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Modern Mobility: Local Control

Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Unlike most counties in Virginia, Arlington owns and maintains the vast majority of the County’s roads… but not all of them. Highways like I-395, I-66 rightly belong under the control of the Virginia Department of Transportation, but for other streets in Arlington, the value proposition is much less clear.

Do you know who owns any given road in Arlington? Ownership isn’t obvious and two roads that look similar can actually have different owners: Hayes Street in Pentagon City is Arlington-owned, Glebe Road in Ballston is owned by Virginia; Potomac Avenue is owned by Arlington, Langston Blvd by Virginia.

These ownership differences can make major differences when it comes time to make improvements to these streets to meet our Vision Zero goals and address safety issues. Design and construction on state-owned roads require a long and lengthy approval process from the state and urban-appropriate street design configurations often require special waivers from VDOT whose standards are highway-focused.

This lack of flexibility has been a problem in the past. In 2010 Arlington sought and received ownership of Columbia Pike to facilitate its reconstruction from an auto-centric arterial to a pedestrian-friendly Main Street. The massive rebuild of Columbia Pike has been long and arduous as it is, adding state approvals to the process might have stretched the timeline beyond feasibility.

State-Controlled Roads in Arlington County (Arlington County Website)

In 2018 Arlington sought and received ownership of VA-237 which is the designation for parts of 10th Street N. and Fairfax Drive to give Arlington flexibility on making pedestrian improvements there as well.

With Langston Blvd going through a reimagining process that is likely to result in a dramatic transformation in the future, now is the time for Arlington to seek control of Langston Blvd from the state to facilitate that transformation. With large parts of Glebe Road appearing on Arlington’s High Injury Network, control of the high-pedestrian areas of Glebe Road, to facilitate safety improvements, would also be wise.

The additional maintenance costs of these acquired streets would be somewhat, but not entirely, offset by the state. Arlington is reimbursed for each lane mile of street they maintain, but historically that amount does not fully cover what Arlington pays out per year in maintenance for each lane mile of street.

The additional benefits — local control of our streets and the ability to deliver better safety interventions more quickly — are well worth that price.

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington recently announced the end of one of the only good things to come out of the pandemic: the widespread implementation of automatic pedestrian phases on many of our traffic signals.

In many areas, pedestrians will have to go back to pushing a button in order to trigger an opportunity to safely cross the street. The response from many has been “pushing a button is not a big deal,” and indeed, pushing a button is not hard or onerous; what is a big deal is the guaranteed additional pedestrian delay that comes along with it, the negative effect on accessibility and the message that it sends.

Unnecessary Pedestrian Delay. How much? It’s complicated.

When the signal is set to go to walk automatically (called “pedestrian recall”), a pedestrian has a decent chance of arriving at the intersection and encountering a fortuitous set of circumstances: the walk signal has already come on and that there is enough time left in the countdown for them to safely cross the street. In this instance, the pedestrian encounters zero delays, they can immediately cross the street.

A pedestrian approaching this same intersection in “actuated mode” where a button press is required, at the exact same point in the signal timing will encounter one of a couple of different circumstances. If a car going the same direction has been sitting there waiting and has tripped the light then they might have a walk signal and still encounter zero delay — or the car may have a green but the signal may not present a walk signal so that it can provide a shorter green for this cross street than the amount of time it takes a person to safely cross, in which case they will encounter a “don’t walk.” Pressing the button now will require waiting the full length of the remaining signal plus the entirety of the green for the crossing direction. If there isn’t a car going the same direction as them to trip the light, then they definitely don’t have a walk signal. Pressing the button will require an unknown wait time that depends on whether that signal is “coordinated” with other nearby signals as well as what the “minimum green time” is for the crossing traffic direction.

With all of the various ways that a traffic signal can be programmed it’s impossible to say at a high level how much these changes are going to slow down pedestrians, but Arlington’s DOT absolutely could. Average pedestrian delay given a set of signal timings is an easy calculation. At a minimum, Arlington should do this calculation for all signals that are proposed to be put back on actuation so Arlingtonians can fully understand what is being proposed.

