Press Club

Arlington County will be studying a two-mile stretch of S. George Mason Drive, from Route 50 to the border with Fairfax County, to identify potential transportation improvements.

The study is happening now because the road is a solid candidate for grants that have applications due in the winter. But before they can apply, county staff need to examine current conditions and hear from locals about their biggest safety concerns, according to Leah Gerber, an county transportation planner.

She said one reason staff are optimistic about grant funding is because the upgrades would benefit residents of census tracts with high concentrations of ethnic minorities, or “equity emphasis areas,” according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Over the next two months, staff will analyze data such as transit ridership and traffic counts and develop concept plans for three segments of the road:

  • North Segment — Arlington Blvd to Columbia Pike
  • Middle Segment — Columbia Pike to S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • South Segment — S. Four Mile Run Drive to county line

Staff will also develop 15% designs for the Columbia Pike-county line segment.

“The southern portion we feel will really be eligible for grant funding,” said Valerie Mosley, the bureau chief of Transportation Planning and Capital Project Management for Arlingtons Department of Environmental Services.

The study is slated for commission and County Board review this fall, in time for applications to go out this winter.

“We’re working on a fairly truncated timetable for this study and we wanted to start by asking about your experience,” public engagement coordinator Nate Graham said during a community kick-off meeting last week. “That feedback from the community will help us, along with data analysis, plan a study and identify solutions that can resolve those issues.”

A survey, open through Sunday, May 1, asks respondents how safe they feel walking, scooting, driving and biking the road. People can signal their preferred upgrades from options such as protected bike lanes, sheltered bus stops, bus-only lanes and widened sidewalks. Using an interactive map, respondents can pinpoint specific locations they say need attention.

The segments of S. George Mason Drive being studied by the county (via Arlington County)

What staff members know so far is that some residents have long requested safer pedestrian crossings through improvements such as flashing beacons. One oft-cited intersection is with 6th Street S., near the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where shrubbery and trees make it hard to see oncoming cars.

Some cyclists, meanwhile, have pointed out inconsistent bike infrastructure, with lanes that start and stop at random. Other residents say more parking enforcement is needed between Columbia Pike and S. Four Mile Run Drive, where large commercial trucks park despite being too wide for the parking spaces available.

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A longtime project to make pedestrian, cycling and transit upgrades to Army Navy Drive has taken the next step forward.

Arlington County has sent the project out for bidding by contractors, while staff continue to acquire the easements needed for construction.

“Project staff expect the easement process to be wrapped up by the time the construction contract appears before the County Board for approval — anticipated later this summer,” Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Nate Graham said.

Construction could start this fall and be completed in the summer of 2025, according to the project webpage. Initially, the county had expected construction to begin in spring 2020 and be complete this spring, but extra tasks required to receive federal aid dragged out the planning process by a few years.

A coalition of local transit advocates celebrated the news, which has been seven years in the making.

Crashes are a frequent occurrence along Army Navy Drive. The $16.87 million project aims to reduce conflicts among cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians with narrower lanes — to slow down vehicle traffic — as well as bus-only lanes, protected left turns and signalized right turns, clearer sidewalks and shorter crosswalks.

The south side of Army Navy Drive will have a two-way bike lane protected by a line of trees. This will link to a future two-way bicycle lane planned for S. Clark Street, between 12th Street S. and 15th Street S. and the planned protected bike lanes on S. Eads Street, which will run past both phases of Amazon’s HQ2.

Bike lanes on Army Navy Drive are visible in this 2021 rendering of Amazon’s HQ2 Phase 2 campus (via NBBJ/Amazon)

“The project will rebuild Army Navy Drive within the existing right-of-way as a multimodal complete street featuring enhanced bicycle, transit, environmental and pedestrian facilities,” the county says. “The goal of the project is to improve the local connections between the Pentagon and the commercial, residential and retail services in Pentagon City and Crystal City.”

The new Army Navy Drive will be reduced to two through lanes in each direction, narrowing to one lane east of S. Eads Street.

The reduction will accommodate a bus lane between S. Joyce Street and S. Hayes Street so that buses will not block traffic while loading passengers. This dedicated transit lane will help extend an existing network of bus lanes from the City of Alexandria to Crystal City into Pentagon City.

