Arlington, VA

Cyclists can now ride e-bikes around national parks, including the Mt. Vernon Trail along the GW Parkway, thanks to a recent policy change from the National Park Service.

“We think this is a very positive development, and we are hopeful that this serves as a push for Arlington’s parks department to allow e-bikes everywhere,” said Henry Dunbar, director of active transportation for Bike Arlington.

According to the NPS e-bike policy, bike speeds of up to 28 mph will be allowed in all national parks. However, similar to traditional bicycles, e-bikes will not be permitted in designated wilderness areas.

“They make bicycle travel easier and more efficient, and they provide an option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise do so because of physical fitness, age, disability, or convenience, especially at high altitudes or in hilly or strenuous terrain,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith in a statement from NPS.

The scenic trail is now the second bike trail in Arlington where people can ride the motor-assisted bicycle, after the W&OD Trail go-ahead from NOVA Parks in March.

“The only downside would be managing trail safety and congestion, which we already have issues with,” Dunbar said.

Recently officials have discussed plans to widen the W&OD Trail to ease bike-pedestrian conflicts, along with improving lighting, crossings, and signage.

The news pleased actor William Shatner, of Star Trek fame, who has since become an e-bike enthusiast (and the face of Pedego Electric Bikes, albeit not available in Arlington). Shatner butted heads with Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services in November for its “barbaric” e-bike ban.

“A regular bicyclist can easily travel 25mph!” Shatner tweeted Tuesday. “So if they allow bikes what would be the additional impact of an e-bike?”

 

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The National Park Service (NPS) will host a special event near Rosslyn on Sunday (Aug. 25) to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first slaves arriving in the English colonies.

The Park Service is hosting events throughout the region as a day of remembrance for the first slave ship’s arrival at Point Comfort and the centuries of oppression that followed.

The Arlington event is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at the Netherlands Carillon, near the Iwo Jima memorial.

According to the event page:

Beginning at 2 p.m. park rangers from George Washington Memorial Parkway will offer opportunities for visitors to explore themes of remembrance, healing and reconciliation related to African American history at the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington Ridge Park. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own bells to ring alongside the carillon at 3 p.m. The carillonneur will also play African American hymns and musical selections that reflect the African American experience.

Image via National Park Service

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(Updated at 10:10 a.m.) Dutch artist Gijsbert¬†Kok plays an instrument similar to an organ — except it controls bells instead of pipes.

The instrument is called a carillon and Kok will be playing it during his performance at the Netherlands Carillon, near Rosslyn and the Iwo Jima memorial, this Saturday (July 20).

Kok’s performance in Arlington is part of¬†the free weekly concerts hosted by the¬†National Park Service (NPS) through the end of the summer. The concerts run from 6-8 p.m., except for the September 2 event, which will take place from 2-4 p.m.

Guests can bring lawn chairs, blankets or simply sit on the grass. NPS suggests that guests park or arrive via the Rosslyn Metro, which is about a 15-minute walk. Parking is available at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.

This year’s concert lineup for the remainder of the summer is as follows:

  • July 20 — Gijsbert Kok, Bodegraven, The Netherlands
  • July 27 — Doug Gefvert, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
  • August 3 — Edward M.Nassor, Fairfax, Virginia
  • August 10 — Lynnli Wang, Washington, D.C.
  • August 17 — Edward M. Nassor, Fairfax, Virginia
  • August 24 — Elisa Tersigni, Washington, D.C.
  • August 31 — Jesse Ratcliffe, Warrenton, Virginia
  • September 2 — Edward M. Nassor, Fairfax, Virginia

In addition to his bell ringing, Kok is also an organist who performs at churches and for concerts across the United States and Europe.

The National Park Service received¬†the carillon as a gift from the Netherlands in commemoration of the United States’ assistance during World War ll. It is comprised of 50 bells, weighing over 30 tons. The bells are set to be removed this fall and sent via ship back to the Netherlands for cleaning as part of a major rehabilitation project.

