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Crossing Route 7 will mean long waits in Tysons

VDOT is widening Route 7 in Tysons Corner to fit in the Silver Line. New signals will require pedestrians to use two full light cycles to cross the road. This is making pedestrian conditions worse just as Fairfax is trying to transform Tysons into a more walkable place.

Photo by magandafille on Flickr.

According to Dr. Gridlock,

Because of the widening, pedestrians only have time to cross half of Route 7 during a green traffic signal cycle. The new traffic signal requires that pedestrians stop on the median, press the signal button and wait for the light to cross to the other side.
As tipster B. points out, traffic engineers would rate an intersection as "failing" if, 24 hours a day, traffic conditions required cars to wait 2 whole light cycles to cross the road. Yet VDOT is deeming that pedestrian "level of service" to be adequate.

Instead of widening the major existing arterials, officials should focus on getting the street grid built so Route 7 could still fit the Silver Line without being wider. Parallel streets create traffic capacity without forcing enormous widenings. Routes 7 and 123, right under the Metro stations, will become the centers of the future walkable areas, but are already too wide to really be optimal mixed-use boulevards.

Fairfax is trying to retrofit a suburban "edge city" into an urban place at a scale never before attempted. The scale of the existing auto-centric infrastructure, such as the wide arteries and large interchanges, is the biggest obstacle. It's important the Tysons plan succeed. Virginia shouldn't make the task even harder by making the existing hurdles to walkability even higher.

Update: In the original post, it wasn't clear whether Route 7 was getting wider to fit more lanes or to fit the Silver Line. It's just adding the Silver Line, not more lanes, but the wider footprint makes it worse for pedestrians. Parallel streets could allow fewer lanes on 7 itself while maintaining the overall traffic capacity.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Took 7 through Tysons yesterday. I was under the impression the "widening" did not involve additional lanes, but was being done in order to fit the Silver Line in.

by Froggie on Jun 14, 2010 10:19 am • linkreport

I cross this intersection once or twice a week. From my office window, it looks like when you push the button to cross Route 7 it activates both crossing signals. There's one in the median and one on the other side of the road. I just watched two people cross and they made it all the way across just in time. I'm guessing if you're a slow walker, they installed one in the middle in case you run out of time.

A new problem though is that the waiting area in the median is right in the middle of the path cars are using to make U-turns from westbound Route 7 to eastbound Route 7 at that intersection.

This intersection has always been a mess for pedestrians though. There is only one crosswalk across Route 7. If you legally want to get from the corner with the gas station to the corner with McCormick and Schmick, you have to make it through three cycles of crosswalk lights, now four apparently if you're too slow.

by inlogan on Jun 14, 2010 10:20 am • linkreport

Froggie, the service lanes are being removed and the road is being pushed outwards. Overall it will be wider, and it will be four lanes in each direction instead of three lanes. The latest change involved pushing the three eastbound lanes about 40 feet further out creating a very wide median for the new Tysons 7 station.

by inlogan on Jun 14, 2010 10:22 am • linkreport

If the service lanes are being removed, then there isn't really a net increase in lanes, since you had 3 thru + 2 service before. Agree that the overall road footprint is wider, but again I thought this was being done because of the addition of the Silver Line.

by Froggie on Jun 14, 2010 10:33 am • linkreport

It is because of the silver line. They need to make a wide median for the stations and tracks. The're going to start constructing the Tysons 7 station soon. I'm not sure how far along the tunnel is yet, but it will be emerging eventually in the median of Route 7.

by inlogan on Jun 14, 2010 10:41 am • linkreport

Understood. David's post suggested that the widening was due to additional lanes being built, when that simply isn't the case here.

by Froggie on Jun 14, 2010 10:44 am • linkreport

I've added some stuff to clarify this point, that it's not adding more lanes.

by David Alpert on Jun 14, 2010 10:49 am • linkreport

Two light cycles to cross? What's the over/under on the percentage of peds that wait through two cycles? I'm guessing about 10%. Folks (me?) will either complete the crossing in one cycle or will outright jaywalk. And when a pedestrian gets hit the media can decide whether it was a due to an intoxicated illegal immigrant pedestrian, a rogue Metrobus driver or one of those "killer" SUVs. Only the few on this website will question whether the intersection is badly designed.

Maybe we could figure out a way to make it pedestrian friendly. Narrowing the crossing is one option. On my commute I have two crossings where the pedestrian signal is plenty long but it is only activated if you press the button; could such an arrangement work here? Is there "always" somebody crossing at every light cycle or are they infrequent enough that a longer signal could be button operated?

For me, "infrequent" means: there are about six hours per day when their is a pedestrian every other cycle and for the other 18 hours per day there is rarely a pedestrian.

by Joe on Jun 14, 2010 11:38 am • linkreport

Now, had the run the Silver Line in tunnels through Tysons....

by ksu499 on Jun 14, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport

One small redeeming factor is that there will be a foot bridge over route 7 at the Tysons central station. One reliable means in one spot to cross the road is hardly adequate, but it's better than nothing, I suppose.

by rowsdower on Jun 14, 2010 2:34 pm • linkreport

I really like that picture of Tysons "The Artificial Glow of Tysons Corner". And, in that picture at least, the 'wires' add to the overall experience. When I first saw it I thought it might be west Texas ... and reminded me of driving out West in my youth where wires such as these (and the road lying under them) were the only clues of 'civilization' in the great wilds of the deserts and the mountains of our 'West'.

by Lance on Jun 14, 2010 8:42 pm • linkreport

The footprint will actually be smaller, because you are removing the service lanes and new buildings will not include parking lots that front those service roads. Right now you have a small central median with two medians on each side between the main lanes and the service roads, each of which are/were two lanes wide. Now you will have a slightly larger central median (for the Metro) and one additional lane in each direction, fewer left turn lanes, no service lanes and 2 fewer medians. It is still an improvement any way you cut it. As for the pedestrian crossings, they might need more overpasses or underpasses, but you have to keep traffic moving, so it is not up to VDOT but the County to pay for these types of improvements, similar to what was done in Bailey's X-roads.

by xtr657 on Jun 15, 2010 8:17 am • linkreport

I'm not familiar with this location, but is it a 2-stage pedestrian crossing? Depending on how the signal is phased, while it might sound complicated it could actually result in faster pedestrian flow; and also pedestrian signals more in line with how the crossings actually function.

For example, how often do you cross against "Don't Walk" signals because you know you can get to the median safely... perhaps the approach you're crossing has a red, and some left-turn elsewhere is traveling across your second leg of travel. You can still cross halfway; and a properly-implemented 2-stage crossing can reflect exactly that.

by Bossi on Jun 15, 2010 12:31 pm • linkreport

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