Cycling in National Cemetery: Yea or Nay?

Local D.C. issues aren’t the stock in trade of Streetsblog Capitol Hill, but the Washington Post lately has been refereeing a debate that resonates on the national level: Is Arlington National Cemetery inhospitable to cyclists?

cemetery.jpgA Marine pedals through D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery. (Photo: M.V. Jantzen via Flickr)

The Post ran a letter to the editor on Friday that suggested as much, relaying the tale of a local resident named David Jordan who was prevented from pedaling to the military cemetery to observe Memorial Day. Jordan suggested that the cemetery’s private security guards were discriminating against cyclists:

Of all the places in Washington, where the words "freedom" and
"liberty" are uttered frequently, it seems especially sad and ironic
that anyone seeking to pay his respects would be denied the opportunity
simply because he wasn’t in a car.

Today, the newspaper ran two letters responding to Jordan (viewable here and here). Both were sent by locals with family members interred at Arlington, and both expressed concern about bikers overrunning the facility if it were opened to them. One letter-writer worried that cyclists could turn the cemetery into "an exercise track".

As it happens, neither cars nor bikes are allowed to move freely through the grounds at Arlington. M.V. Jantzen A local blogger at WashCycle contacted the cemetery and found that cars and bikes are treated equitably when it comes to access issues.

The back-and-forth over cycling at Arlington appears minor on its face. But it could prove emblematic as lawmakers decide how to tackle bike and pedestrian access in the upcoming federal transportation measure.

With "complete streets" legislation poised for inclusion in that bill, it’s important to re-frame the issue so cyclists and non-cyclists can feel like allies, not opponents. (Conservatives who blast bike initiatives as pork-barrel spending — well, they can stay opponents.)

  • J-Uptown

    The history of cemeteries is incredibly complicated. In the mid 1800s, cemeteries became popular picnic spots, due to the lack of other public open space. The demand for open space led to the establishment of parks, which took the place of cemeteries as picnic locations, and cemeteries returned to their more somber uses. While I understand the desire to prevent cemeteries from become race tracks, there must be some sort of compromise to allow access to legitimate visitors. This is a particular issue in large NYC cemeteries, where a trip from the entrance to a grave could take up to an hour on foot.

    Cars are subject to strict speed limits in cemeteries, with limited access points and roadways designed for very slow speeds. There is no reason that bicycles cannot be held to the same restrictions. Discretion on the part of the staff is also in order. A group of 15 cyclists in spandex on $1,000 road bikes are clearly not there to grieve. However, a person in normal clothes on a bike may very well be there to pay respects or simply respectfully visit the cemetery.

  • W. K. Lis

    Do those rules also apply to horses? Since horses were the main mode of transportation when the cemetery was created, were horses allowed back then?

    BTW. How was the grass mowed back then? Sheep?

  • walker_0

    Is passage through the cemetery necessary to get to places, or is this to be used for a recreational for those who ride?

  • JSD

    Install a bike rack outside the cemetery for visitors, and no riding through. Seems like a good compromise to me.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    In Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery visitors are free to drive their noisy, dirty, exhaust-spewing motor vehicles wherever they want. However, if you try to visit Boss Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, your deceased aunt or any of the other permanent residents of these beautiful grounds on a bicycle, you will not be allowed in. Adding to the insult is the simple fact that on a per capita basis, Brooklynites are some of the most greenery-deprived urban dwellers in the entire nation. Why should automobile owners and the dead be the only ones allowed to enjoy Green-Wood Cemetery’s rolling hills, fresh air and historic monuments? I can understand why management wouldn’t want spandex-clad racers running laps around the cemetery. But if your bike is your primary mode of transport and you are willing to adhere to the rules of decorum expected in a cemetery, why shouldn’t you be able to drive on to the grounds just like anyone in a car?

  • Chris in Sacramento

    A cemetery can be a fabulous place to enjoy a few minutes of quiet, low-speed bicycling while respectfully appreciating history and those who have come and gone before us. There’s a huge difference between bicycling through at 7mph and using the tombstones as fodder for something like this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z19zFlPah-o&feature=player_embedded .

  • Tom

    I ride around Arlington National Cemetary twice a day. A cut-thru would save me some time but I’m cool with the restriction. If limiting traffic is a way to honor these men who served, many who died in battle, it is a small price to pay.

    @jsd there is a bike rack just as you suggest.

  • JSD

    Thanks for the info Tom.

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