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Posts about Sidewalks

Pedestrians


Ask GGWash: Is there any reason not to have a sidewalk?

There are parts of DC and other cities with no sidewalks. As pedestrian safety has become a higher priority in road design, DC and other cities have been adding them, though sometimes residents oppose the idea. Is there any good reason not to put one in? Do we have statistics?

Reader Phil L. asks: "Do sidewalks measurably improve pedestrian safety even in low traffic density areas, like residential neighborhoods? What would be a compelling reason to have a residential street without a sidewalk?"


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Erin McAuliff says:

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, "Pedestrian crashes are more than twice as likely to occur in places without sidewalks; streets with sidewalks on both sides have the fewest crashes." I think the reference for this is from the Federal Highway Administration.

From another angle, and with a particular focus on the aging, sidewalks may increase residents' perception of safety. Falling or tripping on poorly maintained sidewalks is a serious concern for the elderly, especially the frail, for whom one accident could be devastating. Falls are the leading cause of death from injuries for persons over the age of 65.

Ben Ross gives some historical perspective on why neighborhoods might not have them:
The original reason for not building sidewalks in suburban neighborhoods was to give the development a "high-class" non-urban image by discouraging walking. See Dead End, page 16.
Sean Emerson lives in one such area:
A reason I've heard people in my neighborhood (Woodmoor in Four Corners) use for opposing sidewalks was the preservation of the "rural" feel of the neighborhood. My neighborhood and several others nearby were once anchored by Indian Springs Country Club, so you can imagine that the clientele originally buying homes around here were doing so to escape the city and its associated "urban" infrastructure like curbs and sidewalks.

The streets in my neighborhood close to University Boulevard and Colesville Road were built in the mid-1930's with no sidewalks or curbs (these streets comprised the original development anchored by the country club). When the county installed curbs about 10 years ago, sone people complained that the curbs changed the "character" of those streets, and several think that sidewalks would make it worse. There are many 1930's era neighborhoods in and around Silver Spring which still lack curbs of any kind, much less sidewalks (Hillandale, North Hills of Sligo, and parts of Woodside come to mind).

Retaining a "country" or "rural" feel might not sound like a compelling reason to prevent the installation of sidewalks to most, but it is for some.

So does Nick Keenan:
My neighborhood, Palisades, had a protracted debate about adding sidewalks on a neighborhood street, University Terrace. Ultimately they were not put in.

Some of the arguments were expected: there are people who never walk, who don't see any utility to sidewalks. Landowners who would lose part of their front yard were predictably opposed. What surprised me was how many people expressed the viewpoint that sidewalks actually detract from a neighborhood. People even used the adjective "rural" to describe our neighborhood. I'm not sure they really knew what rural meant—Palisades certainly isn't rural— I think they were looking for a word that meant non-urban and that was the best they could come up with.

Like so many personal preferences, there's no right or wrong, but there's also very little room for persuasion.

Not all neighborhoods of that era lack sidewalks. David Rotenstein writes:
It's a mistake to generalize that all 20th century residential subdivisions omitted sidewalks or that the failure to install them was part of some larger, mysterious anti-pedestrian agenda. One Silver Spring subdivision (outside the Beltway) originally was developed between 1936 and 1940 and the subdividers/developers intentionally constructed sidewalks and used their existence as a marketing point in sales literature.
Coming back to the issue of statistics, Jonathan Krall writes:
The "safety in numbers" effect, often discussed in relation to cycling, also applies to pedestrians. Briefly, injuries per pedestrian fall as the number of pedestrians increase. This implies that adding sidewalks to an area would encourage walking and make that area safer.

However, it is difficult to square that result with the nationwide increases in pedestrian fatalities, happening during a decrease in driving and (I presume; I don't have data on this) an increase in walking

My hypothesis is that the shift towards transit (and presumably walking) that is so clear in data for millennials is leading to more walking in suburban environments along dangerous arterial roads. But that is just a hypothesis.

But Ben Ross challenges the premise that statistics can explain the sidewalk debates:
"Safety" is not the main issue here. It's equal treatment. Lack of sidewalk discourages walking by denying pedestrians the right of way. They must get out of way whenever a car comes by.
David Edmondson explains how just slowing cars down can improve safety:
It's likely not simply an issue of traffic volume but of traffic speed. Take, say, this random street in California. It's narrow but two-way and so traffic is very, very slow (roughly jogging speed). Despite its lack of sidewalks, it is a pedestrian-friendly street—I see unaccompanied kids on such streets all the time. Yet I would not feel comfortable walking down other sidewalk-free streets (like this one in Silver Spring) where calm traffic is not invited by the street's design.

I don't know of any studies regarding sidewalks and pedestrian safety on low-volume streets, but I don't think that's the right way to look at it anyway given all the factors that go into a street's safety. Risk is a quality positively correlated with increased volume and speed and sight-lines, each of which are themselves correlated with certain street design choices. A pedestrian is shielded from some of that risk by a sidewalk, but sometimes the risk is so low that the shielding is unnecessary.