Plans for Army Navy Drive (via Arlington County)

Additional improvements include replacing raised medians with planted ones and planting greenery to reduce stormwater runoff. Five intersections will get new traffic signal equipment.

The project’s early phases kicked off in the summer of 2015 with a traffic analysis evaluating how biking, walking, scooting and driving conditions would be impacted in 2020 and 2040 by the ongoing redevelopment of Pentagon City and Crystal City. That has since been expedited by the ongoing construction of HQ2.

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Arlington County is applying for $15 million in federal funding to improve cycling and walking connections around Arlington National Cemetery.

The money would partially fund the construction of a long-proposed Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Wall Trail along Washington Blvd, which would connect Columbia Pike and the Pentagon City area with Memorial Avenue and the Arlington Memorial Bridge into D.C.

The Arlington County Board is scheduled to review the application on Saturday.

“The ANC Wall Trail will provide a missing link in the County and regional non-motorized network that will complete a bicycle and pedestrian connection between all three of the County’s major development corridors,” the county says in a report.

Right now, the cemetery is an “effective barrier to demand for non-motorized travel to and across Memorial Bridge,” according to the county, as security concerns after 9/11 led the Department of Defense to prohibit travel through the burial grounds.

The trail would run along the western side of Washington Blvd from Columbia Pike to Memorial Drive. Currently, there is a trail on the other side of Washington Blvd, a highway also known as State Route 27, but it gets dicey near Memorial Circle for pedestrians and cyclists looking to access the nearby Mt. Vernon Trail or cross into D.C.

Renderings of Arlington National Cemetery expansion and Columbia Pike reconfiguration project (via National Capital Planning Commission)

The Columbia Pike interchange with Washington Blvd is set to be modified as part of the ANC Defense Access Roads Project, which will also move Columbia Pike closer to I-395, realign S. Joyce Street, build a new S. Nash Street connector road, and remove part of Southgate Road.

This work, funded by the federal government and managed by the Federal Highway Administration, will facilitate the addition of 70 acres to the southern portion of the cemetery, making room for 60,000 burial sites and space for the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Visitor Education Center.

Road work is underway, and early next year, road users can expect to be redirected from the Pike to side streets near Pentagon City. The new burial ground could open in late 2025.

New cycling and pedestrian facilities and grading for the connection to the future ANC Wall Trail are also included in the project. Part of its scope includes designing the trail, for which Arlington County agreed to pay $500,000.

The county expects final designs to be developed over the next year or so. The overall cost of the trail is estimated at $25 million.

Once the wall trail is built, cyclists and pedestrians will be able to connect to Pentagon City via S. Joyce Street at the southern end of the ANC Wall Trail. It will allow safer bike and pedestrian travel between Pentagon City and Columbia Pike to D.C. and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

North of Memorial Avenue, cyclists and pedestrians would be able to link up to the existing trail alongside Route 110, which provides a connection to the Iwo Jima Memorial, to Rosslyn, and to the larger network of bicycle and pedestrian trails along the R-B corridor, the county says.

The $15 million, if awarded, would come from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity” (RAISE) program, which has $1.5 billion earmarked to reimburse localities for surface transportation projects.

The Transportation Department caps awards at $25 million, and one state can receive no more than $225 million. Awards must be split evenly between urban and rural areas.

There is a “low likelihood of a funding award compared with other external transportation capital funding programs,” the county report notes.

Arlington applied last year and was denied funding — along with every other application from Virginia, according to the report. Staff will be meeting with federal transportation staff to understand why and plan to use that information for the new application.

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Arlington: a highly educated and affluent riverfront county looking over D.C. Some say it has a kindred spirit in Hoboken, New Jersey, described as a “vibrant, walkable” city with waterfront views of New York City.

What makes Hoboken walkable seems to also make it safe for pedestrians. For the last four years, the city has not logged a single pedestrian death.

The trend drew the praise of U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department released a national plan in January to reduce and eventually eliminate thousands of road deaths.

