residents and retirees - do not have access to an automobile.
  • According to national surveys, 36 percent of Americans say they would walk or ride a bicycle to work, or to run errands, if it was safe and convenient to do so.
  • Demand is indicated by the significant numbers of people already walking and bicycling in locations that are not safe. Improving intersections, completing sidewalks, and providing highway overpasses will improve safety and reduce the potential for bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and injuries from crashes with motor vehicles.

Health Benefits

Bicycling and walking can play a vital role in improving the health of Loudoun County residents.

  • In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 61 percent of U.S. adults were either overweight or obese. In 2000, a total of 38.8 million American adults could be classified as obese.
  • Today, there are nearly twice as many overweight children and almost three times as many overweight adolescents as there were in 1980. Results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999) showed that 13 percent of children and adolescents were overweight.
  • In Virginia, the prevalence of obesity increased by 100% between 1991 and 2001, to 20 percent of the population
  • Research conducted in 1999 by the Centers for Disease Control found that “obesity and overweight are linked to the nation’s number one killer – heart disease – as well as diabetes and other chronic conditions.” The report also states that one reason for Americans’ sedentary lifestyle is that “walking and cycling have been replaced by automobile travel for all but the shortest distances.”
  • Numerous studies have shown tremendous health benefits from even a brief amount of light but regular exercise each day.
  • Total costs attributed to obesity (medical costs and lost productivity) amounted to an estimated $117 billion in the year 2000, 10% of total national health care costs. Poor nutrition and physical inactivity account for some 300,000 premature deaths in the United States each year.

Environmental Benefits

Increased levels of bicycling and walking will decrease motor vehicle use and help to improve air and water quality in Loudoun County and the region.

  • The Washington metropolitan area is classified as being in “severe non-attainment” for ground level ozone by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This means that air quality in the region is below federal health-based standards for clean air. Motor vehicle emissions are a major contributor to ozone pollution.
  • Increased levels of bicycling and walking can play an important role in reducing air pollution. By substituting a bicycling or walking trip for short auto trips, area residents can impact the amounts of pollutants generated by automobiles, because short auto trips produce far more pollution per mile than longer trips.
  • Vehicle emissions and other motor vehicle pollutants contribute to water pollution as well, which ends up in Loudoun County’s streams, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. Increased levels of bicycling and walking and their associated reductions in auto use and pollution will have a positive impact on local and regional water quality.

Economic Benefits

Developing trails, bikeways and walkable communities makes good economic sense for Loudoun County.

  • Businesses invest in locations that have a high quality of life and corporate employers have an easier time attracting good workers employees to these locations. Loudoun County’s ability to retain its status as a first class employment location will depend on its perception as a high quality place to live.
  • Bicycle tourism is big business in the United States bringing millions of dollars in revenue to some parts of the country. For example, in Vermont bicycle touring brings in twice as much revenue than the maple syrup industry. Loudoun County has already gained national recognition for the W&OD Trail and its beautiful rolling hills, horse farm country and historic towns and villages. Bicycle tourism is part of the county economy and should become a focus of the County’s tourism strategy.

Bicycle and pedestrian access to local markets is good for business, particularly in Loudoun County’s historic towns and villages.

B. Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility as a Goal

Loudoun County has long recognized the need to provide pedestrian and bicycle friendly communities. In 1969, the Proposed Comprehensive Development Plan for Loudoun County identified the need for highways, railroads, and pedestrian areas (p. 38). In 1979, the Resource Management Plan (RMP) identified the need for an efficient transportation system emphasizing pedestrian and bicycle transportation as well as the automobile (RMP, Policy 2, p. 196).

The 2001 Revised Countywide Transportation Plan (CTP) clearly and repeatedly articulates the importance of providing bicycle and pedestrian mobility. Five of the eight overall transportation strategies established by the CTP directly reference non-motorized transportation. For example, strategy two states:

The primary objective of this transportation strategy is not to merely move motor vehicles, but to provide for the efficient movement of people and goods through a variety of travel mode choices that are safe, convenient, and affordable. The transportation system should contribute to the creation of pedestrian-friendly communities and help achieve a high-quality environment while at the same time meet the mobility and economic development needs of the County. An auto-dominated transportation infrastructure should not dominate citizens’ lives or the landscape.

Moreover, many key goals established by the CTP are related to non-motorized transportation:

Goal 2: Establish a safe, convenient, efficient, and environmentally sound, multi-modal transportation system to serve the needs of all members of the Loudoun community and to support the County’s planned growth and revitalization in its regional context.

Goal 3: Develop a transportation system that encourages use of public transit and other transportation modes as effective alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles.

Goal 6: Work with the State to update and adapt its roadway design standards to be consistent with the economic, social environmental and other quality-of –life goals of the County as well as improve the safety and efficiency of the transportation system.

Goal 7: Reduce the impact of inter-county traffic on existing communities through the implementation of traffic calming or other measures.

