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Bus Changes Proposed for Crystal Drive, But Some Transit Advocates Are Not On Board

A dedicated bus lane and new bus stops are set to come for Crystal Drive and 12th Street S. as part of an expansion of the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway to Pentagon City.

But progress on the project has elicited frustration from some local transit advocates, residents and community leaders.

The project will extend the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway north with a direct connection to the Pentagon City Metrorail station, while increasing trip frequency for bus riders. County staff say these changes will facilitate a “high frequency premium transit service” that will “add transportation capacity to support current and anticipated development in the area,” according to the county.

A meeting was held last night (Wednesday) to explain what residents and road users can expect in the first phase of the Transitway Extension project. People will also see changes to 12th Street S. during this phase of the project, as DES has decided to merge the extension work with “complete streets” improvements to 12th Street S., which curves south and becomes Crystal Drive near Long Bridge Park.

Those opposed say they are frustrated by the lack of community engagement when the designs were developed — last night’s meeting presented 100% complete designs — and say they have questions that have gone unanswered.

“I love the Transitway, and I’m eager to see it completed and see Metroway buses running more often, but I do not have confidence that DES has really done their best work on these plans, and am positive that they do not want to hear from the community,” Transportation Commission member Darren Buck tells ARLnow.

Transit advocates say the proposed configuration of the road and the sidewalk will not support the projected increase in folks living in the area, with the arrival of Amazon and other development concentrated in the area. Particularly, they say, the proposed 10-foot sidewalks will not provide enough space for bus riders and people traveling through the area on foot or scooter, as well as cyclists who will one day be able to connect to D.C. via Long Bridge Park’s esplanade.

County staff say the designs do respond to community comments and that the project cannot make changes that would disturb underground parking garages. Staff could not respond to follow-up questions before this article’s publication.

According to the staff presentation, the designs have been modified in response to concerns for pedestrian safety and circulation near the stations. The plans feature enough room for pedestrians to walk around the bus stations and to walk safely while buses make the sharp turn from Crystal Drive to 12th Street S, they said.

Two bus stations will be installed along the curb as part of the Transitway Extension. The road will be reconfigured to allow buses to take the curve at Crystal Drive and 12th Street S. safely within a dedicated transit lane.

The complete streets project, meanwhile, includes signal improvements and a new traffic signal at the intersection of 12th Street S. and Army Navy Drive. The roadway under Route 1 will be widened, and there will be sidewalk improvements from Army Navy Drive to S. Eads Street.

A map of improvements to 12th Street S. and Crystal Drive (via Arlington County)

According to the county, the new bus stations will have:

  • Real-time bus information
  • Benches, bike racks and bins for trash and recycling
  • Solar-powered lighting inside the shelters
  • Near-level boarding, with a raised curb for easy access
  • Concrete bus pads
  • Artwork consistent with other transitway bus stations

After last night’s meeting, some cyclists shared their dismay with the project and the meeting on Twitter.

Buck said he also has gotten no responses. Since September of last year, during a Site Plan Review Committee meeting for an office building at 101 12th Street S., Buck said he asked DES to consider removing the bike lane on 12th Street S. to widen the sidewalk.

This would allow for “a nice wide trail to accommodate everyone trying to get to/from our Long Bridge Esplanade (which may someday connect all the way to D.C.),” he said.

“They wouldn’t provide a straight answer in the SPRC, in the subsequent Crystal City Bike Plan meetings, when they appeared before Transportation Commission earlier this year, they do not respond to emails, and last night, they would not even publish detailed questions in a public forum,” he said.

Carol Fuller, the president of the Crystal City Civic Association, also said there’s been little communication with the public. She raised concerns during a July 20 County Board meeting, in which Board members approved an easement request allowing construction of one bus station.

Historically, she said, residents and commuters have not supported using Crystal Drive/12th Street S. for the transitway extension. More than 300 residents and commuters signed a 2016 petition requesting that another route — without the sharp 90-degree turn — be considered, she said.

Staff told listeners last night that the designs include curb and road improvements to provide an adequate radius for buses to safely take the turn at Crystal Drive and 12th Street S.

“The turning radius at this curve was modified to allow buses to remain within the transit lane without encroaching into the vehicle travel lane,” according to the county.

Robert Mandle, the deputy executive director of the National Landing Business Improvement District, said the BID supports the project but wants more conversations about improvements for those on foot, bicycle or scooter.

“This investment serves as yet another opportunity to increase mobility in the community, and we are pleased by the improvements this will bring to the downtown. We look forward to additional discussions on how to further improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and micro-mobility users along this corridor especially given the popularity of Long Bridge Park and the recently opened Aquatics & Fitness Center,” he said.

Staff plan to put out a request for construction bids this fall.

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