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How can Virginia balance traffic flow with a sense of place on Route 1?

A study of Virginia's Route 1 finds that people want "to create destinations, ... not a throughway." They also want better pedestrian and bicycle safety, and really want transit, but they also want to see traffic flow faster. What's the best way to balance these?

Route 1 today. Image from the study.

If this major public investment can succeed in creating walkable, livable transit communities along the corridor, the state and localities need to find ways to keep vehicle speeds down and not force people to cross long distances. They can start by designing roads to create a sense of place instead of inhibit it.

In fact, building better places could also speed up traffic flow, by making it possible for more people to get to local shopping without driving, or by taking other roads in a street grid instead of all piling onto Route 1 itself.

How fast and wide should Route 1 be?

The study assumes that the speed limit would remain 45 mph and lanes would be 12 feet wide. A road built for speed will create a less comfortable environment at center median transit stations. It will increase the distances pedestrians have to cross. And it will reduce the sense of connectivity between transit-oriented neighborhoods on either side of the road. Perhaps the speed will impact transit ridership as well.

There's a history here. A few years back, VDOT proposed reducing posted speeds to 35 mph, but faced a huge public outcry and the local supervisors made VDOT drop the proposal.

Bicycles struggle to find a place

The study also looked at ways to accommodate bicycles. Options included on-road bike lanes or an on-road cycletrack (among others), but the 45-mph road and wide lanes essentially forced the study team to select an off-road, 10-foot shared-use path for both bikes and pedestrians. This will almost certainly spark concerns about the impact on pedestrian safety, on the efficiency of bike travel, and the risks to bicyclists and pedestrians crossing intersections.

1997 British study on the relationship between vehicle speed and pedestrian fatalities shows that higher speeds mean more pedestrian fatalities.

Graph via WashCycle.

State and local officials should authorize the consultants to study an alternative with a 35 mph posted speed, 11-foot lanes, and on-road cycle tracks, to evaluate if this approach will not only smooth out and maintain good traffic flow, but will improve safety for all users, while enhancing the walkable, transit-oriented centers that the community seeks.

Will housing remain affordable if transit improves?

Until recently, the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax and Prince William hasn't seen the same level of investment as other parts of the two counties. It hasn't moved beyond aging strip malls, an unsafe pedestrian environment, deteriorated streams, and plenty of traffic.

This is also an area with an important supply of affordable housing, and many are concerned that the promise of new transit investment will increase land values and eliminate existing market-rate affordable housing.

Given that Fairfax County's commercial revitalization corridors are also the location of most of the county's affordable housing, the county needs a proactive approach when planning major new transit investments in these corridors. That must preserve affordable housing in good condition and include new affordable units in new development projects.

Unfortunately, the county has severely cut back its housing trust fund, and its inclusionary zoning policies for affordable units don't apply to buildings over four stories. The study should consider how new transit will affect property values and the current supply of affordable units. The county needs to commit to a robust housing strategy for the Route 1 corridor like the one Arlington adopted for Columbia Pike.

Potential development at Beacon Hill with BRT or LRT.

Change is indeed coming to the Route 1 corridor. The demand to live closer to the core of the region and expansion at Fort Belvoir are already driving new investment, including the recently-completed Beacon of Groveton, the Penn Daw development, and upgraded strip shopping centers.

Long-time residents are hungry to see more change come sooner. Many at the meeting pressed to move the transit project forward as soon as possible. That's a challenge given the lead times required to plan, fund and build major new transportation projects. Fairfax and the state should make this transit corridor a top priority. They also must support investment in Metro's core capacity so that the rail system can handle the new riders.

The study team should complete the traffic analysis by the end of April; the economic, land use and funding analysis will follow by the end of May; and they will recommend an alternative by July. The next public meeting is in June. In the meantime, take their survey and make comments on this form.

Stewart Schwartz is Executive Director and a founder of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which he built into the leading smart growth organization in the Washington, DC region, addressing the interconnected issues of land use, transportation, urban design, housing, and energy. A retired Navy Captain with 24 years of active and reserve service, he earned a BA and JD from the University of Virginia and an MA from Georgetown University. 


