Posts about Fort Belvoir
The Virginia legislature is gearing up for its annual session. Each year is an opportunity for the legislature to fix some of the ways state law fails to provide even some of the most basic protections for cyclists, protections which exist in most other states.
For example, Virginia has no law requiring drivers to "exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian or the operator of a human-powered vehicle," and is one of only 4 states without this rule. Even though police in most jurisdictions with the rule rarely ticket or investigate drivers who hit pedestrians and cyclists, it should be a no-brainer to at least make it illegal to recklessly hit someone.
Likewise, Virginia has a rule against "tailgating" other motor vehicles, but not cyclists. Both proposals failed last year, with Delegate Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) casting a deciding vote against them. Constituents should urge her to support these bills, which are really the very least Virginia could do to protect vulnerable road users.
"Dooring" bill isn't quirky, it's essential
Senator "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax) has introduced a "dooring" bill to make Virginia law match Maryland, DC and many other states. In those places, it's a driver's or car passenger's responsibility to make sure when they open a door, it's not right in the path of a cyclist or other "moving traffic" (but really, it's cyclists). In Virginia, there's no requirement to be careful when opening a door, which means that if someone doors a cyclist, police can cite the cyclist for hitting the door instead.
Unfortunately, a Post article on "quirky proposals" in the legislative session highlights this one, even in the first paragraph. Reporter Errin Haines mentions this bill in more detail shortly after quoting Speaker William Howell talking about how he keeps a file of "the stupidest bills."
It's perhaps understandable that one might not immediately know the reason for the bill by reading the legislative summary, but this is actually an important issue that the legislature needs to take seriously.
If Route 1 has to be too wide, leave room for cyclists, too
WABA is also asking Virginians to submit comments on the Route 1 widening in southern Fairfax. Alex Eidson explained many of the problems with the proposal from an urban design standpoint, but as long as they're going ahead, the new road could at least safely accommodate bicyclists.
As Allen Muchnick explains, the original EIS for the road, which is basically the only way to bike through the Fort Belvoir area, had 15-foot curb lanes, enough for cars and bikes to share the space side by side. However, the Federal Highway Administration reduced this to only 14 feet.
Bike advocates would like to restore 15 feet, and stripe the lane as a 10-foot regular lane and a 5-foot bike lane. You can send comments using this WABA form.
The US Department of Defense has approved a $180 million plan to widen Richmond Highway in Fairfax County. The proposal is unlikely to reduce traffic over the long term. It's more likely to harm the community character, degrade historic sites, and make traffic worse.
Moving so many jobs to Fort Belvoir, far from effective transit, was a mistake in the first place. Unfortunately, that decision is out of local hands. But rather than impose an ineffective and undesirable highway, DoD and Fairfax County need to find a more creative way to address the area's congestion.
Communities along Route 1 have long fought to revitalize the corridor. The current plan, however, would turn Richmond Highway into such an expressway that it would make revitalization along its sides difficult. It would divide rather than knit together the two sides of Route 1.
Expanding the road would also harm adjacent historic sites like Woodlawn Plantation and the Woodlawn Baptist Church. It risks repeating the scale and sterility of the massive 10-lane expanse of pavement that already exists around historic Pohick Church to the south.
Lanes and other elements can be narrower
Even if the number of lanes grows, the highway doesn't need to be so wide. The current proposal for the southern portion of the project, from Telegraph Road to the new Mulligan Road, is for a whopping 148 foot-wide cross-section. That's enormous. It includes a 32-foot median reserved for future transit and overly-wide, highway-scaled lanes that are up to 14 feet across.
Several components of the highway could be a more reasonable scale without reducing the number of road lanes. Doing so would be more appropriate for the area, and would better accommodate other modes. Many arterial streets in the DC region have lanes of 11 or 12 feet wide. There is no reason why the lanes on Route 1 need to be so much wider.
It is commendable that the DoD plan designated land specifically for rapid transit in the future, but DoD and Virginia should go further. They should include transit in a dedicated right-of-way as a core component of the proposal. This could use existing buses right away. Perhaps the transit lanes could replace the new third lane of the highway in each direction.
Walking, biking, carpooling and living on post can all reduce traffic
Addressing the traffic generated by Fort Belvoir requires a comprehensive solution, including transit, bike and pedestrian access, as well as creative solutions specific to the military base.
Although it's true that many workers will commute to the base from too far away to walk or bike, the current plan would force even those who live nearby to get in their cars. That's a mistake.
While the plan appropriately includes a bike path and sidewalk, the width and speed of the road would discourage walking and biking. It would be so difficult and dangerous to cross such a wide road that few people would ever try. Furthermore, if the entrances to the fort are not designed with bicyclists and pedestrians in mind, it is even less likely that the paths would be used.
DoD should take advantage of Fort Belvoir's status as a military complex to reduce traffic congestion. One way to do this would be greater use of federal transit benefits and carpooling. For example, DoD could design parking policies with strong incentives for carpooling, especially for those with regular work schedules.
Fort Belvoir should continue to maximize opportunities for soldiers and their families to live on post. The base has earned praise and awards for its "new urbanist" military housing, and should expand those communities. This would reduce single-occupant vehicle demand and allow for a reduced number of through and turn-lanes, particularly in the areas most endangered by the current plan.
Narrowing the road in this manner, while maintaining the number of through lanes, would make the road more manageable for non-automobile modes, without disrupting car traffic too much. A narrower road would be safer, would reduce the necessity to take land from historic sites, and could potentially move more people, by converting car trips to other modes.
