Transportation officials are proposing a host of safety improvements for Memorial Circle, a confusing confluence of roads connecting Arlington National Cemetery to the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
The circle has long been the site of all manner of dangerous crashes, particularly those involving cyclists and pedestrians looking to access the nearby Mt. Vernon Trail or cross into D.C. But the National Park Service has drawn up a series of changes for the roads in the area designed to address the issue, including traffic pattern changes to transform the circle into something more like a traditional roundabout.
“The project area is at a major convergence of regional roadways and modes that interact through a complex series of roadway merges (on-ramps), weaves, diverges (off-ramps), and intersections, resulting in traffic congestion and crashes,” NPS planners wrote in a November environmental assessment. “The proposed action would change the way area users access and circulate through the area by car, bicycle, or foot.”
Officials estimate that the area saw approximately 600 crashes between 2006 and 2012. Lawmakers previously secured some safety improvements for the G.W. Parkway and the circle to try to address the issue. The new NPS proposal would address not only the circle itself, but also the roads approaching the area from both the north and south: S. Arlington Blvd and Washington Blvd.
Perhaps the most substantial change park officials are proposing would be cutting back on one lane of traffic in the circle, in order to “allow the circle to function more like a modern roundabout,” the NPS wrote. That means that drivers in the circle would have the right of way, and anyone entering the circle would need to yield to them.
The NPS also plans to split up an island on the east side of the circle, near where it meets the Memorial Bridge, allowing two westbound lanes coming from the bridge to “bypass the circle and head north onto S. Arlington Boulevard” and one lane of traffic to proceed and enter the circle.
For roads north of the circle, officials are proposing some improved signage at the various intersections, including “fluorescent yellow advance pedestrian crossing warning signs” at some and “rapid flashing beacon” signs at others.
But they’re also envisioning more dramatic improvements, like reducing Washington Blvd down to one lane, and removing both the “existing southern exit ramp connecting S. Arlington Blvd and S. Washington Blvd” and “the existing far left exit lane of S. Arlington Blvd.”
As S. Arlington Blvd exits the circle, the NPS also envisions reducing the road from three lanes down to two leading up to the crosswalk. The existing far left lane leading onto a ramp to S. Washington Blvd is slated to be removed, as is the exit ramp itself.
The NPS is planning similar pedestrian sign improvements for intersections south of the circle, as well as other lane reductions.
One major change would be the construction of a new concrete island where Washington Blvd enters the circle to its south, allowing two lanes of the road to bypass the circle and reach the Memorial Bridge, and one lane to enter the circle. That would require a slightly widening of the road in the area, the NPS wrote.
The plans also call for Washington Blvd to be reduced from four lanes to three south of the circle “in order to simplify merging patterns,” while the G.W. Parkway would be widened “to add an acceleration lane allowing traffic from Arlington Blvd to enter the parkway in its own dedicated lane before merging onto the two-lane parkway.”
Additionally, the NPS envisions relocating two bike and pedestrians crossings south of the circle. One, located as a trail crossing Washington Blvd, “would be relocated closer to the Circle, to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to cross where vehicle speeds are slower and where drivers are anticipating conflicts.” The other, designed to help people cross the parkway to the southeast of the circle, would be moved slightly further north of the parkway.
The NPS traffic analysis of these proposed changes suggest they’d generate “an overall improvement” in congestion on the roads, in addition to substantial safety upgrades.
People in the bicycling community are pretty skeptical of the latter assertion, however.
Surprise! @NPSGWMP has proposed a few half-assed safety improvements to Memorial Circle. Read about 'em here and decide if you think they'll keep you safe in the crosswalk: #bikedc #bikearlington https://t.co/MZAdUCONY4
— Chris Slatt (@alongthepike) November 29, 2018
Thought 2 – If this were implemented tomorrow, I'd still insist that nobody walk or bike anywhere near it because the crossings aren't safe
— Garrett Hennigan (@gwhennigan) November 29, 2018
The NPS is accepting comments on the plans through Dec. 29.
(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Parks officials have signed off on some big changes at Theodore Roosevelt Island, including the rehabilitation of a troublesome section of the Mt. Vernon Trail and the addition of several new landing spots for small boats and kayaks.
The National Park Service announced yesterday (Monday) that it will move ahead with a variety of construction projects on the island, located off the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Rosslyn, after settling on some final designs and certifying they’ll have minimal environmental impacts on the island.
