Improvements Coming to Tricky Clarendon Intersection

by Katie Pyzyk January 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm 8,199 87 Comments

A widely disliked Clarendon intersection will be revamped in the next couple of years. The County has released preliminary plans for the area sometimes referred to as Clarendon Circle.

Based on a study of the intersection at Washington, Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards, the plan provides safety improvements for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. Eight other nearby intersections would also be affected by the changes in traffic flow.

The study offers numerous suggestions and sketches of possible redesigns. Some ideas included adding lanes to Washington Blvd, removing left turn lanes, adding bike lanes, adding curb extensions near Liberty Tavern and Sam’s Diner and moving traffic more toward the Silver Diner’s property.

The geometry of the intersection, which is often described as “awkward” and “confusing,” would be normalized by the revamp. The overall size of the intersection would decrease, and better traffic signals and signs would be installed.

County staff examined the study’s suggestions and narrowed down the ideas into one design proposal. Feedback is currently being accepted on the initial proposal via an online survey.

The first round of public forums addressing the improvements will be scheduled soon and will continue throughout the spring. A finalized plan and ground breaking is expected sometime in 2014, at the latest.

  • Brian

    They should go DC style and make it a real traffic circle

    • dave schutz

      How about going DC style and doing a grade separation?
      Revive the old plan for a Washington Boulevard tunnel under Wilson and you would enable pedestrians to get to Clarendon from the neighborhood, Washington and Wilson would both flow better, and the neighborhood would get less exhaust from people waiting at the traffic light.

      • Lee-n-Glebe

        I could be wrong, but I believe the Metro might get in the way of such a tunnel.

  • Ben

    I think they where but can’t because of the Liberty Tavern building being historical.

    • John

      It has nothing to do with the Liberty Tavern building. There was a circle at the intersection until the Metro construction ripped up the road int he 70s

      • Ben

        Didn’t know that but I meant in it’s current form. There is no room as when Clarendon circle existed, Clarendon Blvd didn’t intersect – the circle was only a intersection of Washington Blvd and Wilson.

        • John

          You’re right about the roads. The Clarendon Trust Company bank building, JC Penny’s, People Drug, etc. was where Clarendon Boulevard is today.

          • Clarendonish

            Bring back Ashton Theater !

  • darrel

    looks exactly the same to me.

    • Josh S

      Look more closely – many substantial changes proposed – primarily in the area of dramatically increasing the amount of sidewalk and reducing street / parking area.

  • CW

    Unfortunately the much worse (and soon to get 100 times worse) intersection is at 10th/washington/garfield/fillmore. That one needs some serious help, but I’d imagine they’ll be waiting until after that monster project finishes up.

    • Burger

      agreed that intersection is a death trap.

      Making a left onto Washington from Garfield (going north toward Clarendon) is absurd. Most of the drivers making a left turn onto Wash. Blvd going away from Clarendon pull way too far ahead to make their left turn and essentially squeeze the opposite left turn drivers out. The best part is the county put revised median shrinking the intersection and now cars almost can get through.

  • brendan

    Oy… This would be great news if the county didn’t end up making things worse most of the time.

    Just in the last year

    –> Creating a single lane w/ bus stop, fire hydrant and taxi stand all overlapping on Highland between Clarendon blvd and Washington while also approving zoning for a heavily used grocery store.

    –>New stoplight on Garfield at Washington which has managed to make Washington Blvd even more congested and dangerous for pedestrians.

    This intersection needs significant improvements to address several serious safety issues. But if other recent projects in the area are any indication this will project will turn into another waste of money with a high likelihood of making things worse.

    • CW

      Agree with #1 – taxi drivers idling there or on 12 should be sent to prison for 10 years minimum. And there should be fewer street parking spots in front of Lyon Place. Getting out of that garage is suicide because it is a completely blind exit- you can’t see around the parked car to the left until you’re already out in the lane. Meanwhile an Audi that just blew the light at Clarendon is screaming down Garfield at 50 mph.

