Posts about Fairfax
In late March, a foot bridge in Annandale disappeared altogether because Fairfax County officials said they couldn't afford to fix or replace it. On Wednesday, however, the county said it will build a new one.
On March 23, the county removed the bridge, which crosses a tiny stream in Annandale's Broyhill Crest Park, after determining it was in danger of collapsing. At that time, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross told residents that, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority, a replacement bridge would cost $80,000 and there was no money in the budget for a new one.
But in an April 20 email to the Broyhill Crest community, Gross said she and Frank Vajda, the Mason representative on the Park Authority Board, continued to work with Park Authority staff on finding a way to replace the bridge. "Leaving the community bereft of a pedestrian crossing for a long period of time was unacceptable," she said.
"I am happy to report that the Park Authority came through, funding has been identified, and the order for a new fiberglass bridge has been placed," she continued.
A prefabricated bridge should arrive in about four weeks, and the project should be finished in about six.
The trail between Murray Lane and Lockwood Lane where a new pedestrian bridge will be installed. Photo by the author.
"In the meantime," Gross said, "Park Authority maintenance staff will be working at the site to stabilize the stream banks and prepare for installation of bridge foundations prior to the placement of the new bridge."
Gross estimated using park maintenance staff instead of contractors for some of the work will save about $20,000. She can't say what the final cost will be because "we don't know what problems they might run into." The county will still have to hire contractors to install the piers and do some of the stream restoration work, she said.
Local residents who had spoken up about the unsafe bridge for years and urged the county to fix it had been disappointed that the county would simply remove it without any plans for replacing it.
Crossposted from Annandale VA. Also, this post was updated to reflect Penny Gross' comments on costs and savings.
In the fall, there were two leading options for new transit along Route 7: bus rapid transit or light rail. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) recently settled on plans to move forward with BRT.
Virginia's Route 7 is a major road in Virginia that connects a number of dense communities that already use a lot of transit. The road is also one of the region's oldest, with some sections dating back to colonial times. It runs through both Bailey's Crossroads and Seven Corners, some of the densest places in Northern Virginia that don't have direct access to a Metro station. Both also have a large number of low-income families, meaning much of the population is pretty dependent on transit.
Route 7 also connects a number of places that are becoming more urban, like Tyson's Corner and Falls Church, along with growing employment centers like Alexandria's Mark Center.
Right now, Route 7 is a fairly straight shot between Alexandria and Tysons. But heavy traffic slows down current transit options, and a connection via Metro isn't nearly as direct, which eliminates the time savings the train usually provides. Better transit for Route 7 would mean quicker journeys between these major and already dense destinations.
Here's the plan for Route 7 BRT
As part of its Envision Route 7 project, an effort to bring better transit to Route 7, the NVTC studied both light rail and simply expanding current bus service. Earlier this month, though, it picked a BRT system that would run from the Spring Hill Metro Station in Tyson's Corner to the Mark Center in Alexandria.
The BRT plan would include more frequent buses and dedicated bus-only lanes. Both would speed up bus trips for people who need or want to take public transportation along Route 7, with less waiting and less time sitting in traffic.
Bus lanes wouldn't be everywhere. In some places, like downtown Falls Church, the road is comparatively narrow and hemmed in by buildings, so new lanes wouldn't fit. But bus lanes will go in some of the places where congestion is usually the worst, like at the Seven Corners interchange.
Other ideas plan to improve the bus stations themselves by making them bigger and more comfortable for people waiting for the bus. This would also include changes that would make it easier to walk to a bus stop from a nearby neighborhood. Another proposal is making sure traffic lights can favor buses via signal priority, which would cut time spent waiting at red lights.
BRT won out for a few reasons, but the biggest was cost
BRT scored well on factors like how it would affect future zoning changes and overall trip times and speed, but the main reason NVTC went with BRT is because it's much cheaper to build than any rail option.
Planners think they can put BRT on Route 7 for between $220 and $270 million. None of that money has been committed yet, so leaders in Fairfax, Falls Church, and Alexandria will have to work together and with the state and federal government to come up with it.
The initial planning considered a few different route options that would require a system to veer off of Route 7 to make some connections easier. For example, a number of people surveyed pushed hard for a connection to the East Falls Church Metro Station, which is about a mile from the road. Another reason BRT won out was that it's easier to be flexible in planning its route.