Goal 12: Reduce vehicle emissions by a) reducing average per capita vehicle miles traveled by 20 percent …and c) reducing average per capita number of vehicle trips…

Bicycle and pedestrian mobility are recognized by the CTP as an important element of the multi-modal transportation network as well as the travel demand management strategies. It is also important as a component of County policy to ensure clean air and water, respect valued rural, historic and environmental landscapes, provide transportation choice for everyone, including persons with disabilities, and create walkable and mixed-use communities.

C. Existing Regulatory Requirements in Loudoun County

Current regulatory requirements pertaining to pedestrian and bicycle access are outlined in the 2003 Revised 1993 Zoning Ordinance and the Facilities Standards Manual (FSM). Both documents influence the design of new development.

Zoning Ordinance. Several zoning districts within the Revised 1993 Zoning Ordinance require the provision of pedestrian and bicycle access. For example, the Rural Commercial (RC) and PD-RV (Planned Development-Rural Commercial Village) zoning districts call for the promotion of pedestrian travel rather than motor vehicle use. Several residential zoning districts require that active recreation space be accessible via pedestrian walkways to all residents and, in some cases, that pedestrian linkages be provided to nearby existing or planned employment centers, shopping, or other community support services. Several commercial districts call for transportation and pedestrian access to be designed to avoid conflicts between pedestrians and vehicular traffic.

The PD-TREC (Transit Related Employment Center) and the PD-TRC (Transit Related Center) zoning districts call for the provision of pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle connections between the different land uses and planned or existing transit stops and transit parking within the district. Pedestrian connections shall be designed to ensure the shortest most direct route possible from point to point. Similarly, the PD-TC (Planned Development-Town Center) zoning district calls for pedestrian linkages within the Town Center and between the Town Center and surrounding neighborhoods or activity centers.

Facilities Standards Manual (FSM). The FSM establishes technical standards for many elements of development projects, including pedestrian and bicycle accommodations. The FSM sets standards for the width of sidewalks and trails as well as construction materials and practices. Additionally, the FSM requires that new development projects include study and mitigateion of traffic impacts to the surrounding area. Bicycle accommodations are to be provided in accordance with the policies and identified locations in the Revised General Plan and CTP and must conform to accepted national standards established by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (ASASHTO).

In addition to regulations, there are several active bicycle/pedestrian projects in the County:

  • Development of a new multi-use trail from Purcellville to Round Hill,

  • Implementation, in conjunction with VDOT, of the “Route 50 Traffic Calming Project,” a community-based, long-term strategy for managing traffic on Route 50 from Paris in Fauquier County to Lenah between Route 15 and Middleburg, and
  • Planning for the Waterford “Bury the Wires and Tame the Traffic” project, a community-based effort to bury overhead utility lines and implement traffic calming strategies that will contribute to better pedestrian access.

D. Regional Context

Transportation systems, and associated impacts, are important on a regional scale. Air quality is degraded by the way the regional transportation system functions; useful connectivity is only achieved if the regional network is well designed. The Washington metropolitan region’s transportation system, including bicycle and pedestrian plans, are the result of both individual state and local efforts as well as attempts at regional coordination.

The adoption of this Plan contributes to regional efforts to improve walking and bicycling conditions throughout the Washington metropolitan area. The following efforts were either in progress or recently completed during development of thise Loudoun Plan:

  • Northern Virginia Regional Bikeways and Trails Study - Theis Virginia Department of Transportation study will identify a regional network of roads for bikeway development in Fairfax County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Arlington County and the City of Alexandria.
  • Maryland Statewide 20-Year Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan - Maryland DOT completed a 20-year statewide bicycle and pedestrian plan in 2002. It includes recommendations to provide pedestrian and bicycle access across Potomac River bridges when they are upgraded.
  • District of Columbia Bicycle Master Plan – The DC Department of Transportation initiated this an update of a their plan completed in the late 1980s. At the center of the region, the District’s effort to identify locations for future bike lanes, as well as a variety of policies and programs to support bicycling, are a key element of regional connectivity. Arlington County Bicycle Transportation Plan – Arlington County updated its plan in 1994, and has installed 12 miles of bike lanes (with plans to install an additional 10 miles in 2003). Arlington County is also in the process of revisiting its functional classification system for roadways in order to accommodate pedestrians and to encourage slower vehicle speeds on arterials.
  • City of Alexandria Bicycle Transportation and Multi-Use Trail Master Plan - The City of Alexandria developed its plan in 1998 and has installed several miles of sidewalks, trails and bikeways in the past five years.
  • Fairfax County Countywide Trails Plan (2002) identifies the general location of proposed public trails for non-motorized users.
  • Fauquier County Fauquier County Preliminary Bicycle and Pedestrian Facility Assessment Plan - Fauquier County adopted the plan in 2001.
  • Frederick County – The Frederick County Parks and Recreation Department is developing several off-road trails in Winchester.
  • The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board supports a technical subcommittee that focuses strictly on bicycle and pedestrian goals and concerns for the region.

