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‘Intersection of Doom’ Getting Interim Safety Upgrades

The Rosslyn intersection where cyclists and pedestrians face drivers exiting I-66 has received safety modifications in the past two weeks and more changes are on the way, county officials said on a tour of the site Tuesday morning.

In advance of a $5 million overhaul slated to be complete in summer 2016, Arlington County and the Virginia Department of Transportation changed the timing of the traffic lights and walk signals at Lee Highway and N. Lynn Street last week, said Larry Marcus, the county’s head of transportation engineering.

“Pedestrians and cyclists are the priority at this location, period,” Marcus said as county officials and police watched people navigate the corner some locals call the “Intersection of Doom.”

One change is minor in cost but should be significant in impact: A no-turn-on-red sign is being installed at N. Lynn Street for those exiting I-66. That’s being done “as soon as possible,” Marcus said.

Additionally, cyclists and pedestrians crossing N. Lynn Street using the Custis Trail previously had a walk signal when all traffic lights were red — known as a “leading interval” — for just 2 seconds; the length of that signal was increased last week to 5 seconds, Marcus said. The county plans to increase the leading interval time to 15 to 20 seconds in the next six months, once new signal technology is installed.

“We’re giving more time for pedestrians and bikes to go first,” Marcus said, adding that new caution signs for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists will be added to the intersection.

Drivers headed west on Lee Highway, meanwhile, now have an additional 10 seconds of biker- and pedestrian-free time to clear the intersection.

To pair with engineering changes, the Arlington County Police Department has ramped up traffic enforcement and educational efforts at the corner where numerous car-on-bike accidents have occurred, Capt. James Wasem said.

“People can expect to see uniformed police officers out here flagging cars over, directing traffic, handing out some brochures and citing violations,” he said about the measures enacted about two weeks ago.

Police issued 228 citations at the intersection from Sept. 15, 2013 through the same date this year: 133 for failure to obey traffic signals, 32 for improper turning and 1 for failure to yield to a pedestrian. Fifteen car crashes occurred at the intersection within that period, police said; just two crashes on record involved pedestrians.

The ACPD assigns an officer to direct traffic at the intersection on weekdays from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. but must spread officers between that corner, schools and other frequent crash sites. The department began sending an officer to the location “as often as possible” following recommendations from a traffic analyst the county hired this year, Wasem said.

ACPD is seeking funding to assign two officers to Lee Highway and N. Lynn Street every weekday morning, plus an additional two officers at Lynn Street and Wilson Boulevard, Wasem said. The latter intersection has been facing a chronic problem of drivers “blocking the box” during rush hour since construction began on the Central Place project, blocking lanes of Lynn Street.

The additional staffing would cost $180,000 through next year.

More than 1,700 cyclists use the Custis Trail every day, according to county statistics. The I-66 exit ramp from which drivers head to the Key Bridge is used by as many as 600 cars per hour.

North Arlington resident Jennifer Bristow said she has had too many close calls with drivers as she has crossed the intersection with her 16-month-old son in a jogging stroller.

“People just want to hurry up and turn here,” she said. “They just don’t want to slow down.”

Virginia law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians at any clearly marked crosswalk.

The County Board-approved intersection overhaul will extend the curbs at corners to minimize cyclists’ and pedestrians’ crossing distance, add on-street bike lanes to N. Lynn St., widen sidewalks and improve lighting. A lane of traffic will be eliminated from Lee Highway west of N. Fort Meyer Drive to make way for the widening of Custis Trail from 10 feet wide to 16 feet wide. JBG Companies, which is developing the Central Place skyscrapers near the Rosslyn Metro station, is funding $3 million of the project’s $5 million price tag. Work is set to begin in fall 2015.

Capt. Wasem urged drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to obey traffic signals to keep people safe.

“We’re trying to minimize the doom,” he said.

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