We first ran this post about two years ago, but since the discussion is just as relevant today, we wanted to share it again!

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

Pedestrians


Missing sidewalks? There's an app for that

Something as simple as a missing sidewalk ramp can make an entire block of sidewalk out of reach to someone who can't step up onto a curb. Inaccessible sidewalks are all over DC, and researchers at the University of Maryland created a tool for pointing them out. Now, they just need you to help them do it.


If you use a wheelchair or a walker, how are you supposed to get around here? Image from Google Maps.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires governments to build sidewalks in a way that makes them accessible to everyone. But since the law passed in 1990, many city sidewalks and intersections may not have been redesigned. With no safe way to walk from one place to another, many people simply won't travel on foot, while others may have to take a longer or more dangerous route to get to where they are going.

Project Sidewalk, from the University of Maryland's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), is a tool that uses Google Streetview to rate whether sidewalks are useable by people who may have difficulty getting around on foot. That includes the elderly, children, and people with disabilities.


Rate this intersection for its accessiblity. Screenshot from author.

When you use the tool, you see a specific intersection in a DC neighborhood, and you rate it as passable, impassable, or somewhere in between. You can dive right into the work and let the program choose a street for you or you can sign up as a user which lets you track your own progress and choose which neighborhoods you want to audit.

Some intersections may be more passable on one side than the other. Other intersections may be technically passable because there's a sidewalk ramp, but an obstacle like a utility pole may block the way. You can also note places where the sidewalk is missing or the surface is so poor that it might as well be impassable.


An okay intersection. Green circles are passable while the pink one is not. Screenshot by author.

With the data that the project collects, the District Department of Transportation or other transportation planners around the world (the goal is to launch in other cities soon, and not just in the US) see where neighborhoods' greatest needs are in terms of being accessible for everyone. That could mean quick, small fixes, where repairing one part of a network would have a big impact.

I have audited two sections so far, each 1,000 feet long. In Spring Valley in DC's northwest quadrant, I audited 1,000 feet of roadway and found 13 passable intersections and 13 impassable intersections thanks to a lack of sidewalk ramps. On Girard Street in Brookland, I found 22 passable intersections, but at least two blocks lacked sidewalks despite having painted crosswalks once you got to an intersection.


Crosswalks but no sidewalks in Brookland. Screenshot by author.

Check out the site and tell us in the comments what sections you audited and what you noticed.

Pedestrians


Brookland is getting a new bridge at Monroe Street

By the end of 2018, a new bridge will replace the one that currently carries Monroe Street over the train tracks in Brookland. The project will include new sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, and traffic signals, all of which should make the area better for walking.


The proposed Monroe Street Bridge

The Monroe Street Bridge was first built in 1931, and the last time it got a repair and partial reconstruction was in 1974; today, the bridge is definitely showing its age. The bridge deck, it turns out, is cracked and depressed, and there is extensive damage and corrosion to the concrete. The District Department of Transportation started preaparing to rehabilitate the bridge back in 2014, and at a May 12th public meeting, a DDOT representative noted that the condition is such that the bridge superstructure will need to be fully replaced.

Construction will happen in two phases, with the northbound side closed and repaired first, followed by the southbound side. Though the bridge will never be completely closed, DDOT is evaluating a lengthy bicycle detour.

When the project is complete, the mostly concrete bridge will be replaced by a new three-span steel superstructure supported by the rehabilitated piers and abutments.

The walk across the bridge will be a lot more pleasant

The new bridge will benefit pedestrians the most. Sidewalks on Monroe between 7th and 9th, and even across 9th where recent construction has caused some damage, will be repaired. The exposed aggregate sidewalk, a type of sidewalk with exposed stone on the surface, will be replaced with full slabs of concrete.


Image from Google Maps.

The sidewalk on the east side of 8th Street between Monroe and Lawrence, which has also been damaged by construction and which has a sizable gap, will also be repaired and completed. Pepco power lines will go below the bridge, meaning the sidewalk won't have power line poles in the middle, and there will be better lighting for people walking.


Image from Google Maps.

Alongside the property on the southwest corner of Monroe and 7th, green buffers between the sidewalk and the street that are currently filled with gravel will get some landscaping.

Finally, the chain link fence that protects the railroad tracks below, will be replaced with an aesthetically more appealing—and harder to climb—plastic barrier.

Though the project area includes a section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail where a trail underpass was once proposed, changes to the trail will be minimal.

For people using the the MBT, the main improvement will be the addition of a timed traffic signal where the trail crosses Monroe at 8th Street. As abutments (the pieces that hold up the ends of the bridge) will not be extensively rebuilt, whatever opportunity that might have existed to run the trail beneath Monroe Street, as originally planned, seems gone.

Links


National Links: The housing market

Not everyone has recovered from the US housing market's collapse, you're most likely to try a new way of getting around when you move to a new place, and traffic studies usually mean faster roads, not necessarily better planning. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Images Money on Flickr.

Winning the housing game: The US housing market has recovered from the recession, but not everyone is on solid ground. Housing prices have increased dramatically in cities, but not so much in