Safety & Accessibility

While delaying people walking is obnoxious, especially given that it affects us all — we all, at some point in time have to try and cross the street. There is also a safety impact — both studies and a basic understanding of human nature tell us that the longer people have to wait to safely cross the street, the more likely they are to unsafely cross the street. This decision is in clear opposition to our Vision Zero goals.

The press release announcing these changes indicates that they are doing so to “improve walkway safety;” Arlington County spokesperson Jessica Baxter explained to Greater Great Washington that “the theory amongst professionals is when there is manual input by a pedestrian at a walkway, pedestrians are more likely to pay attention to their surroundings.” In all of my time looking at transportation research and learning about transportation safety, I have never before heard this theory.

It is, however, a theory — not peer-reviewed research. It is also predicated on a notion that “distracted walking” is a significant contributor to crashes. This is a trope that has been debunked by actual research — distracted walking has a minimal effect on pedestrian behavior. A meta-analysis of all studies on distracted walking does not show any increased risk for pedestrians. What does increase risk of pedestrian crashes? Speeding, intoxication and driver inattention.

Pedestrian recall is also much more accessible for wheelchair users who may have difficulty accessing the push button and those with low or limited vision who have difficulty locating the push button.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Most of Arlington’s current Protected Bike Lanes have a weak point: bus stops.

While riders have a largely low-stress, comfortable ride separated from moving cars by parked cars, that protection falls away at the bus stop where they need to mix with large vehicles that have somewhat limited rear and side visibility.

Floating bus islands to the rescue!

An example of how Arlington currently handles bus stops in a protected bike lane created by repaving (via Google Street View)

What is a Floating Bus Island?

With a floating bus island, the bus stop moves out to a sidewalk-level island that lines up with the protection for the bike lane. So with a parking-protected bike lane, the bus island aligns with where the cars park. From the sidewalk, bus users cross the bike lane and then wait on the island for the bus to arrive. The bus pulls up, stops in the travel lane, picks up and drops off passengers, and then continues on its way.

Having trouble picturing what this looks like? No worries, Arlington has one on Wilson Blvd near the new HB Woodlawn building so you can check it out for yourself (or just check out these photos).

A floating bus island on Wilson Blvd. near Pierce Street in Arlington, VA (courtesy Chris Slatt)

This setup is both great for people on bikes — no more mixing with big scary vehicles — but also great for transit. Since the bus doesn’t have to pull to the curb, it also doesn’t have to pull back into the travel lane. This saves the bus (and the many folks on the bus) all of the time it would normally spend waiting for a break in traffic to pull back into the travel lane. Added together over the course of many stops, this can have a noticeable impact on how long the bus takes to get you to your destination.

A floating bus island on Wilson Blvd. near Pierce Street in Arlington (courtesy Chris Slatt)

Why don’t we have more of them?

Arlington now has several protected bike lanes, why do we only have one floating bus island? Generally, because Arlington has achieved most of their protected bike lanes as opportunistically as part of repaving, rather than as part of a capital project. During a repaving project, options are much more limited which is why they are generally made with paint and plastic bollards.

The floating bus island on Wilson Blvd. was built as part of a redevelopment project, where curbs were already being changed and concrete was already being poured. More floating bus islands are coming as part of future capital projects; several will be built as part of the Army Navy Drive Complete Streets project, for example.

A modular floating bus island installed on West Virginia Avenue in D.C. (via @MarkSussman_ on Twitter)

It doesn’t have to be this way, however — we don’t have to wait for a capital project. Cities like D.C. and Portland have started creating floating bus islands with a modular product that can be dropped into place, enabling them to be installed as part of simple repaving and restriping projects, rather than requiring a costly capital project that pours new curbs.

A modular floating bus island installed on Rose Lane in Portland (courtesy Zicla)

Arlington should add this or a similar product to its repaving project toolbox. It would drastically improve the quality of protected bike lane infrastructure that can be installed as part of repaving or other quick-build projects as well as speeding up transit operations, reinforcing our investment in bus service in Arlington.

