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Are people using the Seven Corners pedestrian bridge?

On May 20th, Fairfax County finally opened the pedestrian overpass at Seven Corners.

According to officials at the ribbon cutting, the original discussions for the overpass began 25 years ago. "All in," including engineering, design, and other costs, the bridge cost $8 million. (In the original post, I reported a price tag of $2.6 million.

The bridge still needs some pedestrian improvements, such as the paths from the bridge to the stores. At left is the sidewalk leading away from the stairs; at right is the sidewalk from the ramp. Both just end abruptly with the Starbucks and B&N beckoning across the lot.

Despite the fact that this area is quite unfriendly to pedestrians, it actually gets a lot of pedestrian use. Here are the statistics I gathered on two different dates, Thursday, May 21 from 10:05 to 11:05 AM and Tuesday, June 16 from 1:30 to 2:30 PM. Both days were excellent weather with temperatures in the 70s.

See the end of the post for some caveats about these statistics.

In both cases there were more users at the Patrick Henry crossing than on the bridge itself, underscoring the continuing need to make that intersection safe and pleasant for pedestrians. I was surprised that no cyclists used the bridge. Perhaps they simply aren't yet aware of the new option.

According to the Pedestrian Program Manager, county also plans to add signals and crosswalks at Seven Corners itself, which would be a definite improvement to the worn footpaths and crossing-fingers-that-the-light-is-red situation that exists there now.

The people who made the "Mad Dash" across Route 50 did so in three locations: 6 of them crossed between the bridge and Seven Corners; 2 crossed between the bridge and Patrick Henry and 2 crossed 50 yards or so east of Patrick Henry.

The bridge will, of course, require maintenance, and hopefully the county has budgeted for that. Already the bridge has become a magnet for graffiti. There was already at least one overflowing trash receptacle. Over time, if the county lets the facility become run down, many people will choose not to use it any more. After only a month, this one seems to already be neglected.

Caveats on table data: Data was gathered while sitting on the bridge. Accuracy as follows:

  • Bridge users: 100% accurate
  • PH Drive: Likely undercounted by 10-20% due to distance and sight line. Better data on second date due to learning curve.
  • Seven Corners: Likely undercounted by a lot due to sightline and inability to see parts of the crossing area
  • Mad Dash: 100% accurate; no way anyone could cross without being seen.
Steve Offutt has been working at the confluence of business and environment for almost 20 years, with experience in climate change solutions, green building, business-government partnerships, transportation demand management, and more. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children and is a cyclist, pedestrian, transit rider and driver. 


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That area tends to be like that, lots of graffiti bands of male teenagers walking around... I don't really see this as much of a deterrent to pedestrians because the people crossing this bridge seem to me to be the people who have to get from point A to B and they don't own/have easy access to a car. I know the buses through that area are constantly "tagged" and people will get in fights about "owning" a seat on the bus.

by Joshua Davis on Jun 30, 2009 2:00 pm • linkreport

Steve, many props to you for doing this study.

I am curious how the data plays out in the long term. My experience with pedestrian bridges is that they are usually underutilized because the two story climb to get to them is a mental barrier as opposed to the perceived convenience of just dashing across the suburban arterial. Of course, in those cases the pedestrian isn't thinking about their safety. They never do. The mentality is more "I'm too fast to get hit."

Since the county spent the money, I do hope the bridge gets use for something other than a graffiti magnet.

by Cavan on Jun 30, 2009 2:07 pm • linkreport

i wonder if the bridge saves time in a number of cases, seeing as Route 50 is busy enough that 'mad-dashers' will have to wait on a fairly regular basis to actually cross.

It does seem ridiculous that the county would spend 8Million$ for so few pedestrians, however i have to imagine these aren't peak hours

by Allan on Jun 30, 2009 3:10 pm • linkreport

Good effort, Steve.

Too bad you didn't compile data for before the bridge opened, to see where the traffic is coming from (mad dashes down? PH down?)

by ah on Jun 30, 2009 3:21 pm • linkreport

@Allan; yeah, it was a sop to hispanics, but given how DANGEROUS crossing 50 is and how many people do it, it was a wise investment. One life saved and that is well spent money. Making it easier to use will take some work, and in that area crime/graffiti will take over in a week if you don't clean it.

by charlie on Jun 30, 2009 3:27 pm • linkreport

An expensive pedestrian bridge is built when the traffic engineers are unwilling to slow down car traffic enough to make the at-grade crossing safe.

It should be thought of as money spent on the convenience of automobiles, not on the safety of pedestrians.

by Ben Ross on Jun 30, 2009 4:00 pm • linkreport

@charlie: "A sop to hispanics"? This in the most diverse area in the city, with the largest Vietnamese shopping mall on the east coast just blocks away, not to mention many Middle Eastern folks?

Go back to Prince William County or wherever you come from.

by Simon on Jun 30, 2009 4:02 pm • linkreport

I agree w/ Ben Ross completely, "An expensive pedestrian bridge is built when the traffic engineers are unwilling to slow down car traffic enough to make the at-grade crossing safe. It should be thought of as money spent on the convenience of automobiles, not on the safety of pedestrians."

by Bianchi on Jun 30, 2009 4:39 pm • linkreport

Very eloquent, Ben.

by Cavan on Jun 30, 2009 4:50 pm • linkreport

Simon; go look at who lives in the housing development across the street. Eden center customers aren't the ones running across 50. Whatever. I'm sure to you all brown people are the same but the reality is the hispanic community drove that bridge -- and it is absolutely needed.

Ben, good luck trying to slow down traffic on 50 there.

by charlie on Jun 30, 2009 8:43 pm • linkreport

Pedestrian bridges are pedestrian failures. Make the cars stop. Better yet, bury the highway and make the walk parkland.

Dupont Circle is pedestrian safety, not these never-used bridges.

by Wayan on Jun 30, 2009 8:48 pm • linkreport

I live here and I gotta agree with Ben Ross, but it's route 50, what can you do? That road is a total car sewer, through all of Arlington, too. In another thread I suggested emulating Arlington's crosswalk with push-activated light, a mile east at the county line. I think the 7C to PH Drive stretch could still use 2 or 3 of those, bridge or no, synced to PH Drive so they don't hold up traffic much.

There was a huge "tag" on the south side staircase the DAY AFTER this opened, sad that keeping it clean is already not a priority for Fairfax County. But hey, who uses that bridge? Brown people and poor students. I'm in that second category.

by Scott F on Jun 30, 2009 11:40 pm • linkreport

Steve, next time you run this experiment, let me know and if I'm around, I'll bring you some banh mi. My treat.

by Scott F on Jun 30, 2009 11:45 pm • linkreport

I also agree @Ben Ross' statement: "An expensive pedestrian bridge is built when the traffic engineers are unwilling to slow down car traffic enough to make the at-grade crossing safe. It should be thought of as money spent on the convenience of automobiles, not on the safety of pedestrians."

I'm a big fan of the pedestrian/bicycling bridges over highways I270 and I495 where there is no existing stoplight. I'm a fan of some over-rail bridges (again, no alternative). Baltimore has some beautifully useless ped bridges but it also has some great shopping-mall style bridges which connect buildings at their own 2nd and 3rd floor heights (e.g. parking lots with shopping malls). Pedestrian bridges have a place, but using them to justify unsafe crosswalks isn't one of them.

by Jason Haynes on Jul 1, 2009 9:43 am • linkreport

The mad dashers are really stubborn, given the eight feet tall steel fences that now run the length of Route 50.

Indeed, the data is not nearly as useful as it would be without the "before" to compare it to, especially the "mad dashers" before. We know, I guess, how many peds got in accidents along this stretch in past years. So we'll have to wait some time to learn if this rate has gone down.