E. Scope and Objectives

The Revised General Plan and CTP establish the overarching objectives of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan – to identify a network that provides countywide connectivity and recognizes the need for careful and flexible facility design to meet the needs of many types of bicyclists and pedestrians. Particular objectives of the Revised General Plan and CTP include the following:

  • Establishment of a Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) to guide development of the Plan,
  • Identification of a comprehensive system of bikeways and walkways,
  • Policy framework that supports coordination of development proposals and therefore connectivity of emerging neighborhoods,
  • Policy framework that ensures the integration of bicycle and pedestrian facilities into the road and transit networks,
  • Strategies for supporting rural tourism associated with bicycling in the County, and
  • Coordination with towns, and integration of the countywide network with those in towns, villages and large neighborhoods.

Bicycle and pedestrian access to residential, office, institutional, civic and retail destinations (including schools, universities, shopping centers, employment centers, parks, libraries, community centers, and other heavily visited public buildings) in suburban neighborhoods. Schools, in particular, need to be well served by bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

The development of this Plan included the following activities:

  • Analysis of existing conditions,
  • Identification of opportunities and constraints,
  • Public involvement,
  • Collaboration with local law enforcement on safety and security issues,
  • Collaboration with the School Board on school access and education issues,
  • Development of recommended changes to roadway and development policies and regulations,
  • Identification of facility development priorities and recommending funding strategies, and
  • Development of implementation strategies.

Public Outreach Activities

Citizen Advisory Committee
June 2002 – Public invited to participate
July 2002 – CAC members appointed by the Board of Supervisors
August 2002 – CAC begins regular meetings

Public Outreach Workshops
October 1 – Eastern Loudoun
November 13 – Western Loudoun

Ongoing Public Outreach
October – December 2002
(CAC compiled and activated public outreach database)
Project Website is created

Public Presentations of Draft Plan
March 4, 2003 – Western Loudoun
March 5, 2003 – Eastern Loudoun

F. The Planning Process

The Board of Supervisors directed that a planning process grounded in careful research and extensive public participation form the foundation of the Plan. An experienced project team of staff and consultants was assigned to conduct research on potential policy directions and current conditions for bicycling and walking in Loudoun. A Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) was appointed to guide this effort and to ensure that the needs of Loudoun residents, broadly defined, would be addressed by a final plan.

The Citizens’ Advisory Committee

The CTP directed consideration of the formation of a CAC that would recommend “location and design of facilities for inclusion in the Countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan.” The Board of Supervisors appointed a 20-member CAC in June, 2002, with a specific mission: “to identify project goals and objectives, bicycle and pedestrian mobility issues, specific problem locations, solutions, the ultimate planned network, and priority projects.” [move reformatted chart to end of section]

The CAC was extremely active during the 9-month planning process. The group met 18 times to guide research, discuss policy options, develop the recommendations of this Plan, and to ensure effective public outreach. To focus the Committee’s efforts efficiently, two subcommittees were formed – Vision and Goals, and Outreach. Both subcommittees took on specific tasks during the planning process.

The Interdepartmental Advisory Team

During the research and planning phase, the Loudoun County Planning Department convened a staff team of representatives from a variety of County public agencies to review policy options and support research. Participating agencies included the Office of Transportation Services, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of General Services, the Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Building and Development, the Office of Mapping and Geographic Information, the Public Information Office, the Department of Economic Development, Loudoun County Public Schools, the Department of Fire and Rescue, and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

During development of the plan, input from incorporated Towns was actively sought, and other independent agencies including the Loudoun Convention and Visitors’ Association, the Loudoun Museum, and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority were consulted.

Public Participation

Active public participation was a key component of this Plan. The planning process included a number of strategies to encourage significant and meaningful public involvement:

The CAC was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to represent Loudoun communities and to guide development of the plan and lead public outreach efforts.

Two rounds of public workshops and meetings were conducted, during which participants were actively involved in identifying bicycle and pedestrian needs in the County.

The County website was used to gather public comments and share information as the plan was developed.

Media outreach was used to facilitate press coverage and alert the public to the process.

The CAC developed and implemented its own public outreach strategy. This strategy included establishment of the Outreach Subcommittee as well as procedures for disseminating information electronically to a carefully developed list of citizens, local and regional organizations. The CAC facilitated two-way communication by getting information to the public and receiving public comments.

G. Conclusion

The Loudoun County Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan has grown out of public concern for bicycling and walking and recognition that they must be addressed first and foremost as a part of transportation policy, planning and system development. The remainder of this Plan describes how to do that.

Chapter 2 outlines a Vision for Loudoun’s bicycle and pedestrian network and identifies five key goals that form the foundation of this vision.

Chapter 3 describes existing conditions, including current levels of bicycling and walking, the extent of existing facilities, and a detailed analysis of bicycling and pedestrian conditions on Loudoun’s roadway network.

Chapter 4 outlines the recommended policy framework that will be needed to improve bicycling and walking conditions and provide a safe and effective bikeway and walkway network. It addresses roadway design policies, facility selection, land development policies, transit system development policy and network maintenance and management.

Chapter 5 describes the proposed network of primary bikeways and walkways and refers to two maps, which can be found in the map pocket at the end of this document.

Chapter 6 describes recommended coordination with the Towns.

Chapter 7 describes recommended education and safety programs.

Chapter 8 proposes an overall institutional framework for the bicycle and pedestrian program.

Chapter 9 addresses funding strategies.

Chapter 10 provides a guide for plan implementation.

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