Arlington, like Hoboken, has adopted a Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic-related serious injuries and deaths by 2030. The county saw seven deaths between 2018 and 2020, and — depending on the exact location on the D.C./Arlington dividing line — one death in 2021. So what can Arlington and its 26 square miles (population ~237k) learn from the “mile-square city” (population ~53k)?

Arlington crash data from 2013 through November 2021. Crashes involving vehicles are left and crashes involving pedestrians are right (via Arlington County)

Hoboken transportation planner Gregory Francese credits the city’s success to Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s top-down, interdepartmental approach that involves residents. He says Hoboken regularly tackles challenging roads with temporary fixes that are made permanent later.

But the city wasn’t always pedestrian-friendly, he said. Cars could park up to crosswalks, which were faded, and intersections were in poor condition.

Those conditions began to change through repavement projects under the last mayor, and the work accelerated under Mayor Ravinder Bhalla when he established a Vision Zero task force, made of department leaders and residents.

“A big part of Vision Zero is removing the silos between transportation, enforcement [and other departments],” Francese said. “It takes someone who can remove those silos to unite people around Vision Zero.”

Planners test out quick, cheap and temporary solutions to find creative solutions to Hoboken’s main challenge: fitting safety improvements on narrow roads while balancing driving and parking needs. He said this approach translates well to bigger cities.

Like Hoboken, Arlington’s Vision Zero initiative has improved county government-wide cooperation, project manager Christine Baker said.

“The Vision Zero program has truly allowed County staff to place a spotlight on safety for all transportation-related projects and programs,” said Baker. “Our staff are coordinating interdepartmentally in a way that we have not in the past, which has streamlined the ability to get safety improvements on the ground.”

County staff map crash locations and respond with quick-build or capital improvement projects and pilot programs. The Arlington County Board, meanwhile, is setting policy. It has voted to further limit speeds and install speed cameras around schools and road construction areas, as a change in state law recently allowed.

Local transit and safety advocates say the county is on the right track but can still take notes from Hoboken.

Bicycling enthusiast Gillian Burgess picked up on Bhalla’s top-down approach. She also said Hoboken has more concrete actions and deadlines that are easier for the public to find and read, and the city’s emphasis on encouraging drivers to be more careful is front and center.

“When you have good leadership and concrete plans, you get something done,” she said. “We need the County Manager and the County Manager’s office and leadership at the Department of Environmental Services to take more ownership.”

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Arlington County is requesting feedback on partial designs for expanded bus bays and pedestrian safety improvements at the East Falls Church Metro station.

The $6.6 million bus bay expansion project, a capital improvement project approved last year, is part of a handful of near-term upgrades planned at and around the Metro station, the parking lot of which was frequently packed pre-pandemic.

Project and regional transit representatives say the expansion will allow for more regional bus routes without causing traffic jams while making walking from the park-and-ride lot safer. The existing bays currently serve nine Metrobus, Arlington Transit (ART) and Fairfax Connector bus routes.

“The East Falls Church Metrorail station currently has four bus bays that are at maximum capacity,” according to the county. “The project will expand bus bay capacity by adding up to three new bus bays and replacing the existing shelters in the off-street bus loop at the East Falls Church Metrorail station.”

Arlington is leading and sponsoring the project, but Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) owns the Metro station, the bus loop and park-and-ride lot.

The county asks locals to say whether the proposed changes will make them feel safer walking, taking the bus, biking, scooting and driving. The survey, open through Sunday, March 20, includes an interactive map people can use to give location-specific feedback.

 

“What this expansion will allow us to do is get buses in and out of the bus loop more efficiently so we don’t have as much gridlock as we currently do at this time,” WMATA planner André Stafford said in a meeting Tuesday.

It may be awhile before more bus routes are added, county transit planner Paul Mounier said in the same meeting.

The county will install seven new bus shelters and is considering adding a new signal and crosswalk at the Washington Blvd entrance to the park-and-ride lot.

Arlington County staff identified this expansion project back in 2011. Four years later, staff found the biggest needs were increasing the capacity of the bus bays, adding refuges to the 150-foot crosswalk that passes in front of the bus loop, replacing the aging, hazardous cement and adding ramps accessible to people with disabilities.

After the expansion work, Arlington will make streetscape and signal upgrades to N. Sycamore Street, Arlington County project manager Kenex Sevilla said Tuesday. The street forms the eastern edge of the Metro parking lot and bus bays.