Photo (1) via Joseph Gruber/Flickr, map via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Last Week of School — The 2018-2019 school year is concluding this week for Arlington Public Schools. Today is the last day of school for high schools, while Friday is the last day of school for middle and elementary schools. [Arlington Public Schools]

Park Service Advances Boathouse Plan — “Plans to establish a¬†community boathouse on the Potomac River in Arlington¬†just¬†passed a major milestone. The National Park Service completed its¬†Environmental Assessment (EA)¬†with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which sets up the project to move forward.” [Arlington County, Twitter]

State of the County Address — “Christian Dorsey¬†began his State of the County address by thanking the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Arlington business community for their partnership ‘on specific issues from the transient occupancy tax, to dedicated funding for the Metro, to helping us put our best foot forward in the competition for¬†¬†Amazon’s HQ2.'” [Press Release]

Arlington Public Safety Awards — “Following the State of the County address, awards were presented to honor Arlington County’s public safety personnel…¬†¬†Stories of their heroic actions include two firefighters rescuing a person trapped inside a vehicle that was fully submerged in water, a detective dismantling a large, local cocaine trafficking organization with limited investigative leads, and a police officer saving two unresponsive passengers in an overturned, burning vehicle on the roadway.” [Press Release]

Fraud Alert from Arlington Police — “The Arlington County Police Department and Sheriff’s Office are warning the public about a telephone scam that uses the threat of arrest to extort money from potential victims.” [Arlington County]

Metro Studying Second Rosslyn Metro Station — “After decades of discussion, Metro kicked off a study this week of a new, second station at Rosslyn and other changes that could overhaul the way trains on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines run throughout the system.” [WTOP]

ACPD: No Plans for ‘Mass Deportation’ — “The Arlington County Police Department called the plan ‘political’ and said they have no intention on working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to fulfill [President] Trump’s mass deportation plan. The Fairfax County Police Department said it doesn’t participate with ICE on civil enforcement either.” [Fox 5]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

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(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) The National Park Service is ready to move ahead with plans to make Memorial Circle safer and easier to navigate.

NPS finalized a study last week, stating its plans did not negatively impact the surrounding environment or historical character of the area. The agency can now move forward on making the nexus of roadways safer for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

“The National Park Service is very pleased this project has advanced to a stage where we’ll be able to implement these improvements as soon as funds are available,” a spokesman for the federal agency told ARLnow.

NPS chose the most aggressive of three proposed plans to modify Memorial Circle and the roads around it, S. Arlington Blvd and Washington Blvd.

The plan chosen, Alternative C, calls for changes like re-striping Memorial Circle down to one lane of traffic instead of two, thus reducing conflicts between drivers in the circle and approaching the circle.

The plan also includes a proposal to enlarge and shorten the text on signs in the circle, making them easier to read. Additionally, new yield signs would give vehicles inside the circle the right of way.

NPS also proposed adding walk signals for pedestrians and flashing beacons for drivers at six intersections where the study notes near-misses are common. Officials estimated 600 crashes occurred near Memorial Circle between 2005 and 2012.

The agency would also re-stripe S. Arlington Blvd down to two lanes before it approaches the crosswalk just north of the circle to make crossing safer for pedestrians.

To help reduce weaving between lanes and merging traffic north of the circle, NPS would:

  • Re-stripe Washington Blvd, reducing it to one lane
  • Re-stripe S. Arlington Blvd to two lanes and Washington Blvd to one lane where the roadways merge, allowing traffic to continue without changing lanes
  • Remove the S. Arlington Blvd exit ramp and far left exit lane to S. Washington Blvd
  • Widen the northern ramp off of S. Arlington Blvd up to 12 feet to allow two lanes of traffic to exit, making the left lane exit-only and the right lane a shared exit/through lane
  • Possibly remove one or two trees along the exit of the S. Arlington Blvd ramp

The plan also calls for widening northbound Washington Blvd to fit a third lane as it merges into the circle.

The widened road would make room for a concrete island, directing¬†two of Washington Blvd’s three northbound lanes onto Memorial Bridge and one lefthand lane into the circle. NPS said Washington Blvd could be widened up to 20 feet, pending design specifications.

The existing concrete island where the Memorial Bridge meets the circle’s east side would be split into two. These two new concrete islands would direct the left westbound lane coming off Arlington Memorial Bridge into the circle and syphon the other westbound lanes onto S. Arlington Blvd.

