For mere seconds at a time, a sign flashing the symbol for “no right turn” illuminates next to the red light on the off-ramp of westbound I-66 at the intersection with N. Lynn Street.
The intersection has been labeled the “Intersection of Doom” because of its numerous accidents over the years. The confluence of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists from I-66, Lee Highway and Lynn Street trying to reach both points west, the GW Parkway and the Key Bridge has created a critical mass of safety hazards.
Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services has been planning safety improvements to the site and the new signal is just one of the planned changes. It was installed at the beginning of January.
“The sign has been integrated into the function of the traffic signal to restrict right turns from the I-66 off-ramp to Lynn Street during the time when pedestrians and cyclists receive the walk signal,” DES spokeswoman Jessica Baxter said. “The improvement reduces conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles at this busy intersection. Additional time has also been added to this walk signal phase.”
The light is one of the interim improvements DES has made before a planned $5 million safety project is built in a few years. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2014, but delays in the design phase have caused the estimated completion date to be pushed back to 2017.
Chris Slatt, a cyclist and president of the Penrose Civic Association, said he appreciates the interim solutions but is tired of waiting for the permanent project.
“I applaud the County for working on quick-to-implement, low-cost, short-term fixes like the new no-turn-on-red sign,” he told ARLnow.com in an email this morning. “That said, the County simply must start turning around capital projects more quickly and when they do slip, they need to start communicating about what is going on.
“By the time Esplanade/Custis Trail project gets built, most anyone who attended the last public meeting about the project (in October of 2011) is going to have forgotten it ever existed,” he continued. “This is a complicated area to work in — there are VDOT-controlled roads, it backs on to NPS property, but everyone knew that going in to the project and it should have been accounted for in the original timeline.”
In the planned permanent improvements, a travel lane will be removed from Lee Highway, the Custis Trail would be widened, curbs would be expanded to slow down turning cars and on-street bike lanes will be added.
In three signal cycles ARLnow.com witnessed yesterday at the beginning of the evening rush hour, one car disregarded the briefly illuminated signal, turning right when lit up. Cars waiting at a red light see no indication of the new signal — and accompanying traffic rule — except for the unlit box. Two cars legally turned right on red over the same five-minute span, and the driver that made the illegal maneuver did it just seconds after the previous vehicles.
Baxter said DES will continue to study traffic patterns at the intersection, and configure the timing of the signals to bring it more in line with traffic signals.