Meanwhile, both Arlington and the City of Falls Church are expanding Capital Bikeshare stations nearby. The station was once a popular station to ride to that is still recovering from the pandemic-era hit to commuting. A new $2 million, 92-spot bike facility to accommodate cyclists made its debut in August 2020.

This area is poised to see other development in the future, too. WMATA is studying the site for future transit developments while the Department of Community, Planning and Housing Development is studying it as part of the Plan Langston Blvd initiative. A second entrance to the station was put on hold in 2018.

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Arlington County is applying for a $4.5 million grant to further offset a proposed west entrance to the Ballston Metro station.

On Saturday, the County Board is set to approve this request for funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC), which would come from I-66 toll revenues.

This is the latest application from the county, which is trying to offset the $140 million project with regional and state dollars even as some of these sources have dried up due to the pandemic.

The entrance would be located at N. Fairfax Drive and N. Vermont Street, almost a quarter of a mile west of the existing entrance. The county previously said this second entrance would greatly expand access to the station, increase Metro’s capacity and make it more efficient.

Map showing potential location of new Ballston Metro entrance (via Google Maps)

If all the funding comes through, designs could be completed next year and construction could start in 2024 and end in 2027, Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors tells ARLnow.

“The team is looking to finish the 35% design update this year and procure design-build services in 2023, pending funding from NVTA,” Pors said. “Construction is projected to start in 2024 and we anticipate a construction period of 3 years.”

The $4.5 million represents a revised request to the NVTC. Arlington had previously applied for $10 million from the same program in January 2020 but — despite being “the top scoring project” — the project was cut from the funding round due to a drop in toll revenue caused by COVID-19.

“Following a request from NVTC staff, the County withdrew its application for the Ballston-MU West Entrance in August 2020,” the report said. “I-66 Commuter Choice Program revenues have still not fully recovered from the effects of the pandemic, and so for Round Five the County has lowered its funding request from $10 million to $4,500,000.”

And while available funding is scarce, the cost to build the second entrance is increasing. A 2019 estimate put the project at $130 million; a 2021 estimate puts the project at $140 million.

“The use of the known information on items such as station entrance layout and elevator location from the design updates instead of previous assumptions in the 2019 cost estimate, along with the impact of inflation, are the two drivers of the cost increase,” the report said.

More than half of the project’s costs could come from a pending application with the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) for $80 million. The county says this sum would cover the rising costs as well as the loss of funding from NVTC and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which also lost revenue for new projects during the pandemic.

Pors said the NVTA will make a funding decision later this spring or in the early summer months.

Meanwhile, Arlington County intends to increase how much it’s budgeting for the project, from $25 million to $30 million.

Arlington’s Transportation Commission — while supportive of the project — is sounding the alarm on the $5 million increase at the local level.

“The Commission is concerned specifically about: 1) The appropriateness of making a change this large in how capital funding is being allocated completely outside of the CIP process and seemingly hidden within grant applications,” chairman Chris Slatt said in a letter to the County Board. “2) The high overall cost of the project and whether it still represents a good ‘bang for our buck’ in increasing access to transit for Arlington residents.”

He said $30 million could be used locally to bring every bus stop in Arlington into full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, increase Capital Bikeshare’s 10-year capital budget or cover the costs to design and build more local projects intended to lower traffic congestion and improve public transit.

Map via Google Maps

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Arlington County is receiving $35,000 of assistance to design more “traffic gardens” to help kids learn about traffic safety.

Earlier this week, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) awarded $250,000 of consulting services to five D.C.-area projects with the intention of improving “safety on the region’s roadways, especially for its underserved communities.”

One of those is a joint project from Arlington County and Prince George’s County to build traffic gardens at schools.

“Traffic gardens are miniature transportation networks with familiar roadway elements, in which children can walk, bike, and scoot to learn the rules of the road and practice their transportation safety skills,” principal planner Christine Baker for Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services writes to ARLnow.

The hope is that this project and the consulting services being granted will help develop universal guidance and templates so that schools can build its own gardens on “any budget” using a number of different materials and equipment.