Other changes include:

  • Adding rumble strips and raised pavement markings to avoid “last-minute weaving” and provide more guidance to drivers
  • Installing more speed limit signs¬†and increased police presence to crack down on speeding

NPS has implemented traffic improvements to the area before. In 2012, the agency moved a sidewalk and installed rumble strips, among other changes, on the GW Parkway in a bid to make the roadway safer.

“Whether you are a frequent commuter, visitor to Washington, D.C. or someone recreating, we want the Memorial Circle area to be a safe and accessible experience for everyone,” said¬†Charles Cuvelier, the Parkway’s superintendent, in a statement about the latest round of improvements.

Work continues nearby on structural repairs to Memorial Bridge, a project NPS started last year.

Image 2 via Google Maps, images 1 and 3-5 via National Park Service

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Arlington County may be moving forward with plans to build the long-awaited¬†boathouse in Rosslyn, but some are wondering why a site at Gravelly Point wasn’t chosen instead.

National Park Service spokesman Aaron LaRocca tells ARLnow that Rosslyn was chosen because “it best meets¬†the purpose and need statement in the [environmental assessment] to enhance waterfront access and provide a boathouse facility along the Virginia shore of the Potomac for non-motorized, water based recreation” better than Gravelly Point.

The County Board voted Tuesday to allow County Manager Mark Schwartz to sign a programmatic agreement that ends NPS’ environmental assessment of the decades-long project. This means¬†NPS can now start start designing the boathouse in consultation with the county government and other local stakeholders, LaRocca said.

The environmental assessment examined several alternative sites for the boat house, including Gravelly Point, just north of Reagan National Airport.

Local activist Suzanne Smith Sundburg argued Gravelly Point should have been chosen instead in a letter to the Board before the vote, citing the trees on the Rosslyn site at¬†2105 N. Lynn Street¬†(formerly known as 1101 Lee Highway) that would need to be cut down. Sundburg also cited the¬†“highly destructive dredging of 52,000 square feet of precious Potomac River wetlands” also needed.

LaRocca said that the Gravelly Point site was unsuitable from an environmental perspective because it lies within a floodplain, whereas the Rosslyn site does not.

In addition to better access to public transit, he added that the Rosslyn site is also “the preferred alternative” because the water is calmer, which would improve boater safety and allow for more days on the river as compared to the Gravelly Point location.

Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement echoed Sundburg’s concerns Tuesday night, and added that the Rosslyn site would also require a parking lot and an access road to be built, whereas Gravelly Point already has parking and ready access to the GW Parkway.

“Gravelly Point was proposed to avoid potentially sensitive resources and reduce the amount of road infrastructure needed to access the site, compared to other locations along this part of the Potomac River,” says the NPS environmental assessment.

The¬†106-page study notes that Gravelly Point has turf grass, not trees, and existing parking facilities, but it also notes that wildlife like small rodents, fish, and birds were recorded in “statistically lower” amounts at the Rosslyn site than at Gravelly Point.

LaRocca said NPS recommended the Rosslyn site after weighing the environmental impact and service needs, along with other factors.

Board member Erik Gutshall said¬†he expects improvements to the boathouse plan to be made in the next design phase, and that the current plan’s shortcomings were not a reason for the Board to reject “broad brush” of the project Tuesday night.

Image 1 via County Board, Image 2 via National Park Service

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Morning Notes

Metro Removes 3000-Series from Service — “Metro overnight temporarily removed all 3000-series cars from service after we received a report of a door malfunction for which we need to identify the cause. This voluntary safety action reduces the number of available rail cars by ~15%” [Twitter, Twitter]

Courthouse Hotel May Become Apartments — “The owner of an Arlington hotel is now hoping to flip the building into residential space instead. The Arlington Court Suites Hotel in Courthouse could soon become a 180-unit apartment building dubbed ‘Park Arlington at Courthouse,’ according to plans filed with the county this week.” [Washington Business Journal]

More HQ2 Jobs Listed — There are now 18 open HQ2 jobs listed on Amazon’s website, with roles ranging from HR to sales to software engineer. Some of the jobs were reportedly first listed as working out of Amazon’s existing Ballston office, the long-term prospects for which are now in question. [Amazon, Washington Business Journal]