      #2 I disagree with – Getting onto eastbound washington was too hard beforehand as a driver. The light at highland was more used by peds, making lefthand turns hard. The existing spot at Garfield/Wash with no light would have been too much of a mess with the extra traffic from Clarendon Center and soon the giant monster development. Few peds use that crossing – only ones going mid-block on the south side of wash blvd there would have any reason to.

      • brendan

        the light at garfield could potentially work…definitely was dangerous before when making a left without it but..

        They screwed up setting the timing of it with all the other lights/intersections so you end up having cars blocking the wash/10th and wash/highland intersections, not only disrupting the flow of traffic but forcing pedestrians to navigate between cars blocking crosswalks.

        • CW

          I think it has gotten better in past weeks – may have been adjusted – but I have not quantified it and we all know that around here, firsthand experience doesn’t count as evidence :).

          • Burger

            I make that left hand turn from Garfield to west bound Washington Blvd almost every day. It is not better at all. I’d say once a week, the east bound on to Washington from Garfield turns fill the entire intersection making it impossible to make a turn west bound. and about every 2 weeks i almost get in an accident bc you can’t see around the east bound left turn line drivers.

            Timing lights is not going to fix the issue. They need to do structural work on the intersection to remove the abuttment they added to the median to make it ADA compliant and move it farther west along washington blvd.

          • OldTimer

            Left hand turn from Garfield onto westbound Washington Blvd??? Garfield and Washington only intersect where the new light was installed. Left turn from Garfield onto Washington would be eastbound.

        • DCCHughes

          That’s only because people are so impatient that they pull into the intersection when there is not room for them, essentially “blocking the box”. Drivers need to pay attention to whether there is in fact room for them before proceeding through an intersection instead of thinking “It’s green so I get to go, no matter what.”

          • Burger

            Well, great…I am sure having drivers pay more attention will clearly solve the problem…but I won’t hold my breath on your solution.

          • brendan

            somewhat true but people don’t always behave the way we would like..which should be accounted for in transportation planning — from speed bumps and guard rails to making the speed limit signs purposefully lower than the actual safe speed.

            That said. I think the real problem is that people aren’t use to the blockages here so they pull up not realizing the County has screwed everything up and that they’re being held up by a poorly located and timed light.

  • Zach

    In addition to actual signage, what this intersection really needs is to either not allow left turns at all, or to make them permissible only with dedicated signals. Don’t get me wrong, I like these traffic calming ideas, but it’s cars waiting to turn left out in the center of the intersection that seems to be the biggest problem to me.

    • Josh S

      Yes. What’s strange is that the movement left from east/southbound Washington onto Clarendon has a dedicated left turn arrow but I rarely see it on. Why is that?

      • Quoth the Raven

        I’ve noticed the same thing – the arrow is on in the early morning, but I’ve never seen it on at any other time.

        For me, the intersection would be a lot better/safer if more drivers understood and obeyed that “a green arrow means you can use the lane and the red x means you can’t.”

    • Tre

      Yeah, making a left turn from either direction of Washington is a giant pain. I tend to just avoid the intersection all together.

      • y8s

        I find a useful method of turning left from eastbound washington is to honk and flash your lights and just gun it. at least people can avoid you.

    • Jay

      Agreed, just last night heading north on Washington Blvd. I was nearly hit by 3 cars heading south and turning left without looking.

  • MW

    +1 on adding a circle. There are too many streets for any form of traditional intersection.

    • Josh S

      Key proposal here is to close Irving Street at the intersection. Would definitely help.

      • Michael H.


        Removing the turn lane from Washington to Clarendon is a good idea too. It will be safer for pedestrians.

  • Spiteful

    This intersection was previously known as Clarendon Circle.


    • drax

      Complete with a trolley!

      • Josh S

        Note how the article credits the trolley with promoting growth in Clarendon.

        • ArlingtonRay

          Not many people had cars back then. Completely different dynamic in the modern world.