Arlington has had two recent examples of temporary school-based traffic gardens, one at Key Elementary School in the Bluemont neighborhood and the other at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School in Arlington View. Those schools used common, everyday materials — like spray bottles, measuring sticks, string, and chalk — to construct the roadway.

“We expect that schools will use the guidance to evaluate the traffic garden design possibilities for their own site,” says Baker. “Most schools take advantage of under-used hard surfaces outdoors, like blacktops, courts or other asphalt to create more permanent projects, while those with less capacity can retrofit gymnasiums with tape to create pop-up traffic gardens.”

Baker also notes that young students can take the lessons learned on these mini, safer roads and bring them back to their neighborhood.

“Traffic gardens not only help to educate children on the transportation system now but instill safety habits and transportation values that last a lifetime,” Baker says.

The TPB, which operates under the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), will in the coming months be hiring a consultant in the  that will be providing working with both counties on the project. It’s unclear at this point when the Arlington schools will have traffic gardens installed.

The initiative fits in with the county’s Vision Zero initiative, a plan to eliminate transportation-related deaths and serious injuries on county streets and trails within the next decade. This includes the recent implementation of “slow zones” near schools.

“Our Vision Zero transportation safety program is not just about engineering safety improvements on our roadways. There is a big emphasis on community engagement and education around safety,” says Baker. “Traffic gardens are an amazing way to educate our community members from a young age to embrace safe transportation practices.”

TPB approved four other projects for funding in nearby jurisdictions, all related to road safety and pedestrian improvements, including in the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, Prince William County, and the City of Falls Church.

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A Metro train heads east as traffic heads west along I-66 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County continues to be one of the top localities regionally and nationwide for residents using public transit to commute to and from work, recent census data shows.

Earlier this year, a trove of U.S. census data was released. While much of it remains in need of analyzing, some enterprising researchers are pulling from 2020 data sets to drill down on very specific questions, like which counties have the highest percentage of workers using public transportation to commute.

Arlington is No. 10 among U.S. counties, with 27% of residents using public transportation for work commuting, according to one researcher’s parsing of the data.

A county official said the data does line up with the county’s own findings.

“The numbers, overall, don’t surprise me because Arlington has been focused for a really long time on building a community that maximizes travel options and has really rebuilt itself around rail and more recently, focused on bus,” says Arlington’s Transportation Bureau Chief Dennis Leach.

However, he notes that 2020 data should be “approached with a lot of caution” due to COVID’s impact on public transit use and the challenging task of collecting data through the pandemic year.

In 2010, according to Census data, an estimated 28.5% of Arlingtonians used public transportation to commute to and from work. By 2019, that number ticked up slightly to 29.7%.

While preliminary 2020 data shows a nearly 3% decrease in public transit use by Arlington workers, Leach notes that it’s really hard to make an apples to apples comparison to previous years due to remote work, a shift in commuter patterns, and the lack of travel in general — all of which are related to the pandemic.

“I don’t think we’re actually to see really good [transit] data… until sometime in 2022 or even maybe as far out as a full year later, in 2023,” Leach says.

What is clear, according to Leach, is that Arlington is much less auto-dependent than other local jurisdictions.

While D.C. remains number one locally in terms of use of public transit, with more than a third of residents using it to commute, Arlington is number two, well above nearby localities like Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Montgomery County, Md.

Dr. Delario Lindsey, a professor at Arlington’s Marymount University who is studying urban development and equality, agrees that there’s been a considerable effort to make public transportation more accessible in Arlington in recent years. He says the county is currently doing a “decent job” in developing and building infrastructure that’s more accommodating to non-car-related travel, driven by the desires of a younger generation.

“There’s been an identifiable generational shift by millennials and post-millennials to not to be as car-dependent,” Lindsey says. “[They] want to live in communities that tend to be more accessible to public transportation, or be walkable, or bike-friendly.”

In Arlington, this is reflected in the immense growth of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor over the last decade, which has a number of rail and bus transit options.

While Lindsey notes as well that 2020 and 2021 statistics won’t be able to tell a complete picture, he fully expects that the number of Arlingtonians using public transportation to commute to and from work will only grow over the next several years.

“I’d bet on that trend to keep going up,” he says.

