Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


Fort Myer gate closure is a chance to review Arlington Cemetery's one-way bicycle limits

Officials announced last week that the Wright gate entrance to Fort Myer will be closed from March 7 through mid-April for repair work necessitated by the heavy snows of 2010.


Wright Gate. Image from Google Street View.

Wright Gate is located on the northeast side of the base and is a key entrance for bicyclists who pass through, especially going east to west (identified by the red arrow on the map below).

That's because cyclists going west to east (or downhill) can pass from Ft. Myer to Arlington National Cemetery through the Chapel Gate (blue arrow). But, by Arlington Cemetery policy, cyclists may not go in the other direction.

With Wright Gate closed, cyclists headed uphill will have to take one of the numerous detours, either around the base to the north and along Arlington Blvd, or through one of the gates on the south side (green arrow) if that is even allowed. Either way, it unnecessarily adds time to cycling trips and commutes.


Image modified from Arlington County Bike Map.

The reasons for the policy are not particularly compelling, and are about traffic flow rather than security. The cemetery has between 27 and 30 funerals a day and anywhere from 4 to 5 funerals an hour. According to a cemetery spokesperson, with so many cemetery vehicles and the vehicles and buses that transport the military ceremonial troops to and from each service, there is a desire to closely monitor traffic, "not only in order to maintain the decorum appropriate for a national cemetery, but for safety purposes as well."

But cyclists are already passing through the cemetery without bringing traffic to a standstill, destroying the decorum of the cemetery, or reducing safety. The number of cyclists who take this route is pretty small and would likely remain that way, and in reality, dwarfed by the number of other vehicles in the cemetery.

A cyclist pedaling quietly and slowly uphill is hardly less dignified than the tour buses that already ply the roadways. As for safety, I think it has been demonstrated that bikes and cars can safely share roads; it hardly improves safety to push cyclists to ride a longer distance on roads with more and faster traffic.

Now is a great time to experiment with rescinding the recent policy of not allowing uphill trips. This is a rather recent policy instituted by the previous superintendent of the cemetery who was fired after a few scandals. In fact, before the Custis Trail was built, this was the preferred route of cyclists heading through this area.

A policy change would require little work. There is already a guard at the Chapel Gate and it would be easy to have them check the IDs of, and visually inspect, the cyclists who pass through, just as they did before the policy change, and as they do at other gates. The cemetery could revert to the rule that required cyclists to ride a predetermined route (the one in blue on the map, for example) that avoided tourists and high traffic areas.

While it is possible that the cemetery route would become so popular that it becomes a problem, I think it's unlikely (and probably a problem Arlington County would love to have to deal with). But if it did, the cemetery could simply limit the number of cyclists to the "appropriate" amount through a permit process. The permit process would remove those who might only occasionally pass through, and for whom the investment of time would not be worth it.

Permits would make the defined route easier to enforce: go off route, lose your permit. And if permitting was still too popular, they could further limit them with a hard cap or by requiring cyclists to commit to a certain number of hours of volunteering to keep their permit. Alternatively, they could limit the hours to only busy commuting hours.

But the policy currently in place does nothing to improve safety, decorum, or traffic flow within the cemetery; it only discourages bike commuting. The closing of Wright Gate is a perfect opportunity to experiment with reversing it.

Cross-posted at theWashcycle.

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Committee for DC.  

Comments

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The tour bus operators have been trained in the proper procedures. Cyclists have not.

by TGEoA on Mar 7, 2011 3:13 pm • linkreport

TGEoA, exactly which proper procedures would cyclists need to be aware of that wouldn't apply to the other routes through Fort Myer/Arlington Cemetary? Or are you just blustering for the sake of bluster?

by South Arlington on Mar 7, 2011 3:47 pm • linkreport

@South Arlington

Tour bus operators have been trained to not interfere with Cemetary operations.