Some of the changes will be relatively small, like the addition of some new signs and markers detailing Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy — the island is home to the lone memorial to the nation’s 26th president in D.C. Others will be more substantial, such as the total overhaul and realignment of a boardwalk-style bridge on the Mt. Vernon Trail, which runs from underneath the Roosevelt Bridge to just south of the island’s parking lot.
The park service’s plans call for a “replacement of the bridge deck and railing to provide a smoother riding surface.” That will likely come as good news to area cyclists, who have nicknamed it “the Trollheim Bridge” for its treacherous surface — TheWashCycle blog described it as a the “notoriously slippery part of the Mt. Vernon trail that has caused literally thousands of crashes” in a post last year.
The main, 1,400-foot-section of the bridge also meets an additional 90-foot section toward its north end, creating an awkward “T” intersection for cyclists. The realignment work will eliminate that intersection, creating a new left turn lane as well.
Other walking trails on the island will see some improvements under the plans as well. The NPS is hoping to improve connections between the pedestrian bridge and the island’s Memorial Plaza and create “universal access to the entire Swamp Trail, including access to the comfort station.” That small rest stop is also set to see a refresh under these plans.
The NPS is also hoping to add a total of four landings for canoes, kayaks and row boats on the island. Each one will be about 12 feet wide, and provide “access for approximately 4-5 kayaks/canoes,” according to the park service’s documents. The plans also call for the construction of a roughly 100-foot-long “floating dock” for larger craft, to be located at the island’s northeast corner, once the home of a ferry landing.
The park service noted in an environmental analysis of these proposed changes that, currently, “boaters and kayakers anchor or beach their non-motorized watercraft on unmarked areas along the shoreline.” Officials fear that the “practice impacts natural and archeological resources and has the potential to expose boaters and kayakers to underwater hazards in shoreline areas,” reasoning that the new landings should alleviate that issue. The area could also be in line to see increased boating activity, should the NPS’ plans to build the long-anticipated Rosslyn boathouse continue to advance.
Additionally, the park service wants to add some more vegetation and trees to the largely wooded island. Some new shrubs will be designed to cover up existing “social” bike trails on the island’s north shore line; other tree plantings will replace the roughly 200 ash trees the NPS had to remove last summer due to an “emerald ash borer infestation.”
The NPS says it’s still searching for funding for the entire range of projects on the island, but some will move ahead in the near term. The Mt. Vernon Trail bridge improvements, for instance, are currently out for bid by federal officials and could be completed by sometime in 2020.
A coalition of businesses, neighborhood groups and transportation advocates are urging planners to include a bike and pedestrian trail along the long-planned replacement for the Long Bridge, a key railroad connection from Virginia into D.C.
A total of 15 organizations from Arlington, the District and the rest of the metropolitan Washington region penned a new letter last Thursday (Nov. 1) to both local and federal transportation officials working on the project, calling the inclusion of a trail alongside the bridge part of “a once in a generation opportunity to transform our regional transportation network.”
Planners are still sorting out exactly what the new bridge might look like. The original structure, which runs from near the Pentagon in Arlington to Southwest D.C., was built back in 1904, and officials from around the region have viewed replacing it as a necessary step for improving freight and passenger rail service between D.C. and Northern Virginia.
However, the prospect of including a trail alongside the new Long Bridge was not formally included in the various assessments of potential designs of the project. Accordingly, the group penning the letter sought to emphasize the benefits such a trail could have for the region’s commuters, and its economy.
The organizations — which include the Crystal City Civic Association, Friends of Long Bridge Park, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and Greater Greater Washington — stressed that any new trail crossing the Potomac River would provide “crucial links to several important regional trails.” The current crossing along the 14th Street Bridge does not offer a connection to the regional trail network on the D.C. side. of the bridge, and the friends group supporting the Mt. Vernon Trail co-signed the letter.
The groups also stressed that such a trail would spur economic development “by linking two key activity nodes in Southwest D.C. and Crystal City.” That goes doubly so if officials also follow the groups’ recommendation that the trail “connect to the esplanade in Long Bridge Park” and “extend as far towards L’Enfant Plaza as physically possible” on the D.C. side.
Perhaps most importantly, the letter urges that the trail “be funded and constructed concurrently with the rail component of the Long Bridge project,” and that it “should be incorporated into the design of the broader project in a way that optimizes the achievability of the project with regard to cost and complexity.”