NPS’ Massive GW Parkway Backlog — “ABC7 asked the National Park Service how big the [GW Parkway’s] maintenance problem is. The… Parkway has a maintenance backlog of $717-million, but that includes 25 sites, such as Arlington House and Great Falls Park. $649-million of that amount is for paved roads. 33 million vehicles drive on the GW Parkway every year.” [WJLA, Twitter]

Va. Reps Call for Telework Option During ‘Summer Shutdown’ — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and other Northern Virginia representatives have written a letter to the director of the Office of Personnel Management, calling for federal employees to be given expanded telework options during the May 25-Sept. 8 “Summer Shutdown” of Metro stations in Alexandria. [House of Representatives]

Yellow Line Extension Starting This Weekend — “Metro today announced it will begin running all Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt more than a month earlier than expected –¬†starting Saturday, May 25 – when the Platform Improvement Project begins at six Yellow and Blue line stations south of Reagan National Airport.” [PoPville]

Photo courtesy Peter Golkin

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Arlington County Board is scheduled to vote on the latest step in the decades-long plan to build a Rosslyn boathouse.

On Saturday, members are set to consider a “programmatic agreement” to build a boathouse at 1101 Lee Highway in Rosslyn, which would allow non-motorized boats like kayaks to launch into the Potomac from Arlington’s shore.

The county purchased land south of the Key Bridge in 2014 to help hasten the permitting process with the National Park Service, which is overseeing the project.

County spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said this agreement, if approved, would bring the country one paddle closer to a boathouse:

The Programmatic Agreement is a routine element of the environmental review process and reflects the intent of National Park Service and the various regional parties involved in development of the project to cooperate in implementing it. The Board vote is required to authorize the County Manager to sign the agreement. This administrative step, if approved by the Board and by other regional entities, would allow for the National Park Service’s Environmental Assessment to be completed. Completing the EA is an important next step in the project’s timeline. A public process for development of the boathouse would be established separately.

A copy of the design plans shared in a staff report to the Board call for:

  • a 14,000-square-foot boat storage house that’s designed to be flood-resistant
  • a 300-foot-long dock for non motorized boats (like kayaks)
  • a building for bathrooms, locker rooms, educational rooms, and offices
  • an ADA-compliant parking area
  • a 300-foot-long emergency vehicle access lane

“The Arlington County and Vicinity Boathouse project is included in the Adopted Fiscal Years (FY) 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which envisions $500,000 in FY 2022 for development of the management model and formulation of the long-term use arrangement and $2.245 million in FY 2026 for the final design of the Boathouse project,” the staff report says.

It’s been almost 25 years since the “boathouse task force” formed to propose the idea, but the project didn’t¬†gain momentum until 2012 when the National Park Service began studying potential environmental impacts. The study was put on hold several times, before resuming in 2016.

At the time, the Park Service worried about how construction could affect flood plains along the river, as well as species that called the waterway home.

In this week’s staff report, a resolution says that the Park Service determined that the boathouse could “have a direct adverse effect on the George Washington Memorial Parkway Historic District and an indirect adverse effect on Theodore Roosevelt Island.” However, it approved going forward provided the following steps were taken to reduce impact:

  1. Restricting and minimizing ground and vegetation disturbance during construction, including limiting tree removal.
  2. Minimizing the size of construction equipment and using minimally invasive construction methods.
  3. Developing a “light on the land” facility with a minimal footprint and massing that is in scale with the surrounding landscape.
  4. Limiting the depth of excavation to avoid disturbing any unknown archeological resources below the depth of previous testing.
  5. Keeping a 50-100 foot area of protection around known archeological sites where heavy equipment is not allowed to help avoid compression/compaction.
  6. Applying avoidance and minimization strategies to staging and storage areas as well.

The project has many fans in the county’s rowing community, which recently banded together to reinforce their support for the water sport after APS threatened to cut the high school teams from the county’s budget.

The Arlington Boathouse Foundation writes¬†on its website that although the county was among the first to introduce rowing teams to its high schools, teams for many years have had to launch crew boats out of D.C.¬†“The George Washington Memorial Parkway severed Arlington’s access to its own shoreline,” the foundation notes.