by TGEoA on Mar 7, 2011 4:07 pm • linkreport

Yes, as someone who has family buried there, I'd find it less than appropriate to have the cemetary used as a shortcut. No other traffic in that cemetary is for anything other than cemetary needs ... including the tour buses whose riders are there to view the cemetary and pay their respects to those interned there. No one should be using it as a 'short cut'. To even ask, is a bit unfeeling.

by Lance on Mar 7, 2011 4:20 pm • linkreport

And to see that it's being allowed now in any form is a bit shocking. I can see why the last superintendent was fired. I'm going to shoot off a letter to the current superintendent asking this be stopped. I doubt Congress would allow this if they knew. It's unthinkable that people would go use the cemetery as a shortcut.

by Lance on Mar 7, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

I have family buried there too, so I guess we can disagree.

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 4:30 pm • linkreport

I suppose Lance would also disagree with military bicyclists (such as myself) passing through the cemetery, even though we are very much allowed on and through Fort Myer.

by Froggie on Mar 7, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

Oh Lance, when AREN'T you reflexively against anything remotely pro bike posted on GGW? It's almost comical.
I too have family buried there..my father actually (MCPO). I completely disagree with you regarding shortcuts for bikes. Frankly, they're a hell of a lot quieter than the tour buses. My dad's grave is close to where the tour buses park. They are loud and smelly...you catch whiffs of diesel from the site. To say the people on them are more reverent or respectful than the cyclist that rides through every day is debatable! I don't know how much time you spend there, but watch a bunch of teenagers get off a tour bus and let me know how respectful they are of the decorum. Hell, watch any bus unload..unless it's a bus packed with vets, I bet you'll find those people rarely "get it" until they've walked around for a bit. Yet I bet if you ask cyclists that use the route on a regular basis, you would discover that it's probably the best part of their day. It's a chance to commune with nature and God and be silent in respect for the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. Also, people on bicycles are almost silent...I think that's more conducive to the decorum of the place than a loud diesel engine myself. Cemeteries are WONDERFUL places for walking and biking! The house I grew up in was next to a cemetery and was often filled with couples walking and young kids (and old kids) riding. It's a quiet, safe place..perfect for such activities.
Also, as Froggie pointed out. Members of the military are some of the fittest people in our society and I bet a lot of them would/do enjoy riding through.

by thump on Mar 7, 2011 5:11 pm • linkreport

Yes, I disagree here. There is a difference between tour buses taking people through who are there to see the cemetery, and people using it as a shortcut. Frankly I'm not even sure that cyclists should be allowed to use it in either direction. Maybe if they unmounted and became pedestrians. Somehow it doesn't seem right.

by orulz on Mar 7, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

I can't argue with how if feels to someone. If it feels wrong to you, then what can I say. While I've never actually biked through the cemetery, I've biked around it, just at the edge - just as close to the graves as I would be in the cemetery. It definitely gives me pause to think and you get the full benefit of the powerful imagery.

The National Cemetery in LA allows bike commuters to pass through, and it was not so long ago that a streetcar passed through Arlington Cemetery. It used to be that cemeteries were treated like parks (in fact many have the word Park) in the name. On weekends there were people having picnics or just spending the day. I seem to recall seeing a photo of boys playing baseball in a cemetery in Chicago. Closing them off is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Congressional cemetery, which has many veterans and a signer of the Declaration of Independence buried there also serves as a dog park (with all that that involves). So what is and is not appropriate in a cemetery is an ever-changing and vastly varied set of activities.

Like I said, I can't argue with how you feel, but we should all be aware that not everyone feels the way we do and that doesn't make them wrong.

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 5:24 pm • linkreport

@thump; a broken clock is still right twice a day

by Charlie on Mar 7, 2011 5:39 pm • linkreport

Don't use Congressional Cemetery as an example - the dog park thing is a compromise to keep lots of sets of eyes out there at no cost to cut down on the drug dealing and other shady stuff. I honestly won't take my dog to CC even though I'm allowed, it just feels wrong. I drive out to Arlington to go to dog parks there instead.

