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Arlington's new vision for Rosslyn doesn't address the "intersection of doom"

Arlington County wants to create more transportation options in Rosslyn and make it safer and more pleasant to walk or bike there. But the plan the county's working on may undermine that vision by ignoring existing bicycle and pedestrian safety issues.

Image from Arlington County.

Realize Rosslyn is a major planning effort; for over a year, Arlington County has been holding meetings, studying travel patterns, examining viewsheds and gathering feedback from all sorts of people who live, work or play in and around Rosslyn.

County planners are currently gathering feedback on a draft policy framework, a sort of vision statement for the plan. Overall it is great policy, calling for things like wider sidewalks, cycle tracks, a better-connected street grid, and connecting Rosslyn to the Potomac. What is missing, however, is any policy for addressing what Arlington cyclists call the "intersection of doom," Lee Highway and North Lynn Street.

This intersection is the most frequent site of bicycle and pedestrian collisions, according to Arlington County Police statistics. In August of 2011, a series of three cyclist injuries occurred within a single week.

The "intersection of doom" forces drivers turning right to cross paths with cyclists going straight. Image from Arlington County and edited by the author.

Pedestrians and cyclists going from the Mount Vernon Trail to the Custis Trail, or waiting to cross Key Bridge have to go through this intersection. Passing through the same space are two lanes of traffic trying to turn right to from I-66 to the Key Bridge.

Both groups have a green light at largely the same time. Cyclists and pedestrians get a "leading interval" where the walk sign has turned, but the light is not yet green for cars. Without a "no turn on red" sign for the cars, however, drivers can still turn right into the crosswalk while people are still in it.

This intersection presents many challenges. Arlington County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the National Park Service and private individuals all own land right around this intersection. Any construction work in the area has the potential to significantly snarl bicycle, pedestrian and auto traffic.

Meanwhile, simple fixes like a "no turn on red" prohibition for the I-66 cars only address part of the problem and would likely back traffic up onto the highway. And there are viewsheds that people would like to protect, sensitive habitats, mature trees, and significant hills to contend with. That said, the status quo is clearly unsafe and a solution needs to be found.

Arlington is working on several projects that could address this problem. The North Lynn Street Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail Safety Improvements Project would improve sight lines, shorten crossing distances, and provide some additional space for bicycles and pedestrians at this spot.

But it will not fix the root issue, which is that a large crowd of bikes, pedestrians and cars all have a green light at the same time. In addition, it is LONG delayed. The last time there was a public meeting, construction was slated to begin in 2013. The current schedule has it beginning in 2015.

The county's Rosslyn Circle Study examined ways to relocate the trail so as to avoid these intersections. The Rosslyn Esplanade Study examined the potential for tunneling under Lynn Street.

In 2011, GGW contributor Steve Offutt proposed relocating the I-66 off ramp as one solution. Many folks think the proposal for an air rights development rights over I-66 provides a great opportunity to do that.

Whatever fix is decided on, the Realize Rosslyn framework needs to acknowledge that there is a problem. It is great that the plan calls for new trails and cycle tracks, and it is great that the plan calls for new parks and wider sidewalks, but the plan must also recognize that our current trail is unsafe and include a policy to implement a real, long-term solution.

This Tuesday, March 18, the Arlington County Board will vote on a "request to advertise" the policy framework at their 6:45 pm board meeting at the County Board Room, 2100 Clarendon Blvd #300 in Courthouse. Please consider coming out and letting the Board know that this is an unacceptable oversight in the plans for Rosslyn.

If you can't make it to a meeting, you can also send your thoughts to the County Board, the County Manager and the Principal Planner for Realize Rosslyn.

Chris Slatt is chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission and of WABA's Arlington Action Committee. His posts are his own opinions. 


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New contributor! Welcome, Chris

by Michael Perkins on Mar 14, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

I don't know, post a cop there during rush hour to direct traffic?

by charlie on Mar 14, 2014 1:21 pm • linkreport

its not only a problem at rush hour - its also bad on weekends. Youre probably talking a full time cop - fully loaded, plus overhead, there may well be less costly solutions.

thanks for the contribution Chris.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2014 1:24 pm • linkreport

A "gateway" bridge could work - a nice archway that keeps the current width of the trail but allows pedestrians and bikers alike to cross without the traffic signal... wire and metal, keep it cheap and easy. I guess I don't understand why this is so hard.

by RossResident on Mar 14, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport

Posting a cop at the intersection would be a good interim solution until a more permanent one can be found. Longer term, spending $1.4M for a tunnel seems like the right solution. $1.4M is peanuts in the grand scheme of transpo spending and this is an improvement that would help both cyclist and driver safety and increase capacity (reducing trip time) through the intersection.