In a draft of an environmental impact statement prepared in late June, federal and local planners stress that any trail is “not part of the purpose and need” of the project. Even still, they agreed to include the study of four potential trail crossings in more detailed studies of the project to be completed over the coming months.
Planners have so far narrowed potential designs of the bridge replacement down to two options; both involve building a new, two-track bridge alongside the existing structure, but one alternative calls for the current bridge to stay in place and the other would involve fully replacing it.
Two of the trail designs call for building the crossing alongside the new bridge. Two others call for building the trail along its own, independent bridge: one proposal envisions it being upstream of the new two-track bridge, another would be downstream.
The transit advocates at Greater Greater Washington have expressed doubts about these proposals in the past, arguing that the designs “do the bare minimum” and represent a missed opportunity for planners. However, officials did agree to examine trail crossings over the Long Bridge Park side of the G.W. Parkway, “with an evaluation of connections to the Mount Vernon Trail and Ohio Drive S.W.,” two features that were previously championed by Greater Greater Washington.
Even still, there remains no guarantee that the trail will indeed be included in the project — the June report notes that Virginia rail officials noted “noted that the primary focus of the project is increasing rail capacity, and expressed significant concerns regarding safety and constructability of any combined-mode structure.”
Planners are still a long ways off from finalizing designs, however. The first step is settling on a single “preferred alternative” to examine in more detail, which planners hope to do within the next two months.
Officials then hope to have engineering and environmental analyses drawn up by summer 2019, and the project still needs additional funding. Virginia officials and the rail company CSX, which owns the bridge, have committed to chip in a total of $30 million for the effort, though there’s no telling just how much the bridge replacement might ultimately cost.
The Mt. Vernon Trail is currently blocked near Roosevelt Island after someone tried to drive a piece of large construction equipment over a rickety wooden bridge.
The wooden plank bridge carries trail traffic in the area of Roosevelt Island and the Roosevelt Bridge, near Rosslyn. It is noted for being slippery when wet and generally uneven at all times, causing bikes to shake as cyclists ride over it.
Earlier today, a large piece of construction equipment was driven over the bridge and, predictably, broke a number of boards before getting stuck. The National Park Service is currently working to assess and repair the structure so that the trail can be reopened.
“NPS and Federal Highway Administration engineers are assessing the bridge,” said NPS spokesman Jonathan Shafer. “We hope to reopen the bridge and this section of the Mt. Vernon Trail soon, but we don’t have a time set yet.”
Via Twitter, an NPS spokeswoman said they were “hoping to reopen by evening commute but not sure yet,” adding that cyclists can detour past the closure by crossing bridges into D.C. and back.
Shafer says the circumstances around how the equipment was driven onto the boardwalk are being investigated. He said the equipment does not belong to the park service.
“It was not NPS equipment,” he said. “U.S. Park Police are investigating this.”
Update at 5 p.m. — The trail has reopened, according to NPS.
The Mount Vernon Trail has reopened! Trail fixed and inspected by engineers. https://t.co/NASWtjaEFI
— Jenny A-S NPS (@NPSJennyAS) October 2, 2018
Prep work for major construction on the Memorial Bridge is prompting some lane closures and other travel disruptions in the area over the next few days.
Workers are planning to set up “staging areas” just south of Memorial Circle to prepare for a full rehab effort on the bridge later this fall, which will include a full weekend shutdown of the bridge in mid-September.
That means drivers in the area can expect “temporary lane closures as trucks deliver material there,” largely during the day. The closures could also impact the Mount Vernon Trail, with the National Park Service warning that the trail likely won’t close entirely but “users may have to wait while workers move material over it.”
The NPS recently had to schedule overnight lane closures on the G.W. Parkway and Washington Blvd to pave roads leading up to the stage area, but it expects that today (Friday) was the last day of those disruptions.
Labor Day should also mark the end of work on the Windy Run Bridge along the G.W. Parkway. Workers are hoping to do away with the lane closures and shifts that have marked that section of the parkway for the last few weeks sometime after the holiday.
Photo via National Park Service
A coalition of bicycling and transit advocates has drawn up a new map of the entire D.C. region’s bike trails, in a bid to promote a more holistic view of the area’s biking options.
The Capital Trails Coalition released the “diagrammatic map” today (Monday), displaying not only the 436 miles of existing trails across the region but also another 302 miles of planned paths that will someday create even more connectivity for cyclists.