I'm conflicted on the cemetery policy but don't really have a stake in it. I'd prefer to see it put to a vote of stakeholders (family members or some kind of supporters' association). As for myself, honestly, it feels wrong to ride through there when I could just as easily go through Fort Myer and not lead a one-man spandex parade in front of a military funeral.

by Dave on Mar 7, 2011 6:14 pm • linkreport

Let me get Lance's and oruiz's position straight, then. Walking through = OK? Riding bicycle through = not. Sitting in air conditioned vehicle, disembarking and re-embarking = OK? Strollers? Wheelchairs? Segways? Retina scan and truth serum to weed out "cutting through" and "just visiting" on a case by case basis? Check me if I am misreading any of this.

by Read1965 on Mar 7, 2011 8:46 pm • linkreport

I see two issues raised here.

1. Safety - TGEoA seems to think that cyclists are improperly trained, but most cyclists are pretty good at handling themselves. And the complete lack of any record of any kind of crash over the 100 years plus that cyclists have been biking through the cemetery seems to support that.

2. Decorum - Here again, cyclists have been riding through the cemetery for decades and yet there is no record of anyone complaining about. No letters to the editor and no petitions or campaigns against it. Maybe the Cemetery gets complaints, but if so they keep it a secret. Even Lance, who makes it his business to keep himself knowledgeable about such things, has family at the cemetery and has a deep and abiding hatred of cyclists has never noticed them as they bike through. So it's hard to argue that they are detracting from anyone's experience. They're hardly even detected.

While I argued recently that measuring complaints is not a good measure of how something is working, it is if you want to measure how people FEEL about something. And people seem to feel like this is no big deal. Frankly if you go to Arlington Cemetery and notice a cyclist - amidst all there is to take in - you're intensely sensitive to such things.

So there is no real loser by allowing bikes to pass through, but there are winners. In addition to getting a quicker route, cyclists get the experience of Arlington Cemetery more often. While it's true that cyclists are just passing through, it's not like they aren't taking it in. Who can go through without reflecting on what the Cemetery means and on the sacrifice the graves represent? And having done so, who couldn't have the kind of thankful reflection that most people associate with honoring the fallen? Isn't that something the Cemetery should support? Frequent visitors, even if their just passing though, pay honor in their own way.

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 9:21 pm • linkreport

@David

I was referring to decorum, not safety.

by TGEoA on Mar 7, 2011 11:06 pm • linkreport

My bad. Still, has there been a problem with cyclists interfering with Cemetery operations?

by David C on Mar 7, 2011 11:33 pm • linkreport

@Read1965, The issue is simply, 'are you using the roads in the cemetery to be in the cemetery?' or 'are you using the roads in the cemetery to cut through the cemetery?' Like David C pointed out, a lot of things can be done in a cemetery ... including picnicking (used to be real common), taking your dog for a walk in the cemetery, even riding your bike around in the cemetery. What's wrong and very disrepectful is to use the roads in a cemetery as a cut through ... i.e., as a 'highway' ... It doesn't matter if you're on a bike, in a car, or a bus. To most of us this is sacred ground. You don't use it as a cut through unless you have no respect for those interred there.

by Lance on Mar 8, 2011 12:04 am • linkreport

This brings up a point I've been wondering about for some time. Many years ago I used to occasionally bike to the Custis-Lee Mansion. I'd like to take my child cycling there, but with gate closures and route restrictions, I'm unsure of how to get there. I'd be coming from the Pentagon City area. When I called Arlington Cemetery, I was told that I'd have to come in through the main visitors gate and walk my bike up the hill. But I recall that coming in the back way, one didn't go through much of the cemetery. Can anyone advise?

by Mary on Mar 8, 2011 7:40 am • linkreport

I wonder if those here who are sure it is wrong to use Arlington for commuting feel the same about Rock Creek Park?

To paraphrase:
The issue is simply, 'are you using the roads in the park to be in the park?' or 'are you using the roads in the park to cut through the park?'