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This article covers an interesting and vital topic, but it doesn't explain what study is being discussed. The intro should include the name of the study, a link if available, who the author is, what stage the study is at, etc. Also, how did the study determine what people want? A survey? Meetings?

More info is essential to provide context and help the reader understand what you're talking about. Thanks!

by RichardatCourthouse on Apr 9, 2014 2:38 pm • linkreport

IIRC, there was a proposal once to put the Rt 1 underneath the intersection at Penn Daw.

Does anyone know about this?

by Jay Roberts on Apr 9, 2014 3:07 pm • linkreport

@ Richard - this article relates to a post several days ago on GGW:

The link to the project's website is:

by JDC on Apr 9, 2014 3:12 pm • linkreport

The arguments are all well and good, but quite blatantly ignore the "traffic flow faster" bit. Yes, people who take surveys(which typically only present benefits but rarely mention costs) want it all, but why do the other priorities immediately take precedent. It's not that I'm particularly pro-car, but when the proposed solution seems to be very much like a zero-sum game.

by JPC on Apr 9, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

Am I the only one who can't find the study referenced in this article? There's a "Project Documents" link on the Route 1 Multimodal analysis website, but I can't find anything resembling a study there?

Why wasn't a link initially provided?

by Fitz on Apr 9, 2014 3:25 pm • linkreport

The mutli-modal study has been going since, what, last fall? These pieces would be better if they kept in the realm of the plausible. Authorizing additional funding to go back and rework the study around a 35 mph spped limit that clearly has no support is simply not going to happen(the funds or the reduced speed limit).

It was a major win for the local electeds to get what funding they could for this study. It should be applauded for what it is.

by Chris22303 on Apr 9, 2014 3:46 pm • linkreport

7.5 miles is projected to cost 50 mill(6.6 million a mile) Really?
BRT is projected to cost in MontCo. 10* that, so that's really surprising.

ex. The 9 mile Montgomery county "Corridor Cities Transitway" is predicted to cost $545 million or 60.5 million a mile - 10* more per mile for phase one for the first 9 miles and additional 283 million or 47 million per mil for the remaining six miles for a total of $828 million (or 55.2 million per mile)

by asffa on Apr 9, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport


if 35MPH is infeasible, that presents lots of big problems. As Del Surovell pointed out, that makes access to surface transit problematic. A heavy rail line would at least provide a connection from both sides of Rte 1, as at Tysons (though underground in this instance) But with a 45 MPH arterial down the middle can this area (with weaker fundamentals than Tysons) get to the densities required for heavy rail?

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 9, 2014 4:04 pm • linkreport

The fight about the speed limit was over 5 years ago, and was presented IIUC purely as a safety measure, not in the context of transit and redevelopment.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 9, 2014 4:06 pm • linkreport

7.5 miles is projected to cost 50 mill(6.6 million a mile) Really?

Where are you getting this from? The current estimates have 16 miles of curbside BRT for $500 million or dedicated lanes for $750m.

by MLD on Apr 9, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

I'm agnostic about the speed limit, but my point is that it is folly to call for going back to an earlier stage in the study, requiring funding that doesn't exist, to look into a hypothtical that the parties involved do not believe will happen. I think this study and process has been a net positive - detailed, highly accessible, and detailed. That is difficult to achieve.

I'm skeptical there is the support for the density required for heavy rail regardless. I know that Del. Surovell and members of the Mt. Vernon council disagree with that point of view. I say this as 1) A supportor of the Penn Daw process and outcome and 2) As a civic association president who oversaw a successful multi-year process to amend the county plan to increase the allowed density of a 7ish acre piece of land that is up against my community.

I wish 'em the best it. It's tiring to hear arguments on needing investments in the corridor coupled with "If I wanted to live in Ballston I'd have moved there".

by Chris22303 on Apr 9, 2014 4:17 pm • linkreport

MLD must have been looking at older estimates.
Those numbers look far more accurate. Thank you

by asffa on Apr 9, 2014 4:22 pm • linkreport

Do you think the surface running options are feasible with the 45MPH speed limit.

