During the early efforts to collect public comments on priorities for Loudoun’s new comprehensive plan, the desire for new bike and pedestrian connections was certainly at the top of the list. It remained a frequent topic as a diverse group of industry and community leaders set out to write the first draft of the plan.
Two years later, the proposed plan under review by the Planning Commission includes several policy statements supporting new trails and better connections, but the concept is not explored in any detail. A new coalition of connection advocates has done the work that could change that.
The citizen-led Emerald Ribbons initiative puts some meat on the bones of the plan policies and lays out a clearer way forward if the county were to embrace the goals. The Board of Supervisors could vote as early as this week to put its support behind the proposal and then try to formally weave it into the final version of the comprehensive plan when it takes up that work later this year.
That’s the easy part. The hard work is investing resources needed to implement the plan.
Loudoun was at this point decades ago, in 2003 when a countywide pedestrian and bicycle plan was adopted to meet similar public demands. That was so long ago that future attorney general Mark Herring was a tenderfoot county supervisor.
While some new trails and bike lanes can trace their roots to that effort, the plan never became a cornerstone of the county’s community development efforts. Turns out it is not as easy as saying developers will build them.
It takes taxpayer investment, if not for individual projects, then to cover the increase in per-foot cost road construction when walking paths and bike lanes are added in.
And, not just in rural areas, private landowners will be asked to allow paths through their land.
And the need to make some of Loudoun’s most popular cycling routes safer could compete with efforts to preserve the character of the county’s most scenic roadways.
And sometimes residents will find their support for new trail projects wanes when it means the public might be walking closer to their backyard.
The 2003 plan had safeguards in place—a special committee to drive its implementation and a requirement for biennial updates among them—but that grand plan remained largely on the shelf.
County supervisors may embrace this “new” concept, but it will only be different this time around with a strong community commitment and investment.