  • charlie

    the county has been batting about .000 with recent changes to intersections
    — the nubs at George Mason/Wilson that people pop their tires on constantly
    — Cherrydale 500-points intersection relining that has made it impossible to get thur anymore in one light.
    — George Mason/Lee Hwy nubs that get blacker every day
    — Garfield/Washington light that is there because someone else paid for it
    — 10th Street slalom that makes me want to live on COlumbia Pike

    i have no faith in the engineers right now.

    • Bluemontsince1961


    • SoMuchForSubtlety

      Sounds like you need some driving lessons…

    • Arlingtoon

      You forgot the “Lorcom Lane Slalom.”

    • Rick

      To charlie’s point, I’m partial to the left turn arrows on SB George Mason that I have NEVER seen work since installation. I also usually run that phantom light behind Giant on Washington Blvd because it changes for no good reason

  • John Fontain

    Getting rid of (or forcing the rebuilding of) the Silver Diner? That isn’t going to sit well with many people.

    And how much is that buyout going to cost us?

    • R. Griffon

      Zero. The selected plan (2B) doesn’t encroach on Silver Diner at all.

      • John Fontain

        You may want to continue on through the presentation to slide 19. It shows bike paths and street parking running directly through the right side of the restaurant.


      The Silver Diner has already had to rebuild one time due to traffic from Wilson wiping out the corner booth, what’s one more time?

  • Christine

    I like the traffic circle idea too. Probably cheaper also.

    • Clarendon

      The sector plan task force that was the group made up of residents, landowners and others listed in the sector plan liked the circle idea as well and it was the preferred alternative (of many) that were considered during the sector plan. The idea was rejected by the traffic engineers who couldn’t find a way to shove enough cars through it. It also was expensive due to the property required. But, not as expensive as the plan that was on the books for the previous 20 years which had Wash Blvd put in a tunnel below Wilson.

      If they could just build the alternative shown in a timely manner, I would be happy.

      • Clarendon

        Actually, I should clarify. In the first vote on the alternatives, which was done before any traffic analysis was performed – the circle idea won out. And, this was a big circle with a couple traffic lights involved (the signalized circle alternative it was called, I believe).

        After the traffic engineers modeled/simulated the alternatives and predicted traffic armageddon with the circle, another vote was taken and something very similar to what the county just put out was the winner. That was 9 years ago (2003).

      • Arlington MDMA

        how many of the know-it-alls in the sector plan process are traffic engineers or urban planners? (other than the scared staff?)

        • PE

          In a typical planning processes, the participants come from the resident community, businesses, landowners etc. They aren’t generally expected to be professionals in the land-use or transportation areas. What they hopefully know is what it’s like to live, have a business or be investors etc in the area. The technical expertise is supposed to come from the municipality’s staff and/or consultants. Not sure why they would be scared ?

          • Arlington MDMA

            staff got beat up really bad on Clarendon Sector Plan.
            Actually they always get beat up bad on Clarendon Sector Plan going back to the original one.
            they don’t get beat up as bad on other area sector plans. wonder why.

          • PE

            Most planners I know have really thick skin as dealing with the public can be pretty tough. From what I’ve seen, Arlington has a very professional staff of competent planners and I would have thought they could handle the pressure in stride.

          • bemused bystander

            Those Clarendonians are tough. And relentless.

          • Clarendon

            I know some of those! But as for myself, I’m a cream puff that gives up easily and is often distracted by shiny objects.

  • Tom Hutchings

    The project is not proposing to use the diner property. One of the design guidelines for the project is to work within the existing right of way. The study did review an option that impacts the diner site to help determine if significant improvements would be gained. The proposed concept shown (2B) leaves the diner intact and appears to provide the most improvements in meeting the goals of the project. Please look at the linked study and the webpage for more information.

    • John Fontain

      So then slide 19 of the presentation should be removed right?

      • Village Genius

        Slide 19’s title: Future build out opportunities.

        “Future” not now and not in the current plan.

        Future opportunities seems pretty self-explanatory.

        • John Fontain

          The long-term plan included in this plan is not part of the long-term plan? Oh, that makes sense.

          • JohnB

            What it suggests is that if and when the diner site redevelops that the changes could be made, not that the changes are a part of the proposed project.