I will admit to seeing pros and cons for most of the options. But I think strongly that the approach to speed in Fairfax is abysmal, and will undermine the BoS' goals for development and transportation. A 45MPH limit generally means vehicles proceeding at 55MPH or more (esp given the state imposed ban on speed cams.)

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 9, 2014 4:23 pm • linkreport

I love the pedestrian/bike trail in the study. I think the arguments of pedestrian safety in that context is overblown. I come from a view that there is no ideal siutation for all modes. I understand where others place a higher priority on non-auto modes.

As a frequent driver along the corridor, I'd think the lowest hanging fruit in pedestrian crossing safety is simply making the corridor more uniform, in width and in pedestrian ameneties. It's a hodgepodge now. I assume from the presentation that the changes that would create a uniform 3 lanes in each direction would include these types of changes. I'm also a big fan of medians streets w/ faster traffic. Myself and my association pushed for a median on N. Kings Hwy by the Huntington Metro and it has been a win. Easier to do something like that than change pedestrian or driver behavior.

by Chris22303 on Apr 9, 2014 4:57 pm • linkreport

Do you think the surface running options are feasible with the 45MPH speed limit.

The type of transit isn't particularly relevant. If you build better transit, you need dense, walkable development to support the stations. And walkable areas don't exactly match up with traffic moving at those speeds.

Now, it doesn't mean you need to go back and re-do the study, but people need to be clear about the inherent conflict of a) high-speed arterial roads, and b) walkable development that can support improved transit.

I think Stewart's argument is a good hypothesis: a lower speed limit might actually function better for cars - moving traffic more efficiently than higher speed designs.

by Alex B. on Apr 9, 2014 4:58 pm • linkreport

The short answer: You can't. Higher traffic speed and volume inherently degrade a location's sense of place. There are pretty much zero high-traffic locations that also have a strong sense of place where people want to linger. Ask yourself: do you want to hang out next to a highway for any longer than you absolutely have to?

by TransitSnob on Apr 9, 2014 5:04 pm • linkreport

Great write-up; thanks! I hadn’t considered the impact on affordable housing before now.

Regarding the back-and-forth comments on the speed limit – 45mph vs. 35 mph – does it have to be consistent the entire distance? (i.e. Are we trying to create a “sense of place” along the whole distance?)

Separately, I’d like to see if the city of Alexandria might be able to jump on board this Route 1 analysis, concurrent with its involvement in the Route 7 Corridor study. Long term, could there be a potential for a mass transit line between Woodbridge and Tysons, with Alexandria in between?

by Rich 'n Alexandria on Apr 9, 2014 5:39 pm • linkreport

May I suggest that if that part of the county is not going to consider the speed limits needed for placemaking, and wants to continue to prioritize autos, that funding ANY of these alternatives seems to me like a lower priority than funding improvements in places that do already have lower speed limits (like, say, little river turnpike in downtown Annandale)???

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 9, 2014 5:44 pm • linkreport

Rich - The study which, again, has been going on since last fall and is nearing it's completion, specifically laid out it's geography of study. Rt. 1 starting at 123 in Woodbridge and terminating at the beltway/Huntington Metro. Period. Fin.

Walker - C'mon. To say that since the 45 mph speed limit is being left in place means that the Rt. 1 corridor can continue to rot is petty and reeks of the old "The perfect being the enemy of the good". The corridor can be made to be a better place without a fully realized "Sense of Place". Which is something that can happen just as much through good design and by the mix of business and residents that the area attracts.

by Chris22303 on Apr 9, 2014 6:03 pm • linkreport


by all means go ahead and make incremental improvements. But we are talking a half billion dollars for the cheapest option. There are other places in the County that need transit dollars to densify, and there are a range of underfunded transportation needs around the county - especially dismal bike and ped accommodations on roads more suitable than a 45MPH arterial. This isnt a matter of saying nothing can be done to improve Rte1, but wondering about prioritizing funds.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 9, 2014 6:12 pm • linkreport

