Arlington County is mulling a proposal to narrow Wilson Boulevard west of George Mason Drive from four lanes to two through lanes and a center turn lane.
The proposal was conceived and endorsed by the Bluemont Civic Association (BCA) last fall, as part a recommendation to widen the sidewalks along Wilson Boulevard in the neighborhood.
The association’s “Task Force on Arterial Road Sidewalks and Pedestrian Safety” came up with the plan after considering various ways to widen the narrow sidewalks to Americans With Disabilities Act standards.
Two possible options — undergrounding utilities (thus removing utility poles that partially block the sidewalk) and acquiring additional right-of-way from private property owners along Wilson Boulevard — were rejected as too expensive and otherwise infeasible.
The solution endorsed by the task force and the BCA membership instead calls for a two-phase project that, in the first phase, would halve the number of through-lanes west of George Mason Drive while adding a center turn lane and two bike lanes.
The second phase of the proposed project would widen the sidewalks to ADA standards, while relocating the utility poles.
“Two through lanes with a center turn lane typically provides a better line of sight and safer transitions for cars entering the traffic lanes,” the presentation said. “Speeding may be reduced while maintaining the same overall travel time. Reduced crash risks for all users are expected.”
The presentation compared the Bluemont stretch of Wilson Boulevard to nearby Washington Boulevard, which has only two lanes and higher peak traffic volumes.
“Traffic volumes on Wilson Boulevard west of George Mason Drive have been steady for more than 30 years, despite significant increase in population and economic activity,” it said. “[There are] no expected changes to flow of vehicular traffic” should the proposal come to fruition.
“Wilson is particularly inaccessible to many people with disabilities and presents hazardous conditions for children and older people,” the task force said. “Lack of adequate pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure limits safe transportation options, adding more cars on the road. We do not want to leave this problem to our children.”
Arlington County Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel says the county is “actively engaged with the Bluemont Civic Association on their proposal.”
“This effort is now in the conceptual phase,” she told ARLnow.com. “Transportation staff will conduct data collection and analysis over the summer months to assess the proposed changes and make a determination.”
“The only paving on Wilson Boulevard scheduled for 2013 is a short piece east of George Mason Drive and west of Glebe Road,” she added. “Existing striping pattern will be replaced there. Paving locations are based on pavement condition scores and paving budget. It has not been determined at this time when Wilson west of George Mason will be on the paving list.”
While the first phase of the proposal — the lane restriping — could be accomplished as part of a relatively simple repaving project, the sidewalk widening would be more involved and would likely have to be included in a Capital Improvement Plan. The timeline for that “is uncertain at this early stage,” Whalen McDaniel said.
The BCA proposal is not without some measure of controversy. Some businesses between George Mason Drive and N. Greenbrier Street are “extremely concerned” that reducing the number of lanes would “gum up traffic to the point where they would lose business,” one task force member told us.
BCA is also seeking data from the county on whether their proposal would impact emergency response times. (Arlington Fire Station No. 2 is located on Wilson Boulevard just east of George Mason Drive.)
Last night, the Boulevard Manor Civic Association, located to the west of Bluemont, considered a resolution supporting the BCA proposal. The motion was “heavily debated” and ultimately withdrawn. The resolution will be rewritten by its sponsor to possibly incorporate additional pedestrian safety options, we’re told.
Images via Bluemont Civic Association, Google Maps