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Pedestrian safety fixes coming to Glebe Road in Ballston

Arlington is trying to make Glebe Road safer for pedestrians in Ballston with changes at several key intersections. These will make pedestrians safer, but as Ballston evolves into a more urban place, Glebe may need even more significant changes which VDOT may resist.

Glebe and Carlin Springs Road. Photo by wfyurasko on Flickr.

Glebe Road is a major north/south artery in Arlington County running from the Chain Bridge to US 1 near the border with Alexandria. As Ballston initially evolved into a denser, urban neighborhood, Glebe Road more or less marked the western border of any change. Now, that border is shifting farther west and Glebe Road is itself developing as a node of urban activity.

Many of the car dealerships and gas stations are being replaced by taller and mixed-use development. This includes several new bars and restaurants, which mean that Glebe Road is also seeing more pedestrians along its sidewalks at all hours.

This is great for the neighborhood, but it is tempered by the fact that this section of Glebe also has some Arlington's biggest and busiest car intersections.

In response, Arlington is proposing a number of changes for pedestrian safety at the intersections with Wilson Boulevard, Fairfax Drive, and Carlin Springs Road.

These changes are definitely an improvement to the current conditions, but ultimately Arlington needs to more completely rethink Glebe, from its intersections to how many lanes the road really needs.

Northbound on Glebe Road at Wilson Boulevard. Image from Google.

The picture above is what a driver sees while waiting to proceed north Glebe at Wilson Boulevard. Several cars could fit in the space between the crosswalk and the white line.

The intersection itself is very large and it is difficult for drivers to see what is ahead of them, not to mention those trying to cross on foot before the light changes. Even despite this large distance, a driver trying to left onto Wilson Boulevard does not have to wait for a green arrow if they think the way is clear.

Current (top) and plan (bottom) for Glebe and Wilson. Images from Arlington County and Bing.

The plans move the crosswalks to align with the white stop line. This would reduce the amount of pavement that pedestrians need to cross. The county will also eliminate a slip lane on the southwest corner.

However, the new design still leaves two slip lanes which encourage speeding and create potential conflict points between drivers and pedestrians.

Northbound on Glebe Road at Fairfax Drive. Image from Google.

Plan for Glebe and Fairfax. Image from Arlington County.

At Glebe Road and Fairfax Boulevard, two slip lanes are being removed but one slip lane will remain. This is unfortunate, since pedestrians already face the task of crossing 8 lanes of traffic at this intersection.

Other corners will get rebuilt and become sharper. This will extend the sidewalk and slow down cars negotiating a turn, reducing the amount of roadway that pedestrians need to cross and make pedestrians more visible at the intersection.

Concrete will replace some of the brick sidewalks at the intersection with Wakefield Street, closer to the ramp to I-66, and provide a smoother surface for pedestrians and cyclists connecting to the Custis Trail and the Arlington Loop.

At the intersection at Carlin Springs Drive, Arlington will move a stop light pole to be less intrusive on the sidewalk, replace brick crosswalks with the more traditional zebra-style painted crosswalk, and replace the concrete on the sidewalk itself.

There are no slip lanes at this intersection, but pedestrians face challenges from crossing another 8 lanes of traffic while cars are negotiating unprotected left turns and avoiding traffic that is entering and exiting from the Ballston Mall Garage.

But turning Glebe Road into a safer street cannot just focus on the intersections. Planners must consider if Glebe Road is wider than necessary. The section through Ballston is 6 lanes compared to the usual 4 along the rest of the route.

These extra lanes are less than a mile long, and allow parking in some sections but not others. Passing Ballston Mall, there is not any parking. Drivers speed up into that third lane for about ¼ mile before having to turn onto Wilson or merge back into the travel lane.

This means that in an area with increasing numbers of pedestrians and cyclists, drivers have to make confusing lane changes that can distract them from seeing other road users or encourage them to be reckless.