Opponents often chip away at BRT projects
BRT does face challenges and pitfalls, and those haven't gone anywhere for this project. "BRT creep," for example, is when the product on the road don't exactly match the nice renderings of buses gliding along dedicated lanes because fears of vehicle congestion meant chipping away at project features. Other examples of BRT creep include shortening dedicated lanes or eliminating them altogether, or cutting the frequency with which buses run.
Route 7 near Seven Corners, with enough right of way to fit in some bus lanes. Image from Google Maps.
Another fear is that even when dedicated lanes go in, the desire to maintain a certain number of other travel lanes could mean a roadway that's impossibly wide to cross on foot. An example of that is in Rockville, where a desire to fit BRT lanes in with cars, parking, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks led to a road that is almost hilariously wide.
Is a Northern Virginia BRT network forthcoming?
The region's first BRT system, Metroway, is already running in Northern Virginia between Alexandria and Arlington. That route links growing communities in Potomac Yard and Crystal City to various Metro stations. Alexandria is also planning for BRT along Beauregard Street as well. Further down the line, Fairfax is thinking about transit solutions along Gallows Road between Merrifield and Tyson's Corner, and it may go with BRT.
BRT along Route 7 could link up with all of these services in a variety of ways. Here, the flexibility of buses could be a big help, as some routes may be able to use dedicated lanes or special stations even on different routes.
This is an opportunity where the region could turn the threat of BRT creep into a positive thing. Bus service already runs along Route 7 and there is even an express service. Frequencies on both could be increased (with the express getting all day service) and advertised to potential riders.
Meanwhile other features like bigger stations and dedicated lines could come along gradually. As Seven Corners adds more housing and a street grid, Fairfax could begin painting dedicated lanes and building nicer bus stations. This could also happen towards Alexandria and Tysons as sections of Route 7 come up for redesign.
We're still quite early in the planning stages. Right now, the governments involved need to think about if they're willing to fund the project. But if they can get it done, the project could be a big hit right out the gate since many communities along Route 7 already have what it takes to make up a great transit corridor. They just need the transit to prove it.
Residents in Annandale's Broyhill Crest neighborhood have been complaining for years about a dilapidated pedestrian bridge over a small creek, urging Fairfax County officials to fix or replace it. As of March 23rd, the bridge is gone, but there's no money for a new one.
The bridge connects is in Broyhill Crest Park, a neglected bit of green space with a former ball field that Fairfax County no longer maintains. The bridge is used mostly by dog walkers and people using the nearby community garden plots, and provides a shortcut to children walking to Mason Crest Elementary School.
People attempting to cross the creek between Murray Lane and Lockwood Lane are now confronted with plywood boards and ropes blocking access to the creek, a sign stating "the damaged bridge has been removed for safety reasons," and an explanatory note from Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross.
Gross sent an email to residents March 25th saying that she and Frank Vajda, the Mason District representative on Fairfax's Park Authority Board, had asked the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) to repair or replace the bridge and were told "the bridge could not meet today's standards and could not be repaired."
Replacement cost would be $80,000, she estimates. "No source of funding has yet been identified but we are continuing the search."
"While we had hoped that the old bridge could be shored up and used until replaced, the old bridge simply was unsafe, and collapsing, due to embankment erosion," the email from Gross continues. It was removed "in an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of Broyhill Crest [residents]."
Members of the Broyhill Crest Community Association (BCCA) met with Gross and Mark Plourde, FCPA Area 2 manager, in December 2015 to discuss the bridge. Their goal was to have it fixed, not torn down.
The BCCA members were told if the bridge had to be replaced there were two options. The bridge could be replaced with a similar structure that would be cheaper but more expensive in the long run, as it would be subject to the same erosion problems. The other option, preferred by the FCPA, would be a more expensive bridge with a longer span, which would be less costly to install as it wouldn't require as much work on the bank.
The BCCA has requested another meeting with Gross to discuss alternative funding solutions.
Broyhill Crest resident Rick Carlstrom has spoken to county officials several times about the bridge over the years. In 2005, county officials told him they agreed the bridge was in "bad shape" but said it would be at least five years before it could be replaced. He got the same answer from FCPA in 2014, and that time was told a replacement bridge would cost $20,000.