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Protected bike lanes on Fairfax Drive are a project whose time has come.

It’s a critical link that would connect commercial areas, parks, and trails to thousands of Arlington residents. It deserves a place in Arlington’s next 10-year Capital Improvement Plan.

Why Protected Bike Lanes?

Over the years, we have learned that standard painted bike lanes, like the ones currently on Fairfax Drive, mostly benefit people who are already biking — the confident and fearless cyclists who are already out there on the streets. To making biking work for a wider audience, those who are interested but concerned, we need low-stress facilities like protected bike lanes and trails.

Arlingtonians support more protected bike lanes — when surveyed as part of the last update of the Bicycle Master Plan, 48% of respondents indicated that safety concerns were their primary reason for not biking more and 64% supported more protected bike lanes to solve that problem. Nationwide, we find that once people have experienced protected bike lanes for themselves, support climbs even higher. 75% of people who live near a protected bike lane project say they support more of them in other locations.

Additionally, protected bike lanes are good for business. Protected bike lanes bring more riders – the average protected bike lane sees rider counts increase 75% in the first year alone — and bike riders spend the same at retail each month as people who arrived by car. They buy less each visit but visit more frequently. A Protected Bike Lane project in Salt Lake City that removed 30% of the street parking to install a protected bike lane saw retail sales along the corridor rise by a higher percentage than sales in the rest of the city. A Protected Bike Lane project in NYC on 9th Avenue resulted in drastically higher retail performance.

Finally, protected bike lanes help prevent scofflaw drivers from parking in the bike lanes — a common issue on Fairfax Drive.

https://twitter.com/howisthatlegal/status/1186307198030417921

Why Fairfax Drive?

Fairfax Drive forms a critical east-west path through the County, especially for bikes and scooters. On the west end, it connects to both the Custis Trail and the Bluemont Junction Trail. In the east, it connects to Clarendon Circle where the Wilson Blvd and Clarendon Blvd bike lanes begin. In between in connects commercial areas, Metro Stations, parks, Central Library, the George Mason University campus and more.

There are few, if any, nearby parallel streets appropriate for cycling. Neither Washington Blvd nor Wilson Blvd in the vicinity have bike facilities. One can piece together a decent stretch of 9th Street N., but safely crossing Quincy Street without a four-way stop or traffic signal is difficult, it does not connect well on the West end to the trail network and it falls apart on the East end well short of Clarendon Circle.

Finally, adding protected bike lanes to Fairfax Drive is a chance to make a host of design changes that would make the street safer for everyone. As a former VDOT road, Fairfax Drive has been built almost exclusively to speed motor vehicles — safe crossings are far apart, corners were built to allow high speed turns across crosswalks, lanes are wide and encourage speeding. This section of Fairfax Drive is not just on Arlington’s High Injury Network, it’s #2 in fatal and serious injury crashes per mile in Arlington County.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The 20′ Clear Width rule of the VA Fire Code has removed on-street parking that had existed safely for decades, prevented the installation of protected bike lanes and made new sidewalk installations politically infeasible — and you’ve probably never heard of it. This rule can save lives by speeding fire response or cost lives by preventing safer street designs. Is Arlington finding the right balance?

What is the 20′ Clear Width Rule?

The 20′ Clear Width rule is codified in section 503.2.1 of the VA Statewide Fire Prevention Code: “Fire apparatus access roads shall have an unobstructed width of not less than 20 feet.”

A fire apparatus access road is, essentially, every road, street and driveway that a fire truck might need to drive on to get from the fire station to a structure that is on fire.

What makes an area obstructed? The Arlington Fire Department says that this area “does not have to be completely flat,” but past projects seem to indicate that curbs or medians within this area are not allowed.

Here is an example Arlington residential street that more than meets the 20′ clear width rule because of its two adjacent, wide travel lanes:

And here is an example arterial street with buffered bike lanes that meets the 20′ clear width rule because of the combination of the travel lane, buffer and bike lane, despite the car lanes being separated by a raised median:

What is it supposed to accomplish?