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Morning Notes

Blue Jay in the fall (Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman)

Route 1 Project Now Mostly Funded — “Virginia is making a huge financial commitment to the transformation of U.S. Route 1 as it runs through Crystal City, fulfilling a key promise officials made to Amazon.com Inc. to lure the tech giant to Arlington. The Commonwealth Transportation Board, a panel that manages state transportation funding and policy, voted unanimously Wednesday to allocate $134.4 million to fund the highway’s overhaul through 2028. The project, designed to bring at least some portion of the newly renamed Richmond Highway down to grade and make it more friendly to pedestrians, has a total estimated price tag of roughly $180 million.” [Washington Business Journal]

FAA Says Proposed HQ2 ‘Helix’ Is Okay — “The Federal Aviation Administration has no issue with the height of Amazon.com Inc.’s proposed Helix, the towering conical structure that will be a major part of HQ2’s PenPlace phase, closing the book on questions raised by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Says It’s Ready for Winter — “Despite predictions for another below-average snowfall this winter, the County can’t stray from a solid-if-not-frozen annual strategy: Prepare for whatever nature may drop. Commuters can take comfort knowing a big County response of almost 50 trucks – plus additional contractors – can roll in case forecasters are wrong at any point in coming months.” [Arlington County]

Ceremony for Re-elected County Board Member — “The public is invited to join the Arlington County Board at the swearing-in of County Board Member Takis P. Karantonis on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. The ceremony will begin at 4:30 p.m. and will be followed by a brief reception outside the Board Room, Room 307 in the Ellen M. Bozman Government Center.” [Arlington County]

New Term for Electoral Board Member — “The three-member Arlington Electoral Board will have continuity for the coming year, with Republican Scott McGeary on Dec. 6 reappointed to a three-year term. Arlington Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman Jr. signed the order of appointment, which was not a surprise – even though the Arlington County Republican Committee was expected to submit three names for the court’s consideration, McGeary (who has served on the body, on and off, for nearly 30 years) was anticipated to receive the nod.” [Sun Gazette]

New ‘Wish Catalog’ for Local Nonprofits — “Looking for a way to add more charitable giving to the season of giving while supporting your neighbors in need? For the second year in a row, Arlington Community Foundation is excited to host the Nonprofit Wish Catalog featuring grant ideas of 26 local nonprofits with wishes of up to $5,000 each.” [Arlington Community Foundation]

It’s Thursday — After a few snow flurries yesterday, today will also be cold, with increasing clouds and a high near 44. Sunrise at 7:15 a.m. and sunset at 4:46 p.m. Tomorrow there is a slight chance of showers after 1 p.m., otherwise Friday will be partly sunny, with a high near 54. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman

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Current view of Route 1 (via National Landing BID)

The state’s idea to lower elevated segments of Route 1 through Crystal City could cause more injuries to pedestrians and chronic congestion, according to a new report.

This summer, the Virginia Department of Transportation officially decided to turn Route 1, which is elevated over 12th, 15th and 18th Streets S., into an at-grade urban boulevard. It would feature wide buffered sidewalks on both sides, six to seven narrowed travel lanes, a 30-mph speed limit, wide crosswalks, landscaping and medians with pedestrian refuges.

The changes, which could cost $180 million, are aimed at making the corridor more pedestrian-friendly, but that may not actually be the case, according to the VDOT-commissioned report. Using Arlington County rush hour traffic forecasts, the report predicts pedestrian-involved crashes could increase.

Meanwhile, travel times could lengthen by up to 6 minutes for vehicles heading into Crystal City in the morning and heading out in the afternoon, due largely to delays for drivers turning left on Route 1 and several commuter bus stops getting rerouted.

Arlington County staff questioned how these negatives could square with VDOT’s preference for the concept, per a staff report. They suggested that the authors make the negative results of the traffic analysis clearer.

“An at-grade Route 1 has many operational challenges,” county staff said. “The short block lengths between parallel streets result in the need to coordinate signals and thus, the pedestrian delays will be increased on the minor parallel routes. The results point to negative impacts on the ability of transit to effectively serve the National Landing area. The at-grade scenario shown in the preferred alternative offers a more limited network connectivity while simultaneously introducing conflicts and sacrificing transit mobility.”