While I appreciate the value of re-framing your point of view on a subject and questioning assumptions, etc., I really think it's taking it too far to say this bridge was built for the convenience of cars. No one was seriously proposing slowing cars down or burying Route 50 or narrowing the road or anything like that. Nor will they (let's be real here, people). Instead, it was observed that the area is far too pedestrian unfriendly, yet there are still many many pedestrians who insist on making the crossing by jaywalking. This was causing a very unsafe condition for pedestrian and automobile driver alike. (Personally, I find the "mad dashers" to be extraordinarily selfish....) So a bridge is built to try to reduce the unsafe condition. Saying it was built for the convenience of autos is like saying bridges over rivers are built for the convenience of the water....

And, not that it matters, but indeed the vast majority of pedestrians in the area are Hispanic. I'd guess that south Asians and East Africans are the next most frequent ethnicities represented among the pedestrian population. I'd be interested to see any documentary evidence that the bridge was built as a "sop" to the Hispanic community. Having traveled and shopped in this area regularly for almost twelve years, I still have no idea about local politics.

by Josh on Jul 1, 2009 10:01 am • linkreport

Just curious- is that area deteriorating or improving?

by SG on Jul 1, 2009 10:13 am • linkreport

Josh, the overpasses over US 29 in Montgomery and Howard Counties are built to improve traffic on US 29. Any benefit to traffic crossing 29 is incidental - the purpose is to speed up 29. It's the same thing when you build a pedestrian overpass to get the pedestrians out of the way of fast-moving, heavy traffic.

by Ben Ross on Jul 1, 2009 10:36 am • linkreport

Wayan -- I can't think of a bigger waste of money than burying Route 50 there and putting a park over it.

And that's not even mentioning who would use a park with lovely views of Home Depot, Target, Radio Shack, etc.

by ah on Jul 1, 2009 12:15 pm • linkreport

I'm blown away by the casual disparagement of "brown people" by the posters on this blog. RACISM IS NOT OKAY. Got it? Thank you.

by Simon on Jul 2, 2009 10:04 am • linkreport

1+ Jason Haynes. Most Ped bridges=bad. Some = good. I like the River Road crossing of the Capital Crescent Trail, because it means I don't have to slow down or stop for an at-grade crossing. In this case it's convenient for me and as a side benefit is convenient for cars. But that's a bit odd because most people are going directly across on the trail, they aren't walking along looking to cross the street.

by David C on Jul 2, 2009 6:42 pm • linkreport

Just to clarify for those who are unfamiliar with this area. The bridge did not replace any crossings; it is additional to the existing pedestrian infrastructure--creating a new, previously unavailable (except for the mad dashers) option. And as the post notes, the County is also intending to improve the pedestrian infrastructure at Seven Corners itself. It has also already made some improvements to the crossing at Patrick Henry (although more could be done).
Another note from the ribbon cutting. There has not been a fatality in this area since summer of '06 (for the record, I support zero fatalities). So all in all, the pedestrian experience in this area is improving. Perfect? No. Better? Yes.
Also, since I was there, I can report that although there was a preponderance of hispanic-looking people crossing the bridge, there were many others--several of whom I had conversations with. And, also for the record, I intend to use the bridge not infrequently myself, and I am a caucasian with a 6-figure household income--neither brown nor poor.

by steve o on Jul 3, 2009 4:54 pm • linkreport

@Allan I'm not sure what you would consider a lot of pedestrians. Extrapolating from this (and making a lot of assumptions), I would guess about 600-1000 pedestrians per day are using the bridge now. That's likely to grow as people become aware (and if it's maintained). That's a lot more pedestrians crossing the bridge than cars that drive on my street. I'm not sure how much my street cost, however.

by steve o on Jul 3, 2009 5:04 pm • linkreport

This is VDOT's bridge, not Fairfax County's. Unfortunately, that's a recipe for neglect.

by Allen Muchnick on Nov 12, 2009 10:13 pm • linkreport

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