Last May, Carlstrom contacted Gross about the bridge and she came to take a look. At that time, she told Carlstrom in an email that "all of the 2012 parks bond money has been spent and we do not have the $40,000 needed to replace the bridge."
When he again complained to Gross and the FCPA in February 2016, he was told the schedule to replace he bridge had changed from at least five years to "a very long time" and that the cost was now $80,000 for a 40 x 6-foot fiberglass pedestrian bridge. (That estimate might include installation and work on the stream banks to stem erosion.)
Carlstrom then contacted a bridge company on his own, E.T. Techtonics, and received a written estimate of $24,800 for a 40 x 6-foot fiberglass pedestrian bridge, including delivery. These bridges come in pieces and can easily be assembled by two people, he says.
According to Carlstrom, the bridge was severely damaged when a tree-trimming crew hired by the county dropped a tree on it a year ago. He suggested the tree company's insurance policy could pay for the repairs.
"That is not a viable option in this case," because the felled tree didn't cause the problem, Plourde responded in an email to Carlstrom. Plourde conntinued by saying the bridge has been collapsing for years due to severe erosion of the stream banks, causing the concrete abutments to fail.
"I realize that this decision will have a negative impact on your community and I apologize for that, but the safety of park users must be our first priority," Plourde wrote to Carlstrom. "While I understand that schoolchildren use this bridge daily as a shortcut to and from Mason Crest Elementary, please recognize that cutting through a trail in the park is not considered an approved school walking route. Approved routes are public sidewalks and easements."
"I have lived in Broyhill Crest for over 20 years and have witnessed a shocking downward spiral in the maintenance of the parks in our older established neighborhoods," Carlstrom wrote in an email to Gross March 14th. He cited the neglect of a large field in Broyhill Crest Park that has become overgrown and unusable, as well as the poor state of the pedestrian bridge nearby.
"Fairfax spends 0.7 percent of its budget on parks, Carlstrom says. "The largest portion of that goes to golf courses and the installation of artificial turf fields. I find it extremely unfortunate that the county makes the installation of artificial turf fields, which cost millions, a higher priority than maintaining our existing park infrastructure."
A version of this post originally appeared on Annandale VA.
Capital Bikeshare is coming to Fairfax County this fall. Reston will get 132 at 15 stations, and Tysons will get 80 bikes at 14 stations.
The county's Board of Supervisors approved a $1.7 million plan to bring Capital Bikeshare to Fairfax late last year; the county bought bikes, docks, and related equipment after the deal was originally announced. Fairfax plans to have the stations installed and online later this fall.
In some Twitter Q&A earlier on Tuesday, the County noted that there are no current plans to expand the program to Vienna or Huntington "at this time."
Phase one of bringing Bikeshare to Reston is focused on the north side of the city since there's more of a mix of businesses, homes, and shopping areas above the toll road around Reston Town Center.
While shown as one on the above image, the Wiehle-Reston Metro station will have two Bikeshare stands. They'll be approximately a mile away from the next-nearest station, which is down Sunset Hills Road towards Reston Town Center.
Future expansion of the program within Reston will bring bikes to the south side of the Toll Road and "village centers," according to the County's Twitter.
The Bikeshare locations in Tysons will include a stand at all of the Silver Line stations, several at both halves of the Tysons malls, and a few other stations interspersed along other thoroughfares with new housing developments or business establishments. Five streets in Tysons received new bike lanes last year to help make biking in the area easier.
While Fairfax's new stations won't be densely packed in, they should make shorter trips through some areas easier, and likely more enjoyable than by car.
If you try to walk around in many parts of our region, particularly in the suburbs, it's easy to get the feeling that you're an afterthought, at best. Governments' actions in the recent "Snowzilla" blizzard show even more clearly how being "multimodal" is more lip service than reality.
In Fairfax County, sidewalks in neighborhoods and along major arterial roads were impassable a week or more after the storm. Schools in Fairfax, Arlington and other jurisdictions closed for seven consecutive weekdays, putting many parents in a bind. Children lacked safe routes to school and safe places to wait for buses.
This was no simple issue of having to prioritize; as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova told residents, the Virginia Department of Transportation, which plows all of Fairfax's public roads, was not going to clear the sidewalks, and the county had no plan to either.
Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.
Fairfax County wants to make it easier to walk, bike, and drive in Reston, especially to current and planned Silver Line stations. A new street grid and three ways to cross the Dulles Toll Road are part of the plan to make that happen.