The intent of these lanes is to serve drivers coming on and off I-66. But Glebe doesn't have similar extra lanes around exits onto US 50 and I-395. It would be better to simplify the road so that drivers can focus their attention on what is going on around them rather than trying to negotiate a confusing right-of-way.

Glebe Road is Virginia State Route 120, meaning the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) controls the road. Thus far, VDOT has been unwilling to consider changes to roads that reduce the amount of space for vehicles, which ties Arlington's hands.

The pedestrian improvements for Glebe Road are welcome, but as more development comes to Ballston, Glebe Road needs to become a street that better balances the needs of all users and keeps them safe.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He has lived all over Northern Virginia and now lives in Burke.  


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Definitely needed. Wilson and Glebe is very annoying to cross and I can imagine it would be frightening for anyone with a mobility impairment. I would definitely be advocate for boulevarding that section around Ballston. Back to two lanes in each direction, adding a bike lane (there is no good N/S axis around there), and street parking to increase traffic calming..

by Alan B. on Apr 3, 2013 11:03 am • linkreport

Oh great. Another way VDOT is holding back an area from becoming more modern and multimodal.

by IWannaBikeandLive on Apr 3, 2013 11:07 am • linkreport

I frequently drive on Glebe when traveling from North Arlington to Alexandria or 7 corners. The lights are poorly coordinated. It often take me 5 minutes to get through 3 blocks If they were coordinated better, they might need less lanes. Just throwing that out there from a driver's prospective.

by John Doe on Apr 3, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

The only time I have ever been struck by a car while cycling was at Fairfax and Glebe. Cars are always speeding to make the light, and not looking for pedestrians there. I have to cross the intersection daily, and it's always frustrating as either a walker or biker. The interesection at Wilson is a pain for walkers, too. Bad visibility and poorly placed crosswalks. These changes are much needed!

by Linda B on Apr 3, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

VDOT MAY resist? Take a look at how long it took just to get these simple improvements through VDOT:

by Chris Slatt on Apr 3, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport


Definitely, Quincy is pretty good because it has bike lanes and is narrower (though pretty busy) and George Mason Drive is another good option especially if you're heading towards the Westover area.

by Canaan on Apr 3, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

Forget adding street parking, put protected bike lanes/cycletracks where the street parking would go.

by IWannaBikeandLive on Apr 3, 2013 11:14 am • linkreport

The intersection is wide enough, and the needs for accommodating multimodal transit enough, to warrant considering a roundabout, it seems. Moving the pedestrian crossings away from the main intersection, decreasing idle time, and providing ample room for bicycles should be straightforward in such a design. It may also have the salutary effect of lowering speeds through the intersection and surrounding areas.

by CBB on Apr 3, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

Glebe Rd is weird. On the one hand, it's a major throughfare from I-395 to Ballston, but on the other hand it goes through many neighborhoods where a major road is out-of-place. There are many dangerous intersections that may have been ok when they were build, but can not accommodate the increased volume in traffic - be it pedestrians, bikers or cars.

It would probably help if the road were made to be driven slower, and crossed more but with better timed lights.

by Jasper on Apr 3, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

That's all fine, but Arlington County has recently made the road more driver unfriendly (though ironically more parking friendly) and it causes people to rush to make lights and squeeze between traffic lanes and parked cars to make turns. When they added a new pedestrian light AND parking near all the new bars that opened between Fairfax and Wilson, they created a traffic bottleneck that backs up towards 66. The parking is valid starting at 6PM, which is still rush hour, and people sit with their blinkers on in those spaces long before then waiting for the time to change...causing traffic as vehicles get funneled into the remaining lanes. Add to that that neither of the three lights now between Fairfax and Wilson are synchronized and you piss off drivers causing them to behave erratically. What used to take me 3 minutes to get from 66 to my friends town house in Ballston frequently takes over 10 minutes now...and that is after you battled all the damn eastbound traffic on 66 in the afternoons just getting into Arlington. I am all for the pedestrian improvements as more and more bars and restaurants pop up in this area, but the county and VDOT need to look at a comprehensive approach that also includes moving vehicles through efficiently, which has been completely ignored in their last few upgrades to this road.