It is important that DoD and Fairfax County consider all options before hastily widening Route 1. The changes coming to Fort Belvoir are significant, but turning a community's main street into a through highway is not the answer.
Congressman Gerry Connolly and local officials are holding a public meeting September 26 in Prince William County to discuss extending Metro to Woodbridge.
It this a good idea? Like any proposal, it has pros and cons. The issue also depends greatly on whether you look at the problem from a transit planner lens or a public opinion lens.
Is actually bringing Metro to Woodbridge a good idea? If money were no object, probably. However, it would worsen capacity crunches in the core, and so really needs to be paired with a project like the separated Blue Line or separated Yellow Line in DC.
Is bringing Metro to Woodbridge worth the money? It depends what else you spend the money on, but if the same money went to other transit, expanding VRE and express bus options is probably better. However, the budgetary tradeoff is rarely between Metro and other transit of equivalent cost.
Is talking about bringing Metro to Woodbridge a good idea? Absolutely, because talking about how transit can best serve the people of Prince William County can only lead to better thinking about how to grow the Woodbridge area and general public support for transit. Besides, most likely if the state isn't planning a Metro extension, it would instead be planning some much more sprawl-inducing highway proposal.
First, let's talk about the actual tradeoffs in serving the area with transit.
Any Metro extension in this area absolutely has to serve Fort Belvoir. This is the largest focused job center in the area thanks to BRAC and will likely continue to grow. Putting any new transit here without going to Fort Belvoir would be foolish.
In particular, one factor that makes Metro much more cost-effective than other transit systems which serve suburbs, like BART, is the way Metro has significant reverse commuters. Instead of mostly empty trains out to the ends of lines in the morning, many people are riding those trains to federal facilities like those at Medical Center and Suitland.
There's already been talk about extending the Yellow Line down Route 1 instead of the Blue Line. This has the added benefit of helping the communities along the way, many of which are just the kind that could plan constructively around transit. Just like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor 30 years ago, there are aging and often struggling commercial properties which could become mixed-used transit-oriented communities serving people who work to the south in Fort Belvoir or to the north in Alexandria, Arlington and DC.
Building any new rail line, however, is quite expensive. Most of the area is low density. Meanwhile, there's another rail line already here: VRE, which goes to Woodbridge (and has a station not far from Fort Belvoir).
Why not make VRE run far more frequently? It could even combine with MARC to create Metro "express lines." With fewer stops, these would provide a quicker route to the Pentagon and downtown than any Blue or Yellow line extension would.
The biggest obstacle is that VRE doesn't own the tracks, which also serve as the primary east coast freight line. CSX is planning to run even more freight here, which is why they're expanding the tunnels on Capitol Hill as part of the National Corridor plan.
The freight trains don't necessarily need to go through downtown DC. In fact, it's probably better if hazardous material weren't being transported a few hundred feet from the Capitol. NCPC looked years ago at adding a freight bypass, but it's expensive and encountered political opposition in Southern Maryland.
Without building the freight bypass, Virginia could still improve capacity on the VRE Fredericksburg Line by adding passing tracks and a third track as much as possible. Some of that is already happening to accommodate more Amtrak service. Plus, improving this line can enhance intercity rail to Richmond.
Any added Metro service would increase the numbers of passengers coming into the central sections of the Metro system (Arlington and DC). As that ridership grows Metro will need to run the maximum possible numbers of trains on the Blue-Yellow segment, but to do that, they'll need one of the core expansion projects to separate lines.
That's either a new M Street Blue Line subway from Rosslyn to Georgetown to downtown, so the Blue Line trains don't have to merge with Orange and Silver trains at Rosslyn, or a separate Yellow Line tunnel from Southwest to either downtown or Union Station, so Yellow Line trains don't have to merge with Green at L'Enfant Plaza.
The other option is more express buses. Virginia has looked at projects which add special bus exits on and off the freeways, so buses can run in HOV or HOT lanes, get off and stop at a station near the freeway, then hop back on. Light rail could also serve the corridor.
These options are far cheaper. If the tens of billions of dollars required for such a project were sitting in a special bank account marked "TO BE USED FOR TRANSIT IN SOUTHERN FAIRFAX AND EASTERN PRINCE WILLIAM," then a combination of buses and light rail is likely the most productive use of the money. However, that's never the way it works, and planning a big transit project may be the best option compared to the likely alternative, which is planning big and destructive highway projects.
In the next part, we'll talk about the political and public opinion ramifications of talking about such a project.
whole blogs devoted to photos of people looking good while riding a bicycle. One could easily get plenty of similar photos on one of DC's main streets to or from downtown around rush hour. Tip: Froggie.
Shakespeare Not In the Park: The Shakespeare Theatre's free shows will move from summer performances in Rock Creek's amphitheatre to the company's new theater in Gallery Place. Marc Fisher decries the move. If only we had a big, centrally located park in which to hold productions...
Commuter lot on 8th Street? A parking lot underneath the Southeast Freeway formerly used by the Marines will become a public lot, reports Infosnack's Michael P. The current plan is to limit parking to 2-4 hours, but Michael thinks it should accommodate all-day parking (at market rate, of course) so area employees park there instead of shuffling cars around the neighborhood all day.
Ring my Belvoir: A Fairfax task force is recommending the county zone the area around Fort Belvoir for greater office, residential, retail and hotel development, reports the Post. But others worry that too much development far from transit will cripple the state's roads. How about this as a solution: build some transit there!
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