Arlington County has promised to build a sidewalk for every street, but when it comes to some residential neighborhoods progress is slow.
The main way sidewalks are built in residential areas is via the Neighborhood Conservation (NC) Program, which was created in 1964 and allows neighbors to weigh in on proposed sidewalk designs, among other small local projects that are proposed for county funding.
Officials told ARLnow the program is meant to give weight to resident feedback, which means concerns over parking and frontage sometimes trump pedestrian considerations.
Now the Arlington County Board is reviewing the NC program, and asking questions like, “Do NC Projects contribute to an appropriate balance between neighborhood and Countywide infrastructure goals and objectives?” according to a draft presentation with a working group meeting last week.
NC Program Manager Tim McIntosh told ARLnow during an interview last month that it’s a “lofty goal” to build a sidewalk on at least one side of every street, and it’s also hard to evaluate how much progress has been made.
“I don’t know that there are any statistics on how many sidewalks have been built since that plan has been put in place,” he said.
“There are several challenges to building sidewalks on every street,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet said. “In addition to the availability of eligible funding sources for improvements in neighborhoods, there are competing interests for the right of way on every street.”
“In some cases, adding a full sidewalk with curb and gutter would come at the expense of on-street parking, or it could impact private properties in the form of tree removal, yard regrading and retaining walls,” he added. “There also may be differences among residents on a street about providing needed easements. Our job is to balance these interests, as well as costs, as we implement projects.”
McIntosh said the public is generally supportive and wants to see sidewalks installed, “But once you start to get into the weeds and talk about where it’s going to be, people get a little more reserved about, ‘Well, geez, how is this going to affect my frontage? Or the parking on my street?'”
Bob Cannon, a Lee Heights resident, has long wanted a sidewalk on a particular stretch of the 2300-2400 blocks of N. Vernon Street, in the Donaldson Run neighborhood.
The street is unmarked and cars regularly speed around curves, he said. In May, one car drove over the curb near Cannon’s house, blew out a tire, and hit his neighbor’s car. He says crashes like this are common and pose a danger to pedestrians who have nowhere to walk but on the road. He’s frequently asked the county to build a sidewalk, or add speed bumps, bollards, or lane paint to improve safety, according to emails reviewed by ARLnow.
“I do not understand what the problem is,” said Cannon. “The solution is simple.”
Thus far, the county has not revealed plans to add a sidewalk to portion of the road in question.
“Can it improve? Absolutely,” said WalkArlington Program Director Henry T. Dunbar of the sidewalk building process. “That’s why we really push people to get involved.”
Dunbar said WalkArlington is training residents about pedestrian safety and how they can work with organizations like the Pedestrian Advisory Committee to push for safety improvements like sidewalks on their streets. One way he said WalkArlington helps is by conducting “walk audits” of neighborhoods with residents and identify danger spots.
The pedestrian element for the county’s Master Transportation Plan was last updated in 2008. At the time, the document noted that:
Arlington currently lacks a complete sidewalk on almost 20 percent of its local streets. While work is under way to construct missing sidewalks, at the current pace of funding and construction, the sidewalk network is not likely to be complete for another 25 to 30 years.
Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet said the department is currently reviewing the pedestrian element and deciding when DES can begin updates, as it recently did with the plan’s bicycle element.
Photo courtesy Bob Cannon
Three safety and beautification projects are coming to western Arlington streets.
This Saturday the County Board is scheduled to vote on $2.8 million in construction contracts for Neighborhood Conservation projects. The three projects are all at the western edge of Arlington, near Falls Church.
The project at Patrick Henry Drive near Westover Apartments will add dedicated bike lanes from Washington Boulevard to 16th Street N.
The other two projects — 2nd Street South at S. Kensington Street and N. Quintana Street — will add new sidewalks. The N. Quintana Street project will also add streetlights.
The projects are all planned to:
- Improve pedestrian connectivity
- Provide disability accessible routes
- Rehabilitate existing roadways
- Improve drainage
The projects are 32 percent more expensive ($883,379) than when they were first proposed in 2017, which staff attributed to inflation in construction costs and higher construction standards enacted by the county since then.
Photo via Google Maps
The county is moving forward with long-held plans to narrow lanes and widen sidewalks on Columbia Pike near the Penrose neighborhood, but not everyone is on board.
County staff presented an updated version of the plan last week to the Penrose Neighborhood Association. It calls for narrowing the lefthand travel lanes on the Pike east of S. Wayne Street down to 10 feet, and narrowing the righthand lanes, next to the sidewalk, to 11 feet.
The project is slated for the section of the Pike between S. Garfield Street and S. Quinn Street, staff told ARLnow, and the total Columbia Pike right-of-way width is expected to remain 56 feet width.
It’s also part of a years-long plan to improve the Pike and add more room for pedestrians and bicyclists. However, attendees at the meeting said they fear tighter lanes could mean trickier turning and more accidents for cars.