by xtr657 on Apr 3, 2013 12:17 pm • linkreport

True, VDOT often resists pedestrian safety improvements. But if you want to be hopeful, look at Washington Boulevard between the Westover shopping area and Harrison Street. This VDOT-controlled road over the past decade has been improved with sidewalks, street trees, on-street parking, and -- most recently -- bicycle lanes. Arlington needs to put on speed dial the VDOT official who approved these sensible design features.

by Ed Fendley on Apr 3, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport


Any more information on the disappearing bike lane on N Fairfax as it crosses Glebe? Getting to the Custis Trail is a pain now, and I regularly jump the light to get ahead of the traffic.

@xte657 is right. Arlington needs to rethink the parking/rush hour thing in front of the new restaurants. Great to have parking there, but it creates a huge backup for me when driving. The gridlock does make biking easier, though.

by fongfong on Apr 3, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

I've noticed the dissappearing bike lane as well but I didn't see anything in the drawings that indicated one would be added. I usually just jumped to the sidewalk then anyway.

by Canaan on Apr 3, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Do you also drive in that area, Canaan?

by selxic on Apr 3, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

If I'm going to church, plus my wife drives through there every day.

But I walk more often. It's congested but that's because Arlington is a dense county. It's denser than most cities in Virginia and is close to DC's density. An extra lane for a mile has little marginal utility especially when it's just parking most of the time.

Plus if making the intersections safer and easier to cross on foot has to come at the cost of travel time for drivers then that's a cost I think the county should be willing to bear.

by Canaan on Apr 3, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

The Fairfax Drive drawing just links through to the Wilson plan, fyi.

by bingleson on Apr 3, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

I think I've fixed the erroneous link. I put that in during editing and messed it up.

by David Alpert on Apr 3, 2013 4:05 pm • linkreport

The problem with Glebe Road is that it's essentially the only north-south arterial in Arlington County (not counting the GW parkway). Arlington was designed, such as it was, with the idea of several arterials spreading East-West away from DC, with suburban residential in between. So Glebe Road just connects all the dense neighborhoods that grew up along those arterials with the single-family suburbs in between. So as Arlington gets denser, Glebe Road is in an odd place where it's not getting increased transit service or amenities, but is in too high demand to be a suburban street. I don't know what the solution is, barring a massive upzoning and increase in transit capacity.

by arlucbo on Apr 3, 2013 7:53 pm • linkreport

@ arlucbo:Glebe Road is in an odd place where it's not getting increased transit service or amenities, but is in too high demand to be a suburban street. I don't know what the solution is

Streetcar! Or better: Metro!

by Jasper on Apr 3, 2013 8:51 pm • linkreport

Lipstick on a pig. As long as you have to cross 15 lanes of traffic (including slip lanes) to get from one corner to the other, this intersection will never be even remotely pedestrian friendly. What this area truly needs is a road diet.

by Jacob on Apr 3, 2013 11:03 pm • linkreport

Where would anyone have to cross 15 lanes?

by selxic on Apr 4, 2013 1:27 am • linkreport

From one corner to the the opposite corner. This is the longest distance anyone can be expected to cross. It actually varies between 14 and 15 lanes for the 2 intersections, but my point, which is roughly the same as the author's, remains the same.

by Jacob on Apr 4, 2013 8:13 am • linkreport

Im a regular commuter in this area. I personally believe to fix arlingtons issue with pedestrians is to build a crosswalk bridge at every major intersection cause there are a lot of pedestrians who dont follow the rules of crossing which results in traffic backing up to yield fpr them. and to have no street parking at longer times in evenings and morning's. That way traffic can move freely and bikers can have more space to ride in the streets. And instead of building new apartments build a new garage or have an open parking lot so people can park easily and enjoy what Arlington has to offer. But of course none of that will ever occur in the future.

by Regular commuter on Nov 11, 2013 6:15 pm • linkreport

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