People who use RCP as an expressway downtown have said that even the few minutes they spend in the park allows them to "commune" with nature. If true then I fail to see how a cyclist couldn't, likewise, be paying their respects to those interred in Arlington.

I don't claim to speak for the dead but if I were buried there the last thing I would want is to be forgotten. Perhaps allowing Arlington to be a part of our daily lives would be honoring those there.

by JeffB on Mar 8, 2011 7:47 am • linkreport

You don't use it as a cut through unless you have no respect for those interred there.

No YOU don't use it, because YOU think it would be disrespectful. I'm pretty sure that the people who use it now have the utmost respect for those interred there, and it's pretty self-righteous of you to claim otherwise.

by David C on Mar 8, 2011 8:19 am • linkreport

@lance Thanks. Put that way, surely it's time to permanently eliminate through routes from one side of the cemetery to another all together. I doubt that management of Arlington, which is struggling with its mission of interring our heroes and computerizing their records, is chomping at the bit to take on a sorting out of each individual party entering the grounds. "Will you be picnicking today? Or commuting disguised with a picnic basket filled with bicycle tools? Walking to a grave? Or exiting in a direction other than the one from which you entered?" Maybe the Committee of 100 could provide volunteer docents to staff this new function. Another solution would be to award a monopoly to a private company like Tourmobile and have them be the sole provider of $20 all-day tickets onto the cemetery grounds, but I think that's been tried. Or, we can take breath, recognize that one person's last respects is another person's busload of nosepicking tourists, and trying to distinguish between the two is a fools' errand.

by Read1965 on Mar 8, 2011 8:22 am • linkreport

Following Lance's logic, perhaps I (or the rest of my command) shouldn't be jogging amongst my fellow veterans at Washington National Cemetery (on Suitland Rd).

by Froggie on Mar 8, 2011 8:44 am • linkreport

@Read1965

In order to enter Arlington National you need a visitor's pass ... or to be in one of the programmed tour buses. You can't just 'walk in there' ... or 'bike in there' ... Except that the past superintendent apparently made an exemption for this in regards to bicyclists disrepectfully looking for a shortcut through the cemetery. I've already contacted Delegate Norton's office asking this be looked into. This is a disgrace.

by Lance on Mar 8, 2011 8:50 am • linkreport

Lance, I'm usually in agreement with you on this site, but think of it this way: Those cyclists passing by almost certainly will have to consider, if only for a second, the sacrifice made by our people in uniform. It's impossible to look at thousands of white headstones and not have that run through your head. Don't you think that honors the fallen?

I think it's horrible when headstones are never seen and those interred beneath them are forgotten. There are some really old ones near the church on N. Stafford in Arlington, across from the Wachovia. And behind the American Legion on Lee Hwy. And probably others.

Let me qualify this comment by saying I hope the cyclists are being respectful when they do cut through. Maybe slow down a little, etc.

by JB on Mar 8, 2011 8:54 am • linkreport

@JB 'Those cyclists passing by almost certainly will have to consider, if only for a second, the sacrifice made by our people in uniform.

Let me qualify this comment by saying I hope the cyclists are being respectful when they do cut through. Maybe slow down a little, etc.

If they're not slowing down for live pedestrians, do you really expect them to be slowing down for the dead?

Also, I should have mentioned in regards to the pass system, it only allows you to go to the grave you're visiting. I.e., I have a permanent pass (for a family member) and it says I can only use it to visit a specific section of the cememtery. When a visitor wants to pay respects to someone they knew, they need to go to the center and 'check in' and get a pass ... with similar restrictions to my permanent pass. Visitors going to the Lee House need to either use the tour mobiles or follow a designated path to it. Lettig people just cut through the cemetery because they happen to be on bikes and it's easier for them than to go around the cemetery is just complete counter to the cemetery's general policies ... Policies which are meant to maintain decorum and respect and to understand this is final resting place and to be used for purposes related to that final resting place only. If a family member wants to bike to their deceased member's grave, not a problem. Get a pass.