“The goal of the project is to make Columbia Pike a safer, more accessible route for all users by creating a balance between pedestrian, bicycle, transit and vehicle spaces,” said county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet in an email Monday.
Even after the presentation by the county, some local residents remained skeptical.
“No satisfactory or convincing reason was offered by the county regarding the plan to reduce the lane size,” said one man. “It is quite concerning that a main hub such as Columbia Pike is expected to suffer significant lane reductions that will likely create traffic backups and accidents.”
“At the meeting we discussed many scenarios, like could a school bus pass a garbage truck, could a Giant delivery truck make the turn into Adams Street, could an 18 wheeler pass a bus on the left,” Penrose Association President Maria “Pete” Durgan said, adding that county staff agreed to look into the questions.
Bailliet said the plan is based on “urban street design guidelines from the National Association of City Transportation Officials,” which “recommend that lanes should not be greater than 11 feet as they may cause unintended speeding and assume valuable right of way at the expense of other modes.”
Bailliet says the new lane widths have also already been rolled out in other parts of the Pike, including on the sections between:
- Four Mile Run and S. Wakefield Street
- S. Oakland Street and S. Garfield Street
- Washington Blvd and Columbia Pike interchange
The plan was listed in the the bike component of the county’s Master Transportation Plan, which the County Board updated last week. In it, the county said it intends to build “wide multi-use trails, or wide sidewalks, along at least one side of Columbia Pike in the areas east of S. Wayne Street and west of Four Mile Run” for bikes and pedestrians to share.
“It is tackling a tough question,” the Penrose Neighborhood Association’s website said of the revised lanes. “With only a limited amount of right-of-way, how should that space be allocated? Turn lanes? Street Trees? Wider sidewalks? Bike lanes?”
The reason to widen the sidewalks, Bailliet said, was in part to allow a more vibrant and business-friendly streetscape, but also partially to provide a way for cyclists to connect with the designated bike boulevards that run parallel the Pike.
Safety concerns have prompted the county to close a sidewalk along a bridge over Four Mile Run connecting Arlington and Alexandria.
The western sidewalk of the bridge connecting S. Arlington Ridge Road with Mount Vernon Avenue is now closed indefinitely, the county announced last week.
Officials say a recent inspection revealed “beam deterioration” on one of the supports under the bridge’s western sidewalk. The structure was built back in 1956.
The county now plans to use “signage and barricades” to direct people to the other side of the bridge. A Metrobus stop serving the 10A, 10E, 23A and 23B routes and the entry to the Four Mile Run Park and the Four Mile Run Trail sit just before the north end of the bridge on the east side at S. Glebe Road.
Another Metrobus stop sits at the northwest corner of Arlington Ridge and Glebe Road, serving the 10A and 10E routes.
County engineers plan to “monitor conditions and look at eventual replacement options,” but have no timetable for the sidewalk to reopen.
The county closed sidewalks along another nearby bridge at W. Glebe Road over Four Mile Run due to similar concerns back in November.
Photo via Google Maps
Ballston is currently a construction zone, and that construction led to a confusing situation for pedestrians at one particular intersection today.
The intersection of N. Randolph Street and Wilson Blvd is busy throughout the day with vehicle and pedestrian traffic. But both drivers and those on foot have had to navigate a changing landscape of construction equipment and road blocks over the past few months, thanks to sidewalk construction and work on a trio of large projects at three corners of the intersection: Ballston Quarter, Ballston Exchange and Liberty Center.
Today a new batch of work on the northwest corner introduced a new challenge: the work made it impossible for pedestrians to head east to west on Wilson Blvd — in the direction of the Metro station and popular lunchtime restaurants — without either walking into the street or through an active construction zone. The only safe option: walk north to 9th Street N. or south to Glebe Road.
Around lunchtime ARLnow witnessed dozens of pedestrians walk around the construction, down a travel lane of Wilson or Randolph, rather than going several blocks out of the way as a detour. We also saw several people literally walk through the construction zone, hopping over wet concrete as workers watched.
Police received at least one complaint about the construction and an alleged lack of signage this afternoon, according to scanner traffic, but officers did not respond to the scene as it was deemed not a police matter. Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, meanwhile, says it is keeping a close eye on the construction.
“DES is actively monitoring this site several times a day, and giving the developer direction on how to ensure pedestrian safety by requiring proper and clear signage for detours (and other warning signs) associated with the ever-changing construction activities on this site,” said DES spokeswoman Jessica Baxter. “We are actively working with the developer to ensure proper permits are obtained and management of traffic plans are submitted and executed in a timely manner to deal with situations like this one.”
Work on the intersection is expected to wrap up later this week, Baxter said. The project is intended to enlarge the sidewalk and make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street — when completed.
Construction is underway on an extension of the sidewalk along the south side of Old Dominion Drive to connect the Cherrydale Firehouse to N. Thomas Street.