Since the D.C. boathouse serves multiple jurisdictions, accessing those facilities can be tricky.

“Some area boathouses have a two- to three-year waiting list for membership and an additional waiting list for storage space for a single scull,” the National Park Service wrote on its website about the Rosslyn plan.

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Update at 11:50 a.m. on 5/13/19 — Per the National Park Service: “Due to continued rain, the National Park Service now hopes to reopen one lane in time for the evening rush hour on Tuesday, May 14. If this schedule changes, we will share an update.”

Earlier: The northbound lanes of the GW Parkway are closed just north of Arlington due to a large sinkhole.

Sinkholes have been a recurring problem on the Parkway, with the most recent sinkhole-related closure happening in March.

The Parkway’s northbound lanes are currently closed from Route 123 in McLean to the Beltway, with traffic backing up prior to the detour onto 123. The National Park Service issued the following press release about the closure Friday night.

The U.S. Park Police and National Park Service have closed the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway from Virginia Route 123, Chain Bridge Road to I-495 the Capital Beltway. The closure began around 6:45 p.m. when a U.S. Park Police officer observed a sinkhole. The northbound George Washington Memorial Parkway will remain closed in that area as engineers and work crews fully assess and repair the road.  Southbound travel lanes remain open.

The National Park Service took this action to ensure public safety, and no accidents have been reported.  Staff have continued to monitor the parkway since March when a sinkhole developed in the same area next to Dead Run.

The George Washington Memorial Parkway is a critical link in the national capital region’s transportation network, and closing it is never a decision that is made lightly. Drivers should follow local news or visit www.nps.gov/GWMP for the latest information.

Map via Google Maps

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Federal officials think they have a good shot at winning $126 million in grant funds to make a series of badly needed repairs on a long section of the GW Parkway, and Northern Virginia’s congressional delegation is throwing its weight behind the effort.

The¬†National Park Service, which maintains the road, is currently applying for a hefty U.S. Department of Transportation grant to fund rehabilitation work on a roughly eight-mile-long stretch of the parkway, as it runs between the Spout Run Parkway in Rosslyn and I-495. Now, both of Virginia’s senators and three local members of Congress are lending their support to the funding push, in a bid to finally afford some changes on the aging roadway.

“The proposed project will address serious deterioration of the GWMP and implement significant safety improvements,” the lawmakers wrote in a Jan. 8 letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “This project will improve a critical link in the National Capital Region’s transportation network while preserving the historical and cultural characteristics that make the parkway¬†one of the most scenic roadways in the country. These proposed improvements will increase the safety of visitors while significantly extending the life of the parkway.”

Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.) both signed the letter, as did Virginia Reps. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District). Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s lone, non-voting representative in Congress also added her support.

The NPS says¬†the construction work, set to cost about $150 million in all, will start at the parkway’s Spout Run Parkway exit and include:

  • Making drives smoother by replacing the asphalt pavement
  • Replacing guardrails and repairing walls
  • Repairing stormwater management systems to keep excess water from damaging the road
  • Constructing new concrete curbs
  • Rehabilitating parts of two historic, scenic overlooks
  • Lengthening entrance and exit lanes at some interchanges

Officials also hope to use the cash to replace the stormwater drainage grates that line the parkway, which have long made for a bumpy ride for drivers. They’re also envisioning adding four “emergency turnarounds,” in order to allow police to more easily redirect drivers who stop on the road due to a crash or inclement weather.

The¬†construction would also include improvements at the parkway’s interchange with Chain Bridge Road in McLean, like adding a new traffic signal to the area.

The lawmakers note in the letter that this northern stretch of the parkway was first built in 1962, and with more than 33 million vehicles using the road each year, it’s badly deteriorated in the decades since.

The NPS is hoping to win the funding through the Department of Transportation’s “Nationally Significant Federal Land and Tribal Projects” program. In a release, park service officials said they believe the project “will compete well” for cash through that program, given the parkway’s “significance” and the fact that the NPS has already wrapped up schematic design work for the construction.

If all goes well, officials hope to kick off construction sometime next year.

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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.

The NPS is accepting comments on the plans through Dec. 29.

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