Quiet contemplation at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend 2016.

Quiet contemplation at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend 2016. (Robert H. Reid/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — Bicyclists will no longer be allowed to ride through the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery under a new policy that’s set to start next week despite protest from local officials and bicycle groups.

Bicyclists disrupt funeral services, affect other visitors’ experiences and pose safety concerns, the Army said in an announcement of the new rule, which goes into effect Oct. 26.

But the Arlington County Board and bicycle advocacy organizations in Arlington and nearby Fairfax County argued cyclists using the cemetery do so respectfully.

“I was cognizant this was a special place whenever I rode through there,” said former Arlington resident Bruce Johnson, 58. “It’s important to me it remains sacred, for personal reasons.”

In the 1980s, Johnson cycled through the national cemetery every day on his commute to work in downtown Washington, he said. He has multiple family members buried there, including a grandfather who served in World War I. Biking through the cemetery allowed him the time to spend thinking about their sacrifices, Johnson said.

Family members of people buried at Arlington will still be allowed to ride bicycles to and from the gravesite that they’re visiting, according to the new policy, but the grounds will be closed to through-cyclists and bicyclists without a family pass.

“While we know that riders intend no disrespect, bicyclists traversing the cemetery grounds do impact funeral services and the experience that families expect and deserve as they visit their loved one’s grave,” reads a statement on the cemetery’s website.

While there are no bicycle paths in the cemetery’s 624 acres, bicycles have previously been allowed on all but three roads. Bicycle touring groups could also be permitted with advance notice.

The Army said mixing bicyclists with pedestrians and vehicles is a “safety hazard.”

Approximately 400,000 active-duty servicemembers, veterans and their families are buried at the cemetery, which attracts millions of visitors each year.

“There are legitimate safety concerns regarding bicyclists mixing with the volume of pedestrians who visit Arlington National Cemetery each day,” the Army’s statement reads.

Cemetery officials proposed the bicycle ban in June, along with other updates to cemetery policy. A period for public comment ended July 11.

The proposal drew 14 comments, according to the Federal Register, including one from the Arlington County Board. Board Chairwoman Libby Garvey submitted a letter on behalf of the five-member board, saying visitors often used bicycles in the cemetery to “get around and visit important sites.”

“There is no need for an additional prohibition on a bicyclist who is riding their bicycle in a measured, respectful way, as a means of transportation, traversing one point outside the cemetery, to another point, outside the cemetery,” the letter states. “To limit their access to Arlington National Cemetery by bicycle is to restrict their experience of this important monument.”

The letter goes on to state that bicycles “are no more offensive” than tour buses. According to the cemetery policy, certain tour buses are allowed to operate at Arlington with permission from the cemetery director.

Henry Dunbar, manager at BikeArlington – a subdivision of Arlington County Commuter Services – said the rule was a “continuation of restrictions.” Fort Myer, which connects to the west side of the cemetery, started requiring bicyclists in 2015 to obtain 30-day passes for entry.

Since through-cyclists will now be banned from the cemetery, Arlington County should make it a priority to provide bike infrastructure around both areas, Dunbar said.

“We’re disappointed,” Dunbar said of the cemetery’s new policy. “I don’t think bicyclists have been disrespectful or disruptive.”

Jeff Anderson, president of Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling in Fairfax, agreed.

“I don’t know of any issues that have occurred in the cemetery that would cause them to do this,” he said. “I think most people would be respectful.” Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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