  • MrsD

    I really like the tunnel idea.

    • PE

      Probably about a 50 million dollar proposition.

      • Max

        I think someone says that every time there’s talk about an intersection. Either for humor or because they’re serious.

        • charlie

          that is seriously funny.

  • Rick

    How about moving the taxi stand off Wilson in front of Liberty Tavern, Ballroom etc. and onto Irving? That would make travel way easier through that intersection

    • bemused bystander

      And move the valet parking as well. Make all those patrons stroll around the corner to drop off and fetch their luxurious vehicles. But put the bike racks right out front.

      • Rick

        I think even environmentally friendly, progressive, free-spirited Arlington women would look down at a guy rolling up to the bar in a bicycle. Best keep those hidden (for the single man’s sake)

  • LuLu

    Oh, be SURE to put more @#$%^ bike lanes, and don’t forget to eliminate all the parking spaces for those horrible bad polluting cars. Oh, and be SURE to spend WAY TOO MUCH money… too bad this hadn’t been a “shovel ready” project!

  • Rick

    One question, why is the County doing this? Aren’t Wilson and Washington Blvds state routes? 613 and 237 I believe..

  • MC

    Closing Irving Street is an interesting idea. Will reduce the complexity of the intersection. Also, since the Silver Diner and other properties on that block are slated to be razed and replaced with housing by a developer, will probably make that development more appealing as well.

  • cars suck

    if everyone would just embrace the car-free diet, ditch their polluting cars and ride bikes than none of this would be an issue. should make all you budget hawks happy since it wouldn’t cost a thing. bikes only in arlington is the answer to all our problems.

    • truth be told

      Get a grip on reality, man!

    • Richard Cranium

      Hello, fairly obvious troll.

    • thecharlesriver

      Spoken like someone whose job is within biking distance to his home and/or near public transportation. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Everybody’s life circumstances aren’t exactly like YOURS. And some of us actually believe in PROGRESS not regression, and not just claim the word “progressive” as a euphemistic label.

      • Josh S

        My, you’re pretty convinced that what you believe is truth, aren’t you?

        • thecharlesriver

          Yes. But next time I should just place a question mark at the end of my statement and self-righteously pretend that I’m not.

  • charlie

    please don’t loose and parking.
    like in front of O’Sullivans. or anywhere.
    we need on street parking.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    Yea, we need to loose left turn lanes – because driving around Clarendon is already so easy.

  • charles

    One hopes Tom Flour. isn’t involved.

  • Car-Free-Diet

    You know “car sucks” has a point. Arlington County and its elected officials have invested a lot of money promoting a car free diet. The citizens of Arlington need to get on board and stop insisting on wasting millions of dollars to make life easier for people who insist on using their dirty, polluting, stinking, no good cars and SUVs.

    • Suburban Not Urban

      Yea the citizens need to shut up and do what the county says rather than the other way around where the local government and elected officials are responsive and sensitive to the needs of the voters.

      • Plunkitt of Clarendon Blvd

        Pay your taxes and shut-up…..the current definition of “The Arlington Way”

        They don’t have to pay any attention given the winner take all elections.

        • Bluemontsince1961

          +10, Plunkitt!

        • Josh S

          I think that having a parliamentary style distribution of seats is a fabulous idea! Should be done at the national level, too.

          I wonder if there are any legislatures in the United States that do it that way?

          Does anyone know?

          • thecharlesriver

            Actually the system we have is the best in the world. The problem comes when you have far more people who would rather sit around and bellyache about the system, than you do those who actually participate in it.

    • thecharlesriver

      There’s a term for people like you….CONTROL FREAK.

      • Bluemontsince1961


    • truth be told

      Yeah, screw everyone else!

  • thecharlesriver

    This should provide at least a little comfort to the plethora of drivers around here who can’t seem to drive and chew gum at the same time. Apparently nobody told them that they needed to multitask when driving in urban-like traffic. This ain’t the dirt path to Walton’s Mountain.

    • ArlingtonWay

      Goodnight John Boy.


Subscribe to our mailing list