The report, prepared by engineering consulting firm Kimley-Horn, specifically recommends one at-grade option that allows all turns at 15th Street S., eliminates left turns at 18th Street S., and possibly includes a pedestrian underpass or overpass at 18th Street.

The state initially agreed to the study and changes to Route 1 as part of its 2018 agreement with Amazon to invest in transportation in the region.

Rendering of potential changes to Route 1 (via National Landing BID)

Pedestrian safety 

As progress ramped up on the study, locals and organizations following the Route 1 project have kept pedestrian safety front and center.

When VDOT initially considered a nine-lane highway, advocates said that would be unsafe for pedestrians and the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) created its own renderings for a tree-lined and pedestrian-friendly Route 1.

After VDOT revised its proposal and announced its intention to bring Route 1 at-grade, Livability 22202 — a coalition of three area civic associations — rejected the study for several reasons, chief among them that even the new six- to seven-lane highway would not, in their view, improve pedestrian safety.

Data in the report appears to bear that conclusion out. Over two decades, pedestrian traffic during peak afternoon hours could increase 2x to 5x current levels, and with that could come more crashes involving pedestrians.

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A busy street in the East Falls Church neighborhood is slated to get safer crossings for pedestrians and cyclists.

Arlington County has selected N. Sycamore Street between Langston Blvd and 19th Street N. — near the East Falls Church Metro station and not far from the W&OD Trail — as site of a new Complete Streets project. This segment “presents intersection crossing challenges for bicyclists and pedestrians,” according to the project webpage.

The intersection of N. Sycamore Street and Washington Blvd, within the project’s boundaries, was the site of a fatal crash last Wednesday. Prior to the crash, the street segment has seen one serious collision between 2013 and this summer: one with severe injuries in 2019, according to Arlington County crash data.

The webpage for the project went live two weeks ago, says Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Kathryn O’Brien. County staff will soon solicit public feedback that will be used to develop a concept plan.

“Existing Conditions Feedback will kick off later in November,” O’Brien said. “This feedback, along with other data and planning guidance, will help staff formulate a concept design. Once staff have developed a community-informed concept, that concept will be shared for additional public feedback.”

The boundaries of the new N. Sycamore Street Complete Streets project (via Arlington County)

Funding for changes to N. Sycamore Street, first identified as having a need for safety upgrades in 2011, was included in the 2022-24 Capital Improvements Plan adopted this summer. It’s been a long road to get the project on the schedule, however.

Staff developed preliminary plans in 2015 and, in 2016, twice applied unsuccessfully for transportation grants for the 2018 fiscal year, O’Brien said.

In 2017, the county successfully applied for and received $250,000 in Virginia Department of Transportation revenue-sharing funds for the 2020 fiscal year. Then, the pandemic hit.

“This project was deferred as part of the FY 2021 CIP, due to revenue constraints because of COVID,” she said.

Since 2011, staff have studied the street twice and have some hypothetical designs on hand as a result.

In 2015, the county received a grant to study ways to improve pedestrian and cycling access to the East Falls Church Metro station, once a popular station to ride to that is still recovering from the pandemic-era hit to commuting. A new $2 million, 92-spot bike facility to accommodate cyclists made its debut in August 2020.

Four years later, the county received a grant to study a gap in the W&OD Trail, where trail users are routed through Benjamin Banneker Park and residential streets.

The gap in the W&OD Trail in East Falls Church (via NOVA Parks)

Improved crossings at 19th Street N. could be an interim solution to the gap, according to the project page.

Although this transportation project’s scope is bound by 19th Street N. and Langston Blvd, eventually, the county envisions improved bicycle amenities further up and down N. Sycamore Street.

“The 2019 adopted Bicycle Element of the Master Transportation Plan recommends N. Sycamore Street as an enhanced bicycle facility between Williamsburg Blvd and the East Falls Church line,” the project page says.

Arlington will be coordinating the project with planned stormwater improvements to Crossman Run as well as a project to add bus bays and improve bus circulation at the nearby Metro station.

The project is funded with a mix of Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, local and state funding, plus bond funds.

Hat tip to Stephen Repetski

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