The coalition, which includes both local government transportation agencies and a host of advocacy groups, included bike trails in six jurisdictions around the region on the map: Arlington County, Alexandria, D.C., Fairfax County, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. Coalition Chair Jack Koczela hopes that will help people to see cycling as a viable option no matter where they live around the D.C. region, laying out a clear, unified guide to easily bikeable trails for commuting and recreation alike.
“We hope this comes to have the feel of the iconic Metrorail map,” Koczela told ARLnow. “This is so people can get an idea of what it is we’re talking about in terms of actual trails available to everybody around the region.”
Koczela says the coalition has spent more than two years now drafting the map, as the group sought to work with cyclists to identify trails that are both easy to ride and provide good access to the region’s activity and transit centers.
He’s hoping that the map will prove particularly useful to D.C. suburbs like Arlington. If commuters currently rely on cars or public transit to get to work because they aren’t sure how a trail that starts in Arlington connects with one in D.C., or even Maryland, he foresees this map being a vital resource to provide alternatives.
“A lot of people’s experience on trails is really hyperlocal, and a lot of people aren’t thinking of these trails as a way to connect them to other areas of the region,” said Carm Saimbre, communications coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, a coalition member. “The vision with this is to create connections and fill gaps in the network, so it becomes just as established as getting around the Beltway by car.”
With so many planned trails included on the map, Koczela notes that the document is certainly an aspirational one in many respects. In Arlington alone, the map includes not only trails currently under construction, like a new section of trail alongside Washington Blvd, but also ones still in the planning stages, like the extension of the Mt. Vernon Trail from Theodore Roosevelt Island.
But by showing just how adding more trails could better connect the region, Koczela thinks the map will be a valuable tool as his coalition lobbies for more funding for bike infrastructure going forward.
“Our goal for the next year is to increase awareness and get the political community engaged, thinking about the trails as a network,” Koczela said.
Photo via the Capital Trails Coalition
Plans are underway to address Arlington Memorial Bridge’s crumbling facade and deep structural issues, but over the next week it will mean extra traffic for morning commuters across the bridge.
From today (Monday) until Friday (Aug. 17) two lanes of Arlington Memorial Bridge on the G.W. Parkway will be closed to prepare the bridge for full rehabilitation later this fall. The rightmost westbound lane will be closed from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. and the center eastbound lane will be closed from 9:30 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The parkway will also see late evening closures over the coming week to prepare the bridge for rehabilitation later this fall. From Wednesday, Aug. 15 until Sunday, Aug. 19, one northbound lane of the parkway will be closed south of Memorial Circle, near the Potomac River. Closures will start at 7 p.m. and end at 5 a.m.
The plan is to move the construction equipment from the road to a fenced staging area on the river. Workers on-site will direct traffic as heavy equipment is moved into the construction site.
Cyclists and pedestrians on the Mount Vernon Trail may also experience delays during this process. While the trail won’t close, the equipment will be passing over the trail and workers onsite will be directing traffic on the trail.
The full bridge rehabilitation later this fall will reduce the bridge to three lanes of traffic: one eastbound, one westbound, and one that will shift to accommodate rush hour traffic.
In 2016, the Federal Highway Administration informed the National Park Service (NPS) that, without repairs, the bridge will require full closure in 2021. According to NPS, the current schedule of closures will help strengthen the bridge; adding new concrete to the roads, reinforcing the rusted steel drawbridge, and making repairs to the underside of the road. The full rehabilitation later this fall will replace the drawbridge span, replace most of the concrete across the bridge with prefabricated concrete panels.
The NPS is also closing lanes on the Windy Run Bridge to keep up with additional bridge rehab needs, with work running through the fall.
Photo via National Park Service
Arlington may get two new Capital Bikeshare stations, at Roosevelt Island and Gravelly Point.
The County Board is set to approve a “memorandum of understanding” with the National Park Service, which has to approve the bikeshare stations since they would be located on NPS land.
The approval would further the goal of an expansion of the bikeshare network along the Mt. Vernon Trail.
Responsibility for the installation and maintenance of the bikeshare facilities on NPS land would fall on the county, according to the memorandum. It also restricts any advertisements on the stations, and sets requirements for site preservation and, should the stations be removed in the future, restoration.
The office of the County Manager has recommended that the memorandum be approved at Saturday’s County Board meeting (April 21).
The incident happened around lunchtime last Wednesday, on the trail near Rosslyn.
Police searched for the suspect but were unable to locate him.
