Seven Corners pedestrian overpass opens tomorrow
Tomorrow, Fairfax County will cut the ribbon on a new overpass across Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard) at Seven Corners, near Patrick Henry Drive and the Home Depot. This is the deadliest intersection in all of Fairfax County. On average, 2-4 pedestrians die there per year, accounting for approximately 25% of all pedestrian deaths in the county.
Creating separate pedestrian facilities is often not the best solution. It's better to simply make our streets and roads more accessible, safer and more usable for all users: pedestrians, cyclists, Segway riders, and cars. Sometimes planners will create a poorly designed or planned pedestrian facility that will then "relieve" them of their responsibility to think more holistically about the interactions of road users.
In this case, Seven Corners is already too pedestrian-unfriendly, and no short-term changes could make it so. The pedestrian bridge at Seven Corners is probably the only reasonably safe enhancement Fairfax could implement in the short term. It also is located where pedestrians generally want to cross and where many have been injured or killed.
Here's a map of the area, from the official VDOT site. However, the bridge is actually somewhat west of what this map shows.
Prior to the construction of this bridge, pedestrians could only cross at Patrick Henry Drive and Cherry Street, 1.3 miles apart. Patrick Henry isn't that safe either, and pedestrians have been killed in the crosswalk. The county has improved this crossing in the last couple years, but it's still a 6-lane highway. One could cross at the Seven Corners overpasses, but only a brave and fleet person would do so. There are no actual pedestrian facilities like sidewalks or lights there.
Since crossing at either Patrick Henry or Cherry Street requires a very long schlep, many people choose to make the mad dash across Route 50. For years, the county tried to force pedestrians to cross at Patrick Henry rather than find a safe solution to their need to cross closer to their destinations.
There are homes, apartments and significant commerce on both sides of the highway, so there are lots of reasons for people to cross. From the Sunflower Restaurant, you can see the Guitar Center, only 200 yards away, close enough to hit with a golf ball. However, to walk there, a pedestrian would have to walk down Route 7 to Patrick Henry, cross, and walk back, for a distance of 1.2 miles. I'm not even sure there are sidewalks along this entire route. With the new bridge, that pedestrian would still have to walk ½ mile, but the route is considerably more direct, doable and obvious to potential pedestrians.
Still, the county needs to continue to improve this area as well as the entire length of Route 50 inside the Beltway, where usable pedestrian crossings are few and far between. The north side empties out inside the frontage road, forcing people people to cross another lane of traffic to get to the sidewalk. If the frontage road had been shifted a little southward, the bridge would need to be somewhat longer, but not much. They completely rebuilt this entire area, so they could have designed the bridge that way.
Pedestrian access on both sides needs to be addressed now that the bridge is complete. Completing well designed sidewalks and creating pedestrian access to cross the parking lots will make the bridge much more usable. There are still way too few ways to cross in this 1.3 mile stretch. And Seven Corners itself needs to be rethought and redesigned to accommodate other road users besides cars. (It doesn't even do a very good job with cars!)
Finally, this project took a long time and, at $2.6 million, probably cost too much. Fairfax started the project in the fall of 2007. Originally it was supposed to be complete last November. Unfortunately, the original truss that was delivered was cracked, which caused a several-months delay. Although it appears to be an excellent facility, Fairfax County is not known for its willingness to invest in bike/ped facilities. I suspect that the next time someone suggests an improvement, the county will say, "But that one at Seven Corners cost so much; we can't afford to spend that kind of money willy nilly on pedestrians."
Here are some photos of the bridge. This article in the Falls Church News-Press describes the placement of the main bridge section a couple of weeks ago. Click on any image to enlarge.
Looking west along Route 50. You can see the ramp pedestrians will come down and then have to cross the frontage road on the right to get to the sidewalk. Dumb.
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