The Arlington Fire Department helpfully explains that the 20′ clear width rule is designed to make sure there is “continuous and unobstructed access to buildings and facilities” and to provide a “safe operational area around the fire apparatus to access compartments and equipment.”

The clear width isn’t so much to speed the truck’s arrival at the scene, fire trucks generally fit fine in normal lanes and factors like good grid connectivity are much more influential on response time than street widths. The clear width is to ensure that when the truck gets to the fire, there is space to park, extend outriggers (if necessary) and safely and easily access the equipment stored in and around the truck needed to fight the fire.

To the extent to which having 20′ of clear space at the scene of a fire speeds up response time by helping them quickly get set up and working, this portion of the fire code should help save lives in an emergency where every second counts.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

May is Bike Month, and from what I’ve seen out and about so far, lots of you are already celebrating.

The pandemic has caused a lot of folks to drag an old bike out of the garage, pick one up from a local bike shop or just ride more frequently, which is fantastic to see. There are some great, free activities this month to help keep you on your riding journey.

Celebrate Bike Month with BikeArlington

BikeArlington is doing a bunch of fun events and challenges for the whole month of May, you can still register here. The first week, we got a prompt to encourage us to ride (Replace One Car Trip: try to make one trip this week that you would normally make in a car, on a bike) as well as delicious weekend deals (25% off at Nicecream? Yes, thank you!).

Bike to Work Day

Bike to Work Day is back for 2021 on Friday, May 21, after being cancelled in 2020, with some modifications to support COVID safety. Get your free T-shirt, some exercise and some fresh air. You can register here. Aren’t going in to the office? No problem – it’s a good excuse to just bike to your local pit stop, or anywhere really.

Bike to Work WEEK

If Bike to Work Day isn’t enough for you, the National Landing BID is continuing their tradition of hosting Bike to Work Week from Monday (May 17) to Friday (May 21) from 7 a.m.-9 a.m. at the Crystal City Water Park. Again, modifications have been made to ensure COVID safety, so don’t expect to linger. Participants who check-in all 5 days will earn coveted, exclusive National Landing Cycling Swag. Register here.

This beautiful May weather is a great chance to explore and learn how easy it can be to bike for those short trips that make up the majority of our typical travel. The majority of trips the average American takes are less than 6 miles. Bike to dinner, bike to ice cream, bike to the park, bike to the dentist, or bike to the pharmacy to pick up your prescription. You won’t sit in traffic, you won’t have to pay for parking, and it’s amazing what you’ll notice about your neighborhood when aren’t inside a steel & glass bubble.

I hope to see you out there! Be sure to wave!

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington has grown and thrived as a result of transit-oriented development, but is it time for a new TOD in Arlington: trail-oriented development?

In many places, including the DC area, developers are seeing trails as desirable places to be and creating buildings that embrace the trail as an amenity to be cherished, rather than turning their back on the trail as so many existing buildings do.

Many of these buildings are primarily residential. They provide easy, direct connections to the trail for their residents, as well as amenities like wider hallways for wheeling bikes directly back to your unit, bike repair areas, etc. Having more people living where they can safely, easily and enjoyable bike and walk is great for our climate goals.

A more interesting pattern, in my opinion, are when retail spaces embrace the trail. One example of this is Caboose Brewing out in Vienna. While it has a standard drive up and park your car entrance, it also has a direct entrance from the W&OD Trail with bike racks. As you can see from this photo, many folks take advantage of this option.

I saw an even more active and varied example of this recently on the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail. Nearly every business in this trail-adjacent strip mall had a usable back-entrance & there was a shared seating area along the trail adjacent to them. The coffee shop even had a little walk-up window where you could order from the trail side without setting foot inside the shop.

The seating area is pictured here along the trail, the retail shops are in the far right of the photo.

This area was clearly a gathering place for the community. It was busy every time I biked by over the weekend.

Where could we create these kinds of places in Arlington?