The painting labeled "Potential development at Beacon Hill with BRT or LRT" - where is that supposed to be? Are those trees on the roofs (some places have that, but it seems silly to put in a painting to give it more green)

by asffa on Apr 9, 2014 6:39 pm • linkreport

About tossing in that survey- there's enough differences about driving in the US and Britain that when I visited, I didn't rent a car.
About unnecessarily changing the speed limits - people often can't get 5 miles/hour on RT 1 in NoVA, but why take away their hope?

by asffa on Apr 9, 2014 6:44 pm • linkreport

Chris –

Given the similarities between the Route 1 Study and the Route 7 Corridor study, I was surprised there was no mention of Leesburg Pike in the presentation materials posted on-line.

I was only thinking that, since the Route 7 Corridor study is looking at light rail and BRT, and the Route 1 Study is looking at light rail and BRT, it may make logical sense for a continuous, streamlined system - if, in fact, the same mode was chosen in both studies. The City of Alexandria would seem a logical intersection in such a situation. I don’t think that the Route 1 MAA geographic area would need to be amended; just that Alexandria should weigh in.

by Rich 'n Alexandria on Apr 9, 2014 11:15 pm • linkreport

@Rich - While the study is not addressing that directly, fill out the survey and imclude your point of view about streamlining the number and type of systems in NoVa with your personal preference.

Personally, the speed limit is not deal breaker for me and I think that most of the Sense of Place that will be developed won't be on Route 1. It will be a block or so off it, on the new secondary roads that will be part of the corridors development.

by Thad on Apr 9, 2014 11:26 pm • linkreport

I live off of Route 1 just south of Alexandria in Huntington and the road from there to Fort Belvoir is just awful. Sidewalks are hit or miss, and Fairfax County just lets crud build up and never bothers to clean them. At times, I can barely tell that there's any concrete under all the dirt, glass, trash, and car parts. Traffic is terrible too, so much so that it's easier for my wife and I to go into Alexandria or jump on 495 to Springfield to do our shopping rather than going more than 1 mile south on Route 1. I hope that with the right investment, this corridor can become destination rather than an eyesore.

by Brendan on Apr 10, 2014 8:37 am • linkreport

@Chris22303: As a frequent driver along the corridor, I'd think the lowest hanging fruit in pedestrian crossing safety is simply making the corridor more uniform, in width and in pedestrian ameneties.

Yes. I, too, live near the corridor, though I rarely drive on Route 1 these days because it's too congested and too worrisomely full. One of the biggest problems, all the way between Lorton and Alexandria, is that there's no uniformity on the ground. It's a peculiar mix of zoning areas, and that makes it a bit daunting for the novice driver.

(For the record, as I missed the last post in this series: I'm in favor of going all-in on Metro, at least as far as Belvoir and preferably as far as Woodbridge. Though past Belvoir I'd take it north to Lorton and link up with VRE there...there's space for a couple of stations in Lorton, certainly. And one at the future site of the Army museum - get on top of that right now. And maybe extend the Blue Line a bit to meet the extended Yellow Line, through Newington...which can also use some redevelopment. It's a hard sell, yes, but look at Eisenhower Avenue. Put the money in NOW and the development will follow, surely.)

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Apr 10, 2014 9:20 am • linkreport

I’m not sure how long this corridor is, but for someone travelling ten miles it would take 13 minutes at 45 mph vs. 17 minutes at 35 mph – 5 minutes longer if there were no stops. For many motorists the trips are shorter and the added time would be less. In actuality in the Route 1 corridor there would be several stops for traffic signals that add to the travel time, so that the real world effect of a higher speed limit would likely be allow motorists to rush between intersections so they could wait longer at a signal.