The county's Department of Transportation recently kicked off the Reston Network Analysis, which is focused on finalizing the grid of streets necessary to support the coming development around three new Metro stations in Reston.
Ideas for near the stations include new bike lanes, adjusted traffic signals, and re-striped roads, as well as realigned or wider roads. It's also possible that Fairfax will build new roads in these areas.
One of the Reston-wide improvements is the Soapstone Drive Overpass , which will provide another connection across the Dulles Toll Road and a new way to get to the Wiehle-Reston East station.
There will also be a Town Center Parkway Underpass to provide an additional connection across the Dulles Toll Road to help relieve Fairfax County Parkway and Reston Parkway. It will also provide a direct connection from the transit-oriented developments to the north and south of the Reston Town Center station.
A November presentation also mentioned a South Lakes Drive Overpass. The connection would be similar to the Soapstone over pass, allowing for pedestrian, bikes, single-occupancy-vehicles and busses to cross the Dulles Toll Road without using Wiehle Avenue or Hunter Mill Road.
The study will also look at ways to improve four specific areas: Reston Parkway from Lawyers Road to Baron Cameron Avenue; Fairfax County Parkway at Spring Street; Fairfax County Parkway at Sunrise Valley Drive; and Rock Hill Bridge, which connects Loudoun County and Fairfax County over the Dulles Toll Road.
These areas are under consideration because they are important parts of Reston's transportation network and are currently over capacity or will be after the redevelopment around the Metro stations occurs. The study will also look at how to make it easier to bike and walk in these areas.
The Hunter Mill Supervisor has appointed the Reston Network Analysis Advisory Group to help staff develop and test ways to make the street grids better.
In 2015, the Fairfax Department of Transportation presented a report that summarized existing conditions by looking at traffic counts from mid-2015. Among the key findings in the report:
- During evening commutes, the intersection of Wiehle and Sunset Hills rates an "F" for level of service
- The planned grid of streets will make pedestrian access and mobility near transit stations better
- The report also published baseline vehicle volume levels near current and future Silver Line stations
Members of the public can learn about and comment on the project at a meeting on Monday, February 1 from 7-9 pm at Lake Anne Elementary School, which is at 11510 North Shore Drive in Reston. You can also contact project manager Kristin Calkins at Kristin.Calkins@fairfaxcounty.gov.
Eleven people on foot died in crashes in Fairfax County in 2015. That continues a rising trend since 2012, when the number was just four. What's going on?
NBC4 reporter Adam Tuss talked to some people about what's going on. A leading hypothesis in the story is that more people are walking around. That seems likely, but one element is missing: how poorly Fairfax's roads are designed for walking.
A number of people in the story talk about newcomers. One driver says, "I definitely worry about people who aren't from here," who try to cross when they don't have the light or not at a crosswalk. The subtext sure sounded like, "... people aren't familiar with the way we haven't designed roads for pedestrians in Fairfax County."
Just look at this intersection where Tuss is standing, the corner of Gallows Road and Route 29. It's about 0.6 miles from the Dunn Loring Metro station. And it's huge.
That Target is part of the Mosaic District, which was designed to be walkable and transit-oriented. The interior is beautiful, but to get there from Metro requires walking along a not-very-hospitable sidewalk on 6- to 8-lane wide Gallows, and then crossing this monstrosity, 9 lanes on both Gallows and 29.
VDOT widened both roads in 2011 in a project billed to "increase safety, reduce congestion and enhance bicycle and pedestrian access," but which prioritized car throughput over other considerations. (This recent article from Joe Cortright effectively summarizes the mindset that would let VDOT think this would "increase safety.")
At least there are sidewalks, though, and you can legally walk directly along the road. That's not always true elsewhere in the county, like at Tysons Corner. Some sides of many intersections there were never designed for people to cross on foot. Only a lot of people are, now that Metro goes there.
Lucy Caldwell of Fairfax Police told Tuss, "We have situations that have occurred near Metro [stations], where people sometimes don't want to take that extra few minutes, and they cross where they shouldn't be crossing." If someone has to walk a few minutes farther to cross a road, most of all near a Metro station, you haven't designed it right.
To its credit, Fairfax officials are trying to gradually fix these spots, but there's a long way to go.
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