Bike share — a convenient and healthy mode of alternative transportation — is increasingly popular, with 55 systems nationwide. Fairfax County adopted the idea in October 2016, placing 29 stations and more than 200 bicycles in Reston and Tysons through Capital Bikeshare.

Looking to expand its bike-share network to Merrifield, Virginia, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation turned to Ralph Buehler, associate professor of urban affairs and planning in the Virginia Tech National Capital Region, and a team of graduate students to research bike share potential and determine the best station locations.

Bryan Botello, of Dallas, Texas; Colin Chadduck, of Alexandria, Virginia; Valeria Gelman, of Nizhny Novgorod, Russia; Emily Lockhart, of Gainesville, Florida; Binh Ly of, Woodbridge, Virginia; and Bryan Steckler, of Fredricksburg, Virginia; took on the charge in a master’s studio.

In studying the area, the students found that Merrifield’s location, current population and demographics, growing employment base density, and existing transport infrastructure (including mass transit options) are the same factors that have led regionally comparable areas to launch successful bike-share operations.

“Over the next 10 years, the Merrifield area’s population is expected to double,” said Ly. “According to projections, growth will exclusively focus in the transit station area and the Town Center, with nearly 10,000 jobs added between these two areas and the Inova Fairfax Hospital campus area.”

The students learned that interest in cycling is growing in Merrifield. Merrifield has several bike racks both in the Mosaic District and at the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metrorail Station. The Fairfax County Bicycle Masterplan recommends several bike lanes and trails for expansion and improvement as roads are repaved and redeveloped.

Bike to Work Day is also popular in the area. Since 2015, Merrifield has hosted Bike to Work Day “pit stop locations” for participants in the Mosaic District and on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, and will participate in this year’s event, scheduled for May 19.

In general, local and national businesses are showing a strong interest in promoting cycling and sustainable modes of mobility.

After determining that Merrifield is an optimal choice for bike-share expansion, the team of students proceeded to identify the best locations for bike share stations.

“To determine station locations, we used both quantitative models and information gathered from site visits. Ultimately, there were more suitable locations for bike-share stations than could be built given our funding constraints, so we split the Merrifield expansion into two phases,” said Chadduck.

The full report, presented to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation last week, included detailed analysis, strategy, and station placement for 10 stations. The plan would expand bike share along the Gallows Road corridor from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metrorail Station to the Mosaic District, as well as residential areas west of Mosaic and south to Route 50, to connect with large employers in the area, such as Inova Fairfax Hospital.

The 10 bike-share stations proposed by the students are Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metrorail Station; Park Tower; Avenir Park; Hastead East; Strawberry Lane and District Avenue; District Avenue and Penny Lane; Gatehouse Road; Willow Oaks Corporate Drive; Inova Fairfax Hospital Blue Garage; and Inova Fairfax Hospital Main Entrance.

The students estimated that current funding and infrastructure would cover costs of the first phase of 10 stations.

The study also touched upon a possible phase-two expansion north along Gallows Road to connect with Tysons.

“We are extremely thankful and impressed with the effort all the students put toward this project,” said Adam Lind, bicycle program coordinator at the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. “The deliverables provide a broad range of research and recommendations for how and where to physically expand Capital Bikeshare in Tysons and Merrifield, as well as marketing and outreach efforts to grow the membership and ridership of Capital Bikeshare in Fairfax County.”

Lind said that Fairfax County is hoping to implement bike share in Merrifield at some point in the future.

Environmental studios like this one are an integral part of the curriculum in urban affairs and planning at the School of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. They offer student teams the opportunity to help public, private, and nonprofit clients tackle real world planning, policy, development, or design problems.

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