More from the ACPD crime report:
SEXUAL BATTERY, 2017-09130162, Mount Vernon Trail. At approximately 2:07 p.m. on September 13, police were dispatched to the intersection of Lynn Street at Lee Highway for the late report of a sexual battery. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 12:30 p.m. on September 13, a female victim was running on the Mount Vernon Trail when an unknown male suspect approached her from behind and inappropriately touched her. Once the victim called out for help, the suspect fled the area on foot. The suspect is described as a light-skinned Hispanic male, 30 – 40 years old, approximately 180 – 220 lbs with an average to medium build. The suspect is clean shaven with short black hair. He was wearing a light blue long-sleeved shirt, tan khaki pants and brown sneakers at the time of the incident. Officers canvassed the area with negative results. The investigation is ongoing.
The rest of this past week’s crime report highlights, including some that we’ve already reported, after the jump.
Sixteenth 9/11 Anniversary — A flag was unfurled at the Pentagon this morning as the nation marked the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. President Donald Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford were among those expected to attend a ceremony at the Pentagon, honoring the 184 people killed in the attack there. Arlington County also hosted its own remembrance ceremony and is posting recollections from Sept. 11, 2001 on social media. [ABC News, Twitter, Twitter]
Another Police-Impersonation Phone Scam — Local residents are again getting calls from a scammer claiming to be a law enforcement officer, demanding a fine be paid over the phone. As a reminder, police never call on the phone to collect fines. [Twitter]
Arlington 9/11 5K Recap — The 2017 Arlington Police, Fire and Sheriff 9/11 Memorial 5K was held in Pentagon City on Saturday evening amid perfect September weather. Among those on hand to address the crowd were Police Chief Jay Farr, County Board Chair Jay Fisette and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore. Spotted among the runners: former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who was wearing a Navy t-shirt and was all smiles after the race as the occasional group of fellow runners asked to take a photo with him. [Facebook, Chronotrack]
Park Service May Revamp MVT Boardwalk — As part of a larger improvement project for Theodore Roosevelt Island and the TR Bridge, the National Park Service is considering rehabilitating the nearby, aging boardwalk bridge along the Mount Vernon Trail, which carries bike and pedestrian traffic. [The Wash Cycle]
County Holds Transportation ‘Pop Up’ Event — “Arlington Transportation Partners, the County’s business-to-business transportation outreach organization, held its very first ‘Our Shared Street’ Pop Up festival recently at Arlington Mill Community Center. The late August gathering brought together residents of Columbia Pike with local businesses to highlight Arlingtonians’ many transportation options.” [Arlington County]
GW Parkway Crash — Earlier this morning, northbound traffic on the George Washington Memorial Parkway was temporarily blocked near the TR Bridge following a multi-vehicle crash. [Washington Post]
FBI Seeking Man Who Touched Girl at Cemetery — The FBI’s Washington Field Office is searching for a man who “inappropriately touched a girl as the two stood in a crowd during a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.” [NBC Washington]
Task Force Recommends ‘Fleet Elementary’ — The task force charged with recommending a name for the new elementary school being built next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School has settled its choice: “Alice West Fleet Elementary.” Fleet was the first African-American reading teacher in Arlington’s public school system. The task force did not recommend transferring the name of Patrick Henry, a slave owner, from the current school, which will be transferring its students to new new school when it is complete. [InsideNova]
Bicyclist Group Calls Out Biking Bullies — In a blog post, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association is calling out aggressive male riders who yelled insults at a female bike commuter on two separate occasions on the Mt. Vernon Trail. “This sort of behavior is totally unacceptable,” the group said. [WABA]
Mt. Vernon Trail Upgrade Complete — The National Park Service has completed an upgrade to a portion of the Mt. Vernon Trail that runs through the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot. The upgrade includes a new crossing and speed table across the parking lot and the widening of the trail. [Greater Greater Washington]
Arlington Sells Bonds at Low Interest Rate — Arlington County solds $185 million in bonds at a relatively low 2.5 percent interest rate. “The interest rate we received today is one of the lowest we’ve ever received,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a press release. “However, it is slightly higher than the rate we received last year.” [Arlington County]
Tight Race in Va. Gov. Primary — The two candidates battling it out in the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary are in the midst of a tight race. The race between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello is being portrayed as a contest between an establishment figure (Northam) and a progressive darling (Perriello). Primary voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, June 13. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman