Greater Greater Washington

Cyclists, officials inspect dangerous Rosslyn intersection

A scrum of people in bike helmets and safety vests gathered at Gateway Park in Rosslyn yesterday evening to scrutinize the dangerous intersection where the Custis Trail crosses Lee Highway and North Lynn Street.


Photo by author.

This intersection has has been a dangerous one for many years. Unfortunately, it will not see engineering improvements until 2013 or 2014 at the earliest.

The bike/ped trail, which is parallel to Lee Highway, crosses North Lynn Street here, just south of the Key Bridge. This was the site where a driver recently turned into the path of a cyclist, causing a crash which police ended up blaming on the cyclist.

The Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee (ABAC) organized the "site visit" to provide citizen input and fresh perspective on the dangerous crossing.

While engineering improvements are at least two years away, Dennis Leach, the Arlington County transportation director, promised his staff would further investigate in the upcoming week at least two of the suggestions that arose tonight regarding marking and signage.

One participant suggested painting the crosswalk wider and madke it more prominent. For signage, another suggested modifying the crossing signal to include a bicycle shape. This will help to alert drivers to expect both pedestrians and cyclists. Arlington could potentially implement both in the immediate term.


Photos from yesterday's event by the author.

In the longer term, the Arlington County Division of Transportation team discussed future design changes to the intersection which will include removing lanes on Lynn Street and Lee Highway and creating a bump-out on both the southeast and northeast corners of the intersection.

Less likely to see further investigation by the county transportation engineers is a suggestion to install traffic cameras to increase enforcement of drivers violating the cyclists' right-of-way.

However, participants raised questions about enforcement to the Arlington County Police. The police called for cyclists to travel at a safe, controlled speed, especially when traveling downhill, on the Custis Trail. Cyclists requested greater enforcement of drivers violating the right of way and driving while distracted to create a safer environment for bicycling.

While the intersection is unsafe for even a regular bicycle commuter, this intersection is even more unsafe for less experienced or less regular cyclists, for example those traveling through this "Gateway" between Georgetown and Arlington on Capital Bikeshare bikes.

Improvements could take many forms, including behavioral changes, engineering work, or better enforcement. But perhaps the best question is not how to make the intersection safer, but when we can make the intersection safer. After this evening's site visit, perhaps the best idea is to avoid crossing here in the meantime.

The North Lynn Street Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail Safety Improvements project is fully funded. This site study is also part of the larger, Rosslyn Circle project which includes all four intersections surrounding Gateway Park, for which there will be a public meeting October 5 at the Arlington Temple Methodist Church.

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Born in DC, Moira grew up in Arlington and became an avid urbanist after studying and living in London. She is currently a fellow with Smart Growth America, working on the Governors' Institute on Community Design program.  

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Clarendon-Courthouse-Rosslyn Patch also covered this story here: http://ow.ly/6tah4

by Steve O on Sep 13, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

How do I avoid this intersection if I'm going from Bethesda to the W&OD trail? If I cross the Key Bridge on the west sidewalk, I need to make an even more dangerous crossing of the on-ramp to the GW parkway. I am usually happy to ride in the road, but it seems risky to go enter the traffic circle from the bridge in a vehicle that's moving much slower than the cars.

One immediate change needed at this intersection is a no-right-turn-on-red sign for westbound auto traffic entering the intersection. Currently, westbound trail users get an advance "walk" sign that allows them to enter the crosswalk before cars get a green. But the cars take advantage of the four-way red light to make a right turn on red during the advance "walk" period - and turn right across the path of the bikes and pedestrians who are invited to enter the crosswalk by the walk signal.

by Ben Ross on Sep 13, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

@Ben Ross
Making "No right on red" doesn't work here, because the bike/ped crossing is coordinated with the green light--not the red. Only for those 3 seconds of advance "walk," while the traffic light is still red, would the no right turn make any difference to the cyclists/peds.

However, I agree that if there were a way to force autos to stay put during that pre-green time, it would help. Making the entire cycle no-turn-on-red is overkill.

by Steve O on Sep 13, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

Steve O - If you had no right turn during some parts of the red light, but not others, you would need a green arrow. But then drivers would be permitted to turn without stopping, at the same time as cyclists are entering the crosswalk - a very dangerous situation. It seems to me that allowing right turns on red across a bike path is dangerous at any time, and the no right turn on red throughout the cycle would be best for safety in any case.

by Ben Ross on Sep 13, 2011 12:33 pm • linkreport

It would be nice if they could put up some signs attending drivers to the presence of bikers. There are plenty of signs reminding drivers to yield to pedestrians, but there is nothing about bikers.

Simple signs like this one:
Biker sign Biker sign
could point out to drivers that there are many bikers present.