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2014 1:44 pm • linkreport

@RossResident: Because that would look terrible and would reinforce the idea that the proper place for peds/bicycles is out of the way of cars

by Michael Perkins on Mar 14, 2014 1:45 pm • linkreport

Id be happy with segregated infra here, but I dont know that a bridge is practical.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

Another issue at that intersection is that the pole depicted here:

makes it very difficult for folks going eastbound Custis who want to turn left headed toward Key Bridge. Basically you have to use the curb cut to the left of the pole which increases your time in the intersection, contributing further to the backup of cars wanting to turn right. Get rid of the pole.

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

Because that would look terrible and would reinforce the idea that the proper place for peds/bicycles is out of the way of cars

Beyond that it's probably nearly impossible from an engineering perspective, given that the MVT already has to rise to meet the street here. Building a bridge that meets ADA standards and gives enough clearance over the road would be very difficult and would probably require something with a bunch of switchbacks, meaning nobody would use it anyway.

by MLD on Mar 14, 2014 1:55 pm • linkreport


Actually, what makes the W&OD/Custis so great is that it's like a cyclist highway where you don't need to stop for lights and can ride in a pleasant/relaxing environment while making great time on your commute.

I don't think a bridge would look terrible. There's a very nice one on the W&OD over Leesburg Pike. I just don't know if the ramps up/down the bridge will fit in this space.

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

+1 on the pole.

-1 on the not stopping for lights on the Custis.

Can't imagine how a bridge would work there.

I'd look into making no right turns from the center lane.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

@Charlie - I meant, for the most part there are no lights on the Custis, like on a limited access highway with interchanges instead of lights. Obviously, one should stop for the handful of ones that do exist on the Custis.

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2014 2:11 pm • linkreport

No right on red from center lane would be a great start!

I think the aforementioned Esplanade project is addressing the curb cuts and the pole but I'll have to take another to see for sure when I'm at a PC.

by Chris Slatt on Mar 14, 2014 2:21 pm • linkreport

No right turn from the 2nd lane. Right turn from the rightmost lane only. It's the double lane left turners that creates most of the problem -- the drivers in the 2nd lane can't see the crosswalk and are trying to go too fast anyway. Squaring off the corner would help some, to reduce speeds, but it's the double turn lane that's the main problem in my opinion. If taking away two lanes of right turn car storage would back up traffic on the highway, so be it. Double (and triple -- we have those in MD!) turn lanes generally suck.

This is a case where they're attempted to create too much car capacity at the cost of bike and ped safety, despite the extremely high bike and ped traffic.

"Because it'll make the cars back up on to the highway" is not an excuse for unsafe conditions.

by Greenbelt on Mar 14, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

Oops should be "double lane right turners" not "left." Should have previewed...

by Greenbelt on Mar 14, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

charlie, change that to a "robocop" and I'm in.

by David C on Mar 14, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

Oh, and I'll second the tunnel - or an underpass really. It could make the climb up from the river a little less steep too.

by David C on Mar 14, 2014 2:28 pm • linkreport

Re: Taking away right turn from center lane and making it going straight only

I don't think this would increase backups. As it is, it just takes one car waiting to turn right to keep a line of cars behind it waiting to go straight. If everyone in the center lane had to go straight, throughput would increase through the intersection.

Also, traffic doesn't really backup from this intersection so far as to affect through traffic on 66. One shouldn't confuse this intersection with the next eastbound one on N Lynn where traffic from the GW Parkway South goes up a ramp to get to the Key Bridge. Traffic on that ramp does backup blocking through traffic on the GW.

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

This would probably be the only time I'm gonna suggest this but why not build an elevated walkway directly from the key bridges sidewalk to Gateway Park one to the Marriott and another one over the eastbound span of Lee Hwy.

That intersection can not be helped except for either a cop there 24/7, or something is put underground or elevated.

by kk on Mar 14, 2014 3:24 pm • linkreport

A bridge would be good. I don't think it would look terrible at all, and I don't think it sends a message that bikes can't coexist with cars. There are just places where being on a bike is difficult, and this is one of them.

I go through here every day, often before dawn in the winter, and at least once a week there is a sketchy interaction. Most people are careful, but the problem usually comes when the first car can safely turn in front of you, but the next car doesn't see you because of that first one blocking their vision. Of course I'm used to this and have a very bright light, but it's still scary at times. If I had a flyover, I'd use it.

by DE on Mar 14, 2014 3:37 pm • linkreport

a: in there report there is only the merest mention of a gondola.

b: it may be fine/feasible to have a bridge there but a big part of the plan is to make Rosslyn more pleasant to walk/bike around. Something like a bridge that still encourages two lanes of traffic to piling into Rosslyn could have a detrimental effect on peds/cyclists in Rosslyn-proper. It may be worthwhile to build a grade separated crossing for trail users and still fix the traffic light situation anyway.

by drumz on Mar 14, 2014 3:48 pm • linkreport

In terms of the center lane, it is a unique opportunity.

a large part of the backups occur b/c someone is trying to make a right, has to wait, and backs everyone else up. Better timed light cycles will help too.

