Another big battle is brewing in Bluemont and this one is not about bocce.
Wilson Blvd was recently repaved and restriped between the Safeway and Bon Air Park, so that instead of four lanes of traffic, it is now has two lanes of traffic, a turn lane and two bike lanes. The change seems to have brought about two separate realities.
To hear one group of residents tell it, traffic is flowing as normal but families can finally walk down the narrow sidewalks along Wilson Blvd without the fear of imminent vehicle-induced death.
To hear the other group tell it, the loss of a lane in each direction is causing a traffic nightmare that’s adding 20-40 minutes to Wilson Blvd commutes during the morning and evening rush hours. Their tales of woe are relatively consistent.
“I had the displeasure of commuting westbound on Wilson Blvd Thursday [May 28] at 6 p.m.,” driver Alexi Bustillo told ARLnow.com via email. “It took me 20 minutes from Glebe and Wilson to Manchester and Wilson (1 mile distance).”
“Morning traffic backs up from the light by Bon Air Park up the hill… with dangerous merging,” said Josh Laughner, via Twitter. It’s “dangerous [because you can’t] see traffic stopped at bottom of [the] hill. At night it’s pretty bad where the merging starts by Pupatella. I never had any backups morning/night when it was two lanes all the way through.”
“The message boards of [the Boulevard Manor and Dominion Hills neighborhoods, to the west of the restriping] are full of the comments,” a tipster said. “Many complaints about trip times during morning and evening rush hours taking 20-40 minutes on the stretch between George Mason and Manchester.”
ARLnow.com visited the stretch during a morning and evening rush hour this week and didn’t observe any abnormally heavy traffic. Supporters of the restriping say, essentially, that it’s the answer to their pedestrian prayers and they don’t know what the critics are talking about.
“We are so grateful to Arlington County for these improvements!” said Ed Fendley, co-chair of the Bluemont Civic Association Sidewalk Safety Task Force. “The restriped roadway is working great. Traffic is flowing really well. Fewer drivers are speeding. When I’m driving, it is now easier for me to turn left onto Wilson because I can use the center turn lane to stage my turn.”
“It feels so much safer to walk and bicycle,” Fendley continued. “For the time ever, my kids and I bicycled on Wilson Boulevard to go to La Union restaurant. The road is now safer and more accessible for everyone — just as we had hoped.”
“I just want to say that for the first time in the 23 years I’ve lived on Kensington Street, my family and I have been able to comfortably walk down Wilson Boulevard,” said Chris Healey, Fendley’s co-chair. “I can’t express how great it is to be able to walk to Safeway and the many great neighborhood restaurants and shops without worrying about being clipped by a passing car or bus. This is a giant step toward Bluemont becoming a true community. We look forward to phase two and we are confident that the momentum from the success of this project will take us there sooner rather than later.”
(Phase II of the project, which will take place should the county be satisfied with the flow of traffic and pedestrians on the reconfigured roadway, will include wider sidewalks and other improvements.)
“For the first time in two decades, kids can walk or bike safely to Ashlawn school and the pools on Wilson Blvd,” said Tom Carter, a 21-year Dominion Hills resident. “The walkable, bikeable stretch of Wilson should be extended from Seven Corners to Clarendon. Families should be able to walk and bike through the heart of Arlington.”
In a press release, Fendley provided four more quotes in support of the project, from the Bluemont Civic Association president, a local business owner and two local moms.
The Sidewalk Safety Task Force held a celebration of the Wilson Blvd changes this past weekend in Bon Air Park. Arlington County Board members Walter Tejada and John Vihstadt attended and were among a group of about 40 that walked or biked up Wilson to see the changes first hand.
Arlington County, for its part, says it’s monitoring the changes but expects traffic to eventually ease as drivers get used to the lane reconfiguration.
From Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter:
The Wilson Boulevard restriping between North Frederick and North Manchester Street targets improvements to safety and accessibility for all modes of travel. Some benefits include: expanded travel options (including safer bicycle facility), improved pedestrian safety with bike lane buffer between sidewalk and vehicle travel lane, and improved speed limit compliance. The new left turn lane also improves safety and ease for motorists turning left into and out of driveways and streets along Wilson.
Drivers may have experienced traffic delays throughout construction and while crews were finishing installation of the permanent pavement markings and signage. As motorists learn the new pattern and adjust to the changes, we anticipate traffic improving along this section.
As a demonstration project, the restriping will be monitored closely to determine whether a complete streets project-currently unfunded-is viable along the entire section of Wilson, west of North Glebe Road. There is no schedule yet for this potential second phase of the project, which includes sidewalk widening.
County staff will continue to observe operations and consider striping adjustments as needed.