Of course, since a 45 mph limits is treated as 55 mph since there is a general perception of a 10 mph tolerance, the travel time should be based on 55 mph vs. 45 mph. For these speed the difference is 11 minutes vs. 13 minutes.

by FrankS on Apr 10, 2014 9:21 am • linkreport

The problem with US-1 in Fairfax County (actually long stretches between Canada and Key West) is that it is both an enormous strip mall, as well as a major throughfare. This is especially true between Alexandria and Fredericksurg, because there simply are only two roads that go north-south.

I am not sure how you balance the two, but transit, preferably metro should be part of it. Two goals should meet in this project. Getting a massive amount of people out of their car into transit, and making the area more dense yet keep it affordable for the middle-class people that live there. Transit should be faster than driving. And should reach at least to Fredericksburg.

by Jasper on Apr 10, 2014 9:25 am • linkreport


thank you. I wouldnt necessarily even lower the limits for 10 miles, but for the 4 or 5 miles at the northern end of the corridor, where densest development, and largest future ped and bike traffic, is most likely. So the time cost to drivers would be even smaller.

Though a 35MPH limit the whole way would enable proper bike accommodations. A shared MUT in a high density area, with expected high pedestrian usage, is simply not a real bike accommodation (leaving aside the issues MUTs present for bikes at intersections)

I am simply tired of weak tea urbanism - we pour $$ into transit, and upzone for density, but don't follow up by taking walkability seriously.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 10, 2014 9:34 am • linkreport

@AWallkerInTheCity: It's also necessary to make light cycles a bit more even. Right now, the X-intersection at Kings Highway and Route 1 is a disaster; there are two sets of lights in fairly close proximity to one another, and they're not calibrated to let enough people on the highway through. The result is a nasty backup every time I'm there.

Although that being said, Route 1 in general is a mess. It needs a lot of work beyond being made transit-friendly to make it walkable and user-friendly.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Apr 10, 2014 9:45 am • linkreport

how is every neighborhood going to be filled with LRT and BRT and have 6 story high rises as a result of the "better" transit. i dont buy that people want to fill up route 1 with that level of dentisty. Thanks but no thanks, ill stay in DC

by corey on Apr 10, 2014 10:21 am • linkreport

It has a sense of place now - a sense that you want to leave.

by Centrist on Apr 10, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

The middle class will probably not be affording within a short, safe walk of any "station" planned on some 500-750 million dollar bus transit route.

"I am simply tired of weak tea urbanism - we pour $$ into transit, and upzone for density, but don't follow up by taking walkability seriously." Agreed.

by asffa on Apr 10, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport


Do you think that BRT will increase values that much? And do you assume middle class people live in SFHs and not in condos or apts?

corey - given the demand to live near transit, I suspect many people would want to move there - there are already a couple of new buildings going up - good transit would mean more, and good transit combined with good walkability would mean many more. Will the existing residents like it - evidence from the meeting and from local elected officials suggests they would. at least at the 6 story level.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 10, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

The best way to create harmony on US1 is to enforce traffic laws. A small investment would bring huge payback as word got around.

Major disruptors of traffic flow currently include those traveling 10 or more miles below the speed limit, abrupt lane changes, failing to signal, changing lanes in intersections, cutting off other drivers -- stuff that is BASIC to proper driving. A few weeks of SOLID enforcement would bring money to the state's coffers AND would make it clear that traffic moves better when everyone obeys the laws.

by Tess Ailshire on Apr 10, 2014 6:35 pm • linkreport

I support metro to wood bridge with the blue line meeting it at lorton. Army could hqve the option to bring the yellow to qunitco* spelling and pw option to bring it to potomac the blue portion. We would also have to have the yellow underground threw mount vernon since we wouldnt want to ruion its histroic section with a metro line.

by zombiexm on Apr 10, 2014 8:11 pm • linkreport

zombiexm I like it
AWalkerInTheCIty I think the station placement will largely be done based on affluence and I don't think it'll end up very walkable/reachable for the rest.

by asffa on Apr 10, 2014 9:00 pm • linkreport

At those talking about Metro alignment, you need to read the study documents. The option being studied only extends the Yellow about 3 miles to Hybla Valley and them BRT from there. Personally, I don't think that is a good idea and would prefer the LRT option the entire length.