Part of the problem in Rosslyn is that there are many non-local drivers frantically trying to figure out where the hell they're supposed to go, and very little indications. Good road indications would help.

A sign indicating that drivers are about to cross a major bike trail, and that they should look for bikers. This warning should especially be placed on the ramp from I-66 up to that intersection. Coming up that ramp, turning right is a nightmare because you really can't see who's coming up from the Mt Vernon trail.

This would be the best though:
Biker sign
but that might legally be a problem.

by Jasper on Sep 13, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

Too dangerous? please.

@Jasper; this accident occurred when the cyclist was going eastbound (downhill). You have a very clear view of the intersection there. I agree the other way (westbound/uphill) it is hard to see for both drivers and cyclists.

The ticket issued in this case was a warning ticket, not a real one.

In terms of light timing, I think the trail count data might be helpful. No right on rush hour, for instance might work. Maybe. What happens with cars is as soon as Key Bridge jams up, and it will, making a right turn onto Lynn gets dicey.

I think Jay Fissete is pushing a bit too hard here. Given that Bike Arlington has been pretty consistent that the cyclist is at fault. I don't see what the difficult of putting another red light camera at that spot.

by charlie on Sep 13, 2011 1:21 pm • linkreport

Less of a scrum, more of a maul.

by ahk on Sep 13, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

@Ben Ross: Instead of a green arrow, couldn't they add a red right arrow which would only be on for some fraction of the time that the general red is on?

by Jim T on Sep 13, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

@Ben Ross I am a Key Bridge user, and always take the West Side path. Far less foot traffic and really no big deal getting to it. Yes, you will need to wait a 60 second cycle in-bound to Georgetown before heading east onto M Street, and heading outbound will need to turn from the far right of the auto turning lanes. The entrance to the GW parkway on the Virginia side is no big deal - never have had an issue there.

by SAS on Sep 13, 2011 2:34 pm • linkreport

VDOT won't allow a no turn on red there

by TGEOA on Sep 13, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

@ charlie:You have a very clear view of the intersection there.

The biker does. Cars that come up from I-66 in the middle lane and turn right see jack diddly sh!t. It's a horrible turn to make, especially when it's busy and you have a green. Cars coming from I-66 are driving fast and tend to whip around that corner, forgetting that they've exited the interstate and entered a slower speed pattern. The view to the right is often blocked by other cars turning right. As a biker going eastbound, it is impossible to predict whether cars have seen you, and whether they'll stop even if they've seen you. When it's a green, cars forget to look for pedestrians and biker. When it's just turned green, everybody is moving, but you don't know if they'll stop and yield for ye.

BTW: Can somebody tell me what the status of a biker is on the sidewalk? I'd say that if a biker is on the side-walk, he should behave like a pedestrian and be treated like one. But is that the law? When a biker is on the road, she should be treated as a vehicle. That is the law.

I'm trying out to figure out what the law says about bikers on the side-walk.

by Jasper on Sep 13, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

The ticket issued in this case was a warning ticket, not a real one.

Who's talking about the ticket? Only you charlie.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but it's Arlington Police who keep saying the cyclist was at fault, not Bike Arlington, right?

by David C on Sep 13, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: Virginia code Section 46.2-904 states that cyclists on a sidewalk, shared-use path, or crossing a roadway in a crosswalk are treated as pedestrians.

by Froggie on Sep 13, 2011 8:53 pm • linkreport

@Ben Ross: If you're going from Bethesda to the W&OD trail, you can avoid the intersection and greatly shorten trips west of Arlington by crossing at Chain Bridge.

by Allen Muchnick on Sep 13, 2011 11:25 pm • linkreport

I bike through this intersection every morning, albeit from Lynn Street over the bridge. I've found that it's less dangerous during the commuting hours than it is any other time of day. The whole area is so confusing to drive through as it is, often tourists are lost looking for their hotel or the Key Bridge. I'm not surprised that there are distracted drivers. The other day, I had someone with Michigan plates veer into the bike lane right before this intersection to stop (!!!) and look at a map.

More signage for motorists would help a lot, and of course Jasper's recommendations above would be an easy and quick help.

by Ben on Sep 14, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport

@ Froggie: Virginia code Section 46.2-904 states that cyclists on a sidewalk, shared-use path, or crossing a roadway in a crosswalk are treated as pedestrians.

Ok, so that means that cars have to yield to bikers near a crosswalk, right? Then, Arlington could just expand all the 'watch for pedestrians' sign to 'watch for pedestrians and bikers' signs.

And then, to draw that case in, means that the police officer was wrong to cite as a vehicle in the road ignoring a sign on the highway...

by Jasper on Sep 14, 2011 2:40 pm • linkreport

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