Or just allow the center lane to turn during rush hour. Again, enforcing that is the issue.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2014 3:56 pm • linkreport

Does seem like an issue that could be largely address by improve signalization and maybe removing the middle turn lane.

by BTA on Mar 14, 2014 4:19 pm • linkreport

It is also unclear to me why there is enough turning traffic to make right turns from the middle lane necessary. These cars are all coming off 66 westbound, right? Why are they trying to get onto Key Bridge and back to DC?

by MLD on Mar 14, 2014 4:47 pm • linkreport


I dont think Ive ever driven that way, but I believe its possible to go from 110 to I66 west to that intersection, so it could be folks from Pentagon, Pentagon City and points south heading to Georgetown and trying to avoid the other route on the streets of Rosslyn.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2014 5:07 pm • linkreport

By all accounts I've ever gotten from Arlington County and VDOT staff, the "no right on red" is a no-go. As best I can tell, VDOT thinks that vehicular throughput is more important than reducing motorist/cyclist/pedestrian conflict. Also, it's VDOT's exclusive call.

I wouldn't spend much time/energy on center lane turning. The only way that will matter is if you have a constant police/enforcement presence, and if you have that, it's not the prevention of center lane turning that's going to make a difference. It's going to be the lowered incidents where a motorists sees a ped/cyclists and decides to go anyway. Because mass.

While I'm generally in agreement with Perkins' desire to recognize the right of ped/cyclists in at-grade interactions, the volumes involved here really do demand separated facilities. I'd prefer a bridge to a tunnel, but either way, I think that's the only real solution in the end.

(But in the interim? Station an ACPD officer there. ACPD once insisted that enforcement there was impractical/impossible, and then they did it for weeks after the series of incidents in 2011. Until Arlington Co/VDOT can get it together and come up with a real solution, a dedicated traffic officer at rush hour is the *least* they can do.)

by MB on Mar 14, 2014 6:13 pm • linkreport

AWITC is correct. Traffic from NB 110 (from Pentagon, Crystal City, etc.) merges briefly onto I66 WB, then has the option to exit for Key Bridge. It's the most direct route from my location in Crystal City if I'm going to or through Georgetown.

by Nick on Mar 14, 2014 8:21 pm • linkreport

I've never had a conflict with traffic on a bike through that section, but I completely agree with Falls Church about the incredibly awkward conflict around that pole. Considering the amount of pedestrians heading to/from key bridge, and the number of bikes either turning there to access the mt. vernon or continuing along to the custis, it can be a mess. If you fixed that pole location, gave everyone more space to navigate, and therefore increase visibility to everyone involved (including turning cars),I don't think you need to do much else.

by Chris T on Mar 15, 2014 10:16 am • linkreport

A bike bridge could run from the east side of Lynn St. to the west side of Ft. Myer Dr. That would allow for more horizontal space to reduce the elevation grade for cyclists. The existing path could be retained as well, for cyclists who are turning right onto Key Bridge from the MVT.

As mentioned, Virginia has proposed the sale of development rights for the air space above I-66 in Rosslyn (and in East Falls Church). That revenue would go toward transportation improvements in Rosslyn. That might include the proposed second Rosslyn Metro station. It could also help to pay for a bike bridge.

by Citizen on Mar 15, 2014 6:55 pm • linkreport

While we are it we need to take a lane of traffic off of Key Bridge and make it bike only and do the same with a piece of M Street. Five instead of six car-lanes would be fine given the huge pedestrian and bike traffic that crosses here. The bike and ped conflicts are numerous and it isn't safe either. I use this route often for traffic and the conflicts on the bridge and getting on and off are nearly as bad as the circle of doom. We need a holistic solution that includes DDOT, US Parks, Arlington and VDOT.

by Chris Hamilton on Mar 16, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

Though not a solution, one project that could help alleviate the problem by removing longer distance bike and pedestrian traffic would be to continue the Mt. Vernon trail upstream along the Potomac to Spout Run and then continue up the Spout Run basin to connect with the Custis Trail where Spout Run goes under Rt 66.

by Clay Gottschall on Mar 17, 2014 2:19 pm • linkreport


"Staff is in agreement that the Rosslyn Plan Framework should be revised to include a new policy directive (under Transportation Theme 3) which addresses the need to improve the safety and efficiency of the intersection of Lynn Street, Lee Highway and the Custis Trail. Staff is also recommending changes be made to the bicycle facilities map (Map T5) which would include a new callout box and language related to improving bicycle/pedestrian safety at the Lee/Lynn intersection."

Kelly Cornell
Transportation Planner
Arlington County Division of Transportation

by Chris Slatt on Mar 18, 2014 3:43 pm • linkreport

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