Wilson Boulevard west of George Mason Drive will go from a four-lane road to two through lanes with a center turn lane this spring, and it’s a plan many residents who live nearby are happy with.
The plan will result in increased travel times for the stretch of Wilson that will be affected, from N. Manchester to N. Frederick Street. In addition to the lane reduction, the reconfiguration will also add bike lanes on either side of the road, which will serve a dual purpose as a buffer between the sidewalks and motor vehicles.
“Wilson Blvd is unacceptable and we all deserve better,” Chris Healey, the co-chair of the Bluemont Civic Association sidewalk safety task force, told the attendees. “That’s what we’re here to try and accomplish.”
The road restriping will occur in the spring, when that stretch of road is up in Arlington’s repaving schedule. The reconfiguration doesn’t make an impact on the county budget, but it also won’t help the state of the sidewalks, which residents and staff agreed are too narrow and too dangerous.
What will one day become Phase II of the reconfiguration will include sidewalk widening and other improvements, but Arlington Bureau Chief for Transportation and Operations Engineering Larry Marcus told ARLnow.com that those improvements are currently unfunded and have no timeline for construction.
“This isn’t a total solution, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Marcus said. “Phase II is why we’re here, to hear from people and to look over the winter and what needs to improve.”
Arlington Department of Environmental Services engineers predict that travel time will increase on the road, but only between five and 20 seconds between N. Manchester and Edison Streets each way during rush hour. The greatest concern about the change for some residents was turning off onto the cross streets. Staff predicts that those maneuvers will take as much as 35 seconds longer on some cross streets.
One resident who said he lived on N. Manchester Street, which is where the lane reduction will begin, said it will only make his street more dangerous.
“My opinion is you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said. “You’re adding a choke point to [Manchester] which is already a cut-through. My biggest concern is already having to worry about my kids because I’ve got cars screaming back and forth between 50 and Wilson. We’re putting higher-density living spaces on Wilson Blvd and we’re trying to increase businesses in Wilson Blvd, and we’re operating on the assumption that none of those people are going to drive, which is ridiculous.
Gillian Burgess, the chair of the county’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, attended the meeting and said she was still concerned about the bike lanes, since they will have no protection from cars, and since buses will be expected to pull into them when they pick up and drop off passengers.
“The entire Wilson Blvd corridor is a huge gap in the current bicycle network,” she said. “We appreciate that that’s being recognized. As we go forward, we appreciate that there will be more bicycling accommodations, but we really need to make sure that they’re safe.”
Ed Fendley, the other co-chair on the sidewalk task force, said after all of the residents were able to talk to staff individually, the reaction was generally positive.
“The report-outs from the tables highlighted that the great majority of the comments received were in the form of positive support and constructive suggestions for improvements,” he told ARLnow.com.