by Lance on Mar 8, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

The difference between Arlington and a cemetery like Congressional is that it is an active cemetery. Would I want to see a bunch of bikers zipping through to save some time, or stopping to gawk during a funeral procession of a family member? No.

by beatbxo on Mar 8, 2011 9:58 am • linkreport

Congressional Cemetery is also an active cemetery. Not with the amount of activity and tourist traffic Arlington has, but it is still very much active.

by Dave on Mar 8, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

@Lance: You still haven't expressed why cutting through is disrespectful. As others have mentioned, and I stated in my first post. It's nigh on impossible to go through ANC (on a bike, on foot, in a car, or in a bus) and not get that it's a place that deserves solemnity. It just seems that you THINK/FEEL personally that it is disrespectful. I feel differently, Froggie feels differently...I'm pretty sure my dead father would feel differently.
You talk about the cemetery's policies..but I can't find anything in the ANC Website that says letting people ride bikes through are "complete(ly) counter" to those policies. I also can't see how allowing someone to ride TO "their deceased member's grave" is less decorous than riding THROUGH.
Further, funerals (if that's what you're actually worried about..though I think you're just being a curmudgeon as per usual) take place between 9am and 3 pm. The cemetery is open to visitors from 8am to 5pm. My guess is that most people biking through are going to work and have to be there before 9 and are leaving after 5...probably not interfering with the solemnity of a burial. I'm also guessing that if a bicyclist did see a funeral, they wouldn't ride by. The speed limit in ANC is 20 mph, 10 mph when peds are present. Unless, you're training for the Tour de France or pedaling your ass off downhill, most cyclist aren't speeding.
Finally, If you want to talk about policies that mean to "maintain decorum and respect", then you better damn well ban the buses, and cars from ANC. Make every single person that wants to visit come by foot. Make them walk across the Memorial Bridge so they realize the enormity of sacrifice, the proper reverence to approach dead heroes with. As I stated, my dad is close to where the buses park (Sect. 54) and nothing sucks more than having those buses idling nearby. It's hard to be solemn and silent when people are (loudly) getting off a bus after a long ride. Give me a observant biker over an obnoxious tourist any day!

by thump on Mar 8, 2011 10:52 am • linkreport

should have been "more" decorous.

by thump on Mar 8, 2011 10:54 am • linkreport

Lance, it wasn't just the previous Superintendent, but every Superintendent back as far as anyone can remember. The last Superintendent was part of the decision to limit uphill riders - which someone else thinks is more Ft. Myer's decision.

by David C on Mar 8, 2011 11:17 am • linkreport

Haven't visted ANC in awhile. The only thing I find outrageous about this thread is that you now need a pass to enter.

by spookiness on Mar 8, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

@spookiness 'Haven't visted ANC in awhile. The only thing I find outrageous about this thread is that you now need a pass to enter.

As far back as I can remember, you've needed a pass to enter. Nothing new there. (Perhaps exceptions were made for people on foot? I dunno.)

by Lance on Mar 8, 2011 11:42 am • linkreport

You need a pass to drive your car in. You can walk in without a pass. Lance clearly has never gone in without his car.

by David C on Mar 8, 2011 11:51 am • linkreport

Sorry if this is a bit off the main topic, but as it was mentioned, I feel the urge to clarify. I am the Office Manager at Congressional Cemetery, and reading through here, I wanted to make very clear that our Cemetery is not a "dog park." It is an historic cemetery, which also has recently been named a National Landmark. We care deeply for the historic significance of this sacred space, striving to serve as stewards not only to the land and stone that make up the grounds, but to the stories and memory of those interred here.

Now, that said...yes, we allow dog walking.