by Thad on Apr 10, 2014 11:47 pm • linkreport

Hopefully future posts will include a map. I'm not sure it's clear to many how large an area this is.

by selxic on Apr 11, 2014 7:22 am • linkreport


There are no pockets of affluence on that corridor - such relatively higher cost housing as there is is scattered. And there is no such pattern of station placement for the affluent on any transit project I know of, certainly not the silver line or purple line.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 8:36 am • linkreport

"The county needs to commit to a robust housing strategy for the Route 1 corridor like the one Arlington adopted for Columbia Pike. "

Haha - author is raking in the nonsense from his cronie Zimmy. Arlington's plan is to remove hundreds of market-based affordable units with a handful of subsidized ones, leaving Arlington with Lexus Liberals and a handful of poor residents to alleviate their guilt. Where are the middle class civil servants that built Arlington to go? Sprawling exurbs, sadly.

by pike cycle on Apr 11, 2014 8:49 am • linkreport

Pike Cycle

Odd. The anti-street car people mostly say that the redevelopment on the Pike will happen street car or no street car.

In fact the older rises will certainly not go anywhere, its only the low rises (and the commercial properties) that are likely to redeveloped. Even the new buildings on the pike aren't that pricey - a single GS 13 or GS14 (or pair of GS 12's without kids) can probably afford them if they can make do with relatively limited space.

Of course you don't prevent sprawl by builder fewer units close in - where will all thos lexus liberals come from? Presumably the suburbs further out, leaving more room for those civil servants who find Columbia Pike too pricey.

BTW Penrose Square, one of the new buildings for limousine liberals, has 1 BRs in the 1800's. A pair of married, relatively junior civil servants should be able to afford that if they don't have too much in student loans. Now a 1BR won't suit empty nesters with a lot of stuff, or a family with kids. If they really want an apt on the Pike, they will have to look at the older hirises. I guess if they really really love the low rise apt lifestyle, that will be less available.

by AWallkerInTheCity on Apr 11, 2014 9:02 am • linkreport

You will never create a pedestrian center along a 45 mph roadway. If you try to combine the two, you will just get uncomfortable pedestrians and disgruntled drivers. Either choose to redesign the road for 20-25mph speeds, or keep it as a through fare as it is.

MD SHA is having the same conflict interest with Route 1 through what the County is trying to turn into an "Arts District". Developers want to make the right land use changes here, but the insistence on maintaining speed will always be a roadblock.

by Chris Allen, PE on Apr 11, 2014 9:08 pm • linkreport


Traffic enforcement, though sorely needed on Route 1, isn't going to solve the traffic problem. The root of the problem is that there is simply too much traffic, and the signals are too random and uncoordinated, for traffic to flow adequately, even outside of rush hour.

Regarding a couple earlier comments: while it would be nice for the city of Alexandria to be included in the study so that we can get a better solution for traffic that continues north of Huntington, there is *NO WAY* you will get agreement from Alexandria on surface rail (or bus lane) alignments that connect to/through Old Town. Alexandria's recent "High Capacity Transit" study, and the huge mounds of opposition from Old Town residents to adding any sort of rail transit in Old Town (even for corridors wholly within the city) made that abundantly clear. In short, there will be no connecting the Route 7 and Route 1 transit corridors through Old Town.

by Froggie on Apr 11, 2014 11:01 pm • linkreport

Disagree with the study. One it wont fix the traffic issue using brt south of there planned hybrid extention of the yellow two the line needs go go to wodbridge with parking to get traffic off of r1 and i95. More and more housi lng is being built in pw and staffors and all we can say is brt in lane traffic will fix the issue. It wont only rail will have capacity for it. Two if we end up stuck with crummy brt please dont cheap out and end bus lanes at fort belvoir. We dont need a brt line that half the buses are stuck in rush hour traffic or hqlf need to turn around at 5he end of the bus lanes.

by zombiexm on Apr 13, 2014 12:31 am • linkreport

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