One possible option is the Arlington Boulevard Trail. The Days Inn site, at the corner of Pershing Drive is expected to redevelop in the near future and could be a fantastic spot to create this sort of trail/retail synergy. Currently the design guidance for the Days Inn site doesn’t call for such a thing, but that design guidance is open for comment now if you care to provide that sort of feedback to staff.

There are additional opportunities on the Arlington Boulevard Trail further east. While the development picture below kept the trail sandwiched between Fairfax Drive and Arlington Boulevard, the trail will likely need to cross Fairfax Drive somewhere before it reaches Rosslyn, putting the trail directly adjacent to the higher density buildings on the north side of Arlington Boulevard. This could be another opportunity for trail-oriented retail spaces.

Really, this is an opportunity to set a different character for the Arlington Boulevard Trail. Given its placement, it will never be the quiet leafy oasis that some of our other trails try to be. Instead, it could be the bustling community gathering trail with nodes of lively commercial activity.

While potential spots along the Custis, Bluemont Junction or W&OD are rare, they do exist. Any redevelopment in the Lyon Village Shopping Center could embrace the Custis in a big way and there are some commercial buildings in the vicinity of Pupatella in Bluemont that back up to the Bluemont Junction Trail offering some opportunities as-is.

Trails are good for business; they are a desired amenity that people want to live near, and people walking and biking tend to buy more locally. Having more activity adjacent to the trail creates more “eyes on the trail,” improving safety. Trail-oriented Development is an underutilized tool in the County’s planning toolbelt and we should use it more.

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The County is in the midst of putting together their Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the next three years.

This document will determine what projects get built in the near future, from transportation to parks to stormwater infrastructure.

This is an opportunity to reset our priorities and “build back better” to a transportation system that is safe and sustainable.

Arlington’s Capital Improvement Plan should:

  1. Fund Vision Zero

Arlington is expected to adopt their Vision Zero Action Plan later this Spring. The Vision Zero plan envisions a comprehensive, safe-systems approach to identifying the common factors that contribute to Arlington’s severe and fatal crashes and to address those factors systematically.

Safety isn’t sexy, but failing to address it has an immeasurable cost. We need a dedicated pot of money that is always working to address those factors that are contributing to deaths and serious injuries on our streets.

  1. Build out the Bike Network for All-Ages & Abilities

In 2019 Arlington adopted a new vision for biking in Arlington, where biking is “an integral part of Arlington’s equitable, multimodal transportation system and provides safe, reliable, convenient and comfortable travel for persons of all ages and abilities.”

Arlington’s approach to bike infrastructure has largely been an after-thought. Projects are identified for other reasons, and “while we’re at it” we look to see if anything can be accomplished to improve biking as part of the project. This approach will never result in a comprehensive network for all-ages and abilities. We need dedicated funding to tackle the projects that matter most for biking.

  1. Speed up our Transit

Arlington has invested significantly in our bus network over the last 15 years, but those buses often struggle to attract riders when they sit in the same traffic as drivers while also waiting unnecessarily for long, slow boarding processes at each stop. Arlington needs to maximize the return on its transit investment by prioritizing projects that speed up our buses: dedicated bus lanes, transit signal priority, queue jumps and support for all-door boarding.

  1. Safe Routes to Every School

Kids who walk and bike to school arrive happier and more focused. Walking & biking to school fights childhood obesity and raises a new generation that views walking and biking as normal everyday transportation modes. Making sure that kids have a safe route to walk or bike also helps control APS transportation costs and builds community ties. Every place that APS limits a school’s “walk zone” because of a dangerous street or intersection is a failure that needs to be addressed.

  1. Expand & Connect the Trail Network

When Arlington conducted a statistically-valid survey of recreational needs in 2016, paved multi-use trails were ranked the “most needed outdoor facility” with 87% of households indicating a need. Since that time, little progress has been made. The Capital Trails Coalition has laid out a vision for an expanded, interconnected trail system in the DC region. Arlington needs to do its part to see this vision realized by making progress on the Arlington Boulevard Trail and the Cemetery Wall Trail.