However, it is not a public "dog park." It is a private dogwalking club, and only members of the club are allowed to walk their pets here. Each member pays an annual fee and volunteers a minimum of 12 hours per year. As Dave pointed out, the dogs do indeed serve as a great security force for us, but the program itself serves the cemetery in myriad ways. From fundraising to keep this little place alive (no pun intended), to gardening, to computer work, to archiving...our dogwalking community has been instrumental in the rebirth of Congressional Cemetery, once listed on the country's most endangered places, nearly abandoned and frequented by rather dangerous people, to a National Landmark that hosts Smithsonian research, fundraising parties, lectures, book signings, and as it was originally intended in the 19th century, is once again a neighborhood centerpoint.

Thanks for letting me ramble on this tangent. :)

by Cemeterri on Mar 8, 2011 5:08 pm • linkreport

@ charlie: @thump; a broken clock is still right twice a day

Correct, but a clock that's 50 years behind (and Lance is), is always wrong.

by Jasper on Mar 8, 2011 7:30 pm • linkreport

What makes a road that goes through a cemetery more important than a road that goes around one? Isnt the distance from asphalt to tombstone around the same?

Why is is disrespectful to cruise in the inner road, but not the outer road?

Im assuming no one is arguing for biking on top of grave sites right?

Think of it like this...

CEMETERY A | Bypass Route Street | CEMETERY B
CEMETERY A | Bypass Route Street | CEMETERY A

If it was a road between two differently named cemeterys, would it be different than a road in between areas of the same one...?

Of course not.

Lance, like usual, is just disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing. It reminds me of how republicans automatically oppose anything Obama likes, so now Obama is praising republicans, so that they can no longer like themselves. I'm sure if this website created a post titled "Why Lance is right" Lance would have to disagree or explode.

by JJJJJ on Mar 8, 2011 8:49 pm • linkreport

However, it is not a public "dog park." It is a private dogwalking club, and only members of the club are allowed to walk their pets here. Each member pays an annual fee and volunteers a minimum of 12 hours per year.

Okay, here's a compromise. Charge the cyclists a toll for using the cemetery as a cut through. Better yet, require they enlist in the service! :)

by Lance on Mar 8, 2011 9:28 pm • linkreport

I just want to be able to walk in from Columbia Pike. The gate had been closed and I recently found it open on Memorial Day. My Grandfather is buried on the side closer to the Pike and it would be great if pedestrians could walk in.

Even if they do not let bikes in would be great for pedestrians. I have told tourists that walked from the pentagon metro that they have to walk around because the gates were closed.

by piker on Mar 9, 2011 8:40 am • linkreport

piker, that is a separate but related issue. There are 7 gates into Arlington Cemetery. At present two are open (the main gate - Roosevelt - and the Ord and Weitzel gate near the Marine Corps Memorial) and one half open (the Chapel Gate). The gate you're referring to is the Service Complex Gate. It would be nice if that one were opened as well. It would make it easy for people to visit the Marine Memorial, Arlington, the Air Force Memorial and the 9/11 Memorial on one walk. I think it passes by the quarters where family stay, which may be why they don't do that, but there is a connection from Patton to Southgate that they could open to pedestrian traffic to serve the same purpose.

by David C on Mar 9, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

Instead of thinking of cyclists as cutting through, think of them as visiting for a very short time, paying their respects, and leaving through a different entrance.

I still fail to see how a bus full of teenagers is somehow less disrespectful to those interred there than a quiet cyclist, but that may be because I give the cyclist the benefit of the doubt.

by Emily WK on Mar 10, 2011 8:57 am • linkreport

A great deal of debate over bikes and no bikes. My Dad was buried in Arlington in 2011 and my entire family made the journey from California for his service. I welcome any respectful member of the public who wishes I visit this hallowed ground and ask that you waive to my Dad as you ride or walk by. I know he would enjoy knowing his 33 years of selfish service was not in vain. We are here to see him this week and hope to see pedestrians and bikers alike enjoying this nation's most impressive national park.

by Bob Lozito on Jul 5, 2014 7:11 am • linkreport

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