Along with the new sidewalk, a series of storm drainage improvements are being constructed.
Construction will close the curbside travel lane along the eastbound Old Dominion Drive during work hours; Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. or until 2 p.m. on Fridays.
Undergrounding of the utilities was completed in June. The project is expected to be completed in spring 2019.
Photos via Arlington County
(Updated at 9:10 a.m.) Drivers and pedestrians should expect to see construction signs, crews and heavy equipment along parts of N. George Mason Drive and Washington Blvd near Lacey Woods Park through the fall.
The county kicked off sidewalk improvement work last week on N. George Mason Drive and Washington Blvd. from 14th Street N. to N. Evergreen Street. Projected changes include new five-foot concrete sidewalks, storm inlet enhancements and bus stop upgrades.
Construction crews are expected to occupy a lane along Washington Blvd. from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Fridays while work is underway. On N. George Mason Drive, crews will occupy a lane from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
No detours are expected while construction takes place.
Supporters of Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation program are warning county leaders that the steep budget cuts they’re contemplating could effectively kill it.
County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing slashing $24 million from the program’s funding over the next 10 years as part of his new Capital Improvement Plan, dropping its coffers down to $36 million through 2028.
Neighborhood Conservation has long helped dole out money for modest community improvements, like new sidewalks or landscaping, yet the county’s grim budget picture convinced Schwartz to target it for some hefty cuts. That prompted several community activists and managers of the program to lobby the County Board to restore that funding at a public hearing last Wednesday (June 27).
“This is almost a death knell for Neighborhood Conservation,” said Bill Braswell, a former chair of the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. “All the interest in it will dissipate, and it will take forever to get started again.”
County staff say that these proposed cuts would mean that projects already in line for funding will still move ahead, but any new applications from neighborhoods will go on the back burner. Accordingly, Phil Klingelhofer, deputy vice chair of the program’s advisory committee, believes that such a delay would mean that any “neighborhood with a recently proposed project should expect to wait 15 to 30 years for a project to come to the top for current funding.”
“If you decide to accept this… we recognize this is really the end of the program, and at that point, you should take the final step and end the program permanently,” Klingelhofer said.
For some in the community, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. Some activists have started arguing that the program has outlived its usefulness, including columnist Peter Rousselot, who points out that it can already take five or 10 years for a project to move through the Neighborhood Conservation process.
County Board member John Vihstadt has similar concerns about the program’s efficacy, noting that those delays are often driven by “quality control or monitoring issues” with the county switching contractors for some projects two or three times each. That’s why he sees this CIP process has a chance to reform the program, and “mend it, not end it.”
“Things are not good right now, and we’re looking at what we’re going to do,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “If we’re going to fund the program, it needs to be modified and reformed.”
Braswell and Klingelhofer both told the Board at the hearing that they’d be willing to study ways to make the program run more efficiently, particularly if the alternative is steep funding cuts.
The County Board is set to approve a construction contract that would install the final “missing link” of sidewalk along Old Dominion Drive.
Sidewalk installation would run along the eastbound side of Old Dominion Drive, between N. Thomas Street and Fire Station No. 3. The fire station is approximately 440 feet from Military Road.
Proposed sidewalk enhancements include “ADA curb ramps, crosswalks, and provisions for future streetlights.”
This is the last section of sidewalk installed on Old Dominion Drive east of 37th Street N. County documents note that the project has been coordinated with the nearby Stratford School Project.
Tree removal along Old Dominion Road began earlier this year in anticipation of sidewalk construction.
The County Manager’s office has recommended approving the $789,324 contract to the Capitol Heights, Md.-based Sagres Construction Corporation.
The curbside lane along eastbound Old Dominion Drive will be closed today, tomorrow and on Monday as the county removes trees to make way for a new sidewalk.
Closures will remain in effect from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Monday and from 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. tomorrow. The “missing link” sidewalk project is anticipated to begin construction this spring/summer with completion expected in spring 2019.
Once trees are removed, utility adjustments will begin to complete the sidewalk from the south side of Old Dominion Drive from Cherrydale Firehouse to N. Thomas Street.
The county has allocated $1.15 million for the project, a spokeswoman said.
Photos via Arlington County
Work to rebuild the Wilson School in Rosslyn could cause some inconveniences for those in the area as crews closed a sidewalk and street near the project.
Due to construction at the school at 1601 Wilson Blvd, 18th Street N. is closed to non-construction traffic between N. Quinn Street and N. Oak Street for the entirety of the project.
And pedestrians walking along that side of Wilson Blvd near the soon-to-be-rebuilt Fire Station 210 and a 7-Eleven convenience store will need to cross over as the sidewalk outside the school is closed too.
Construction on the new $100 million building appears to be underway, with work expected to be done in fall 2019. It will house 775 students from the future H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs.