County proposes removing right-turn-only lanes to improve safety in East Falls Church

Arlington County has drafted preliminary designs to slow speeds and improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians along a busy artery in the East Falls Church neighborhood.

It proposes a number of streetscape changes to N. Sycamore Street between Langston Blvd and 19th Street N., near the East Falls Church Metro station and not far from the W&OD Trail. A fatal crash happened just over a year ago within the project’s boundaries at the intersection of N. Sycamore Street and Washington Blvd.

The plan calls for replacing right-turn-only lanes with protected bike lanes, removing slip lanes — which motorists use to turn while bypassing an intersection — and adding high visibility crosswalks and green skid marks for bicyclists.

It has taken more than a decade to get to this point. The 2011 East Falls Church Area Plan recommended shortening crossings, eliminating right-turn-only lanes and improving curb ramps on N. Sycamore Street. The, the 2019 Bicycle Element of the Master Transportation Plan recommended adding a bike lane along N. Sycamore Street between Williamsburg Blvd and the East Falls Church line.

County staff have studied the street twice, but progress was sporadic, due to two unsuccessful transportation grant applications and budget-tightening due to Covid. The Dept. of Environmental Services reprised the project last fall.

The department gathered feedback about problems with N. Sycamore Street where it intersects with Langston Blvd, 22nd Street N., Washington Blvd, the I-66 off-ramp and 19th Street N. Staff incorporated this feedback into preliminary plans, which can now be reviewed and commented on through Sunday (Nov. 20).

“Generally we heard from you all that the slip lanes in the corridor negatively impact pedestrian and bicyclist safety,” project manager Ariel Yang said in a presentation. “The other overarching thing we heard is a desire for safety and more comfortable crossings for people walking and biking N. Sycamore Street,” including better markings for bike lanes and better signalization for pedestrians.

Yang said participants reported frequent speeding, particularly around 22nd and 19th Street N., a tendency that the proposed changes are designed to address.

“Through design, we are trying to change behavior at the intersection where conflicts tend to happen more,” Yang said.

Other issues include unmarked and long crossings, narrow sidewalks and unclear markings in “conflict zones” between cars and cyclists, per the presentation.

The county proposes changes to five intersections.

Where N. Sycamore Street crosses Langston Blvd (Route 29), the county plans to remove the eastbound and westbound slip lanes and turn the right-turn-only lane into a protected bike lane, which Yang said will slow down drivers and prevent conflicts between drivers turning right and cyclists.

Proposed improvements to N. Sycamore Street and Langston Blvd (via Arlington County)

At the 22nd Street N. intersection, the county plans to add a high-visibility crosswalk and extend the existing median and provide a pedestrian refuge, as well as add green skid marks for cyclists.

Proposed improvements to N. Sycamore Street and 22nd Street N. neighborhood (via Arlington County)

At the Washington Blvd intersection, the southbound right-turn-only lane will be converted into a protected bike lane. A “bike island” will be installed and green skid marks across the intersection will be painted.

Proposed improvements to N. Sycamore Street and Washington Blvd (via Arlington County)

The biggest proposed change to the I-66 off-ramp intersection would be the removal of the slip lane coming off of I-66, which requires a traffic study by Virginia Department of Transportation.

“I think the anticipated completion date of the study is six months or so. That is our desire, and we so far have not heard any major red flags from VDOT about this improvement, so we’ll see,” Yang said. “We’re hopeful this can be done.”

Proposed improvements to N. Sycamore Street and the I-66 off-ramp (via Arlington County)

Lastly, at the 19th Street N. intersection, the sidewalk by the East Falls Church Metro station kiss-and-ride lot will be widened.

The southbound right-turn-only lane will become a protected bike lane. The crosswalk at the southwest corner will be repainted to line up with a realigned W&OD Trail. Parking in the northeast corner will become a protected bike lane.

Proposed improvements to N. Sycamore Street and 19th Street N. (via Arlington County)

The project will coordinate with three concurrent projects in the neighborhood wrapping up in 2024.

N. Sycamore Street and Washington Blvd will have new traffic signals by spring 2024. Expanded bus bays and improved pedestrian crossings at the East Falls Church Metro station are expected to be done that summer.

Stormwater improvements to Crossman Run, which the county describes as a “critical” watershed, are expected to wrap up in spring or summer 2024.

A revised concept for N. Sycamore Street improvements will go to the public for another round of engagement next summer, Yang said. A final concept should be ready by winter 2023 and construction, which could last upwards of a year and a half, could kick off in summer 2024.