Arlington County is seeking input on your priorities for the upcoming Capital Plan. You can weigh-in here through this Friday, April 16th.

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Columbia Pike is one of Arlington’s least bike-friendly corridors — there aren’t any bike lanes, traffic is heavy, and the bike boulevards on parallel streets are disjointed and disconnected.

Almost 3 years ago now, Bike4ThePike rode to highlight this fact, along with the gaps in the County’s plans for the Pike.

Today, we have a big opportunity to close ones of those gaps, but the County’s going to need some help to do it.

Three years ago, this is what the map looked like for the County’s planned bike facilities along the Pike.

We’ve made some progress — the sidepath on the bridge over Four Mile Run will be widened this year. The Complete Streets project on Walter Reed Drive is moving forward and is likely to add a traffic light at 9th Street S to create a safe crossing there for bike boulevard users — but the North side still has a fair number of gaps.

With the completion of the new section of 12th Street S between Rolfe and Ross Street, built by the Trove development, the south-side Bike Boulevard only has one major gap remaining — Barton to Wayne Street.

The redevelopment project at 2400 Columbia Pike (which includes the current Rappahannock Coffee building, among others) offers an opportunity to finally bridge this gap, but it will require help from the developer, the County and the Barkley Condominiums. This development was originally approved in 2016, but is back undergoing review with some revisions.

The Form-based Code requires this development to have an east-west alley. Since this alley would serve only traffic from this one building, it could, if designed well, function as a quiet, low-stress place to bike much like the rest of the Columbia Pike Boulevards. However, the alley itself only goes as far east as this development does — it wouldn’t connect to Wayne Street.

It was noted during the last review of this project that a connection could be possible to Wayne via the construction of a small stretch of trail on property owned by the Barkley Condominiums; part of this land already has a utility easement granted to the County for some buried utilities. There are certainly many routes that such a trail could take, but here is one potential alignment that was shown the last time this development was reviewed (pink dashed line):

Why might Barkley Condominiums want to grant such an easement? Here are a few thoughts:

  • It was noted during the last review of this project that the condo residents have been using the existing alley to walk from the back of their condo building to the Pike, despite having no legal easement to do so. It was also noted that the Condo building has relied on the existing private alley to provide access to maintenance crews to complete work on the rear of their property such as landscaping; again, without the legal right to do so. The trail could provide a safer, more pleasant, and legal access route for both condo residents and maintenance crews to access this side of the building.
  • Generally, trails are a sought-after amenity that raise property values. In this instance, the County would be constructing and maintaining the trail. The Barkley would simply need to provide legal access to the land. The land that already has the utility easement over it isn’t useful for much of anything else anyway.
  • Being a good neighbor. This is one problem on the Pike, that is extremely difficult to solve without the Barkley’s assistance. If we don’t fix this now, people who want to bike here will be relegated to the narrow sidewalks of the Pike or mixing it up with heavy Pike traffic for the foreseeable future, barring a joint redevelopment of two gas stations and Bob & Edith’s diner (please no!).

This sort of trail easement isn’t unprecedented — the Four Mile Run Trail runs behind the Brittany and the Carlton Condominiums along Four Mile Run Drive, on land that appears to be owned by the Condo Associations, presumably in a similar easement.

I think it’s important that everyone involved know that this gap in the bike network is important to citizens along the Pike. If you support a bike-able Columbia Pike and would like to see the Rappahannock Developer, the County and the Barkley Condominiums come together to solve it, please consider signing this petition that Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County launched yesterday. You can also ask the developer about the biking experience in their proposed alley at this virtual meeting tonight at 7 p.m. about the development proposal.

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The public meetings around the Shirlington Road Bridge project have reignited a long-standing community conversation about crossing safety near Four Mile Run Drive and Shirlington Road that has gone on for at least 10 years.

The area, at the confluence of the W&OD Trail, several legs of the Four Mile Run Trail, also suffers from a bridge over Four Mile Run that only has a sidewalk on one side, with that sidewalk being extremely narrow, traffic coming off of a major interstate highway, and a very auto-centric built environment with many curb cuts crossing the sidewalks and large trucks from the concrete plant.

These factors all coming together in such a small area leads to a situation where no one is comfortable. Trail users feel like there are no safe way for them to get through the area. Drivers feel like they already have too many things to keep an eye out for and trail users are adding to that complexity.

The Shirlington Road bridge project will help a bit — fixing the narrow sidewalk on the bridge by adding a wide, comfortable parallel bike & pedestrian bridge as well as making the mid-block crossing near 27th Street more prominent and eye-catching, but community feedback at both the recent public meeting as well as the Green Valley Bridges Ad Hoc Working Group make it clear that there is more work to be done.

The remaining issue is the crossing of Shirlington Road; it’s easiest to think about this from the perspective of someone who has just gone under 395 on the trail and is trying to continue to the West, either on the W&OD Trail or down on the Four Mile Run Trail (perhaps on their way to shop in Shirlington).

A trail user’s most obvious choice is the mid-block crossing immediately before them, but reports from existing trail users are that cars often don’t stop for the Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon (RRFB). Adding a HAWK signal or traffic signal at the mid-block crossing have been ruled out by the County due to the proximity to the existing traffic signals.

A trail user heading for the W&OD could head north on the sidewalk to cross at Four Mile Run Drive, but this brings along new conflicts — cars entering and exiting the Exxon as well as concrete trucks going to and from the concrete plan. Additionally, even those crossing Shirlington Road with the walk signal find there are dangerous conflicts — cars turning left from Four Mile Run Drive onto northbound Shirlington Road as well as cars making a right-on-red from Shirlington Road to Four Mile Run Drive and who aren’t paying sufficient attention to yield. Read More

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Two regional governmental bodies, that don’t receive much detailed coverage in the press, could have a big impact on the transportation options available to you, the quality of the air you breathe and our ability to meet our climate goals.

Have you heard of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB)?  Or the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA)?

The Transportation Policy Board (TPB)

The TPB is the DC area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization and it is supposed to do transportation planning for the entire DC-area – including all regionally-significant transportation projects in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs as well as DC itself. By federal law it is responsible for ensuring that those projects improve the area’s air quality.

TPB has some great “aspirational goals” that could really lead the region into a healthier, more sustainable transportation future:

  1. Bring jobs and housing closer together
  2. Expand bus rapid transit and transitways
  3. Move more people on Metrorail
  4. Increase telecommuting and other options for commuting
  5. Expand the express highway network
  6. Improve walk and bike access to transit
  7. Complete the National Capital Trail

The chair of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Commission’s comments on the current transportation plan note that it is critical for the region to reduce per capita vehicle miles travelled (VMT) in order to achieve air quality standards and implores TPB to invest in “Metro, ride-sharing, pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and other travel demand management strategies to continue to mitigate future growth in vehicle emissions.”

Unfortunately, when the rubber meets the road – in this case, when it comes time to put together its “constrained long-range plan” of all regionally-significant transportation projects, the TPB seems content to basically staple together MDOT’s, VDOT’s and DDOT’s transportation plans, without significant examination of whether any given project moves the region forward toward those “aspirational goals” or prepare us for future, cleaner air quality standards.

A good example here is Maryland’s reconstruction of the “Nice” bridge across the Potomac south of DC. Maryland’s DOT was looking to drop plans for a promised bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on the replacement bridge (which will double capacity for cars) the TPB passed an amendment to the regional plan allowing the project to move forward with no dedicated space for non-motorized traffic on this important river crossing which has no alternative for miles in any direction. Another is their acceptance of Maryland’s I-495 and I-270 Express Lane projects without any commitment that they will allow High Occupancy Vehicles to travel toll-free.

TPB will be updating their regional plan “Visualize 2045” over the course of the next two years. You can sign-up for email updates here.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA)

The NVTA gets 70% of the regional tax revenue that is dedicated to transportation (from a wholesale tax on gasoline, along with some other sources). It then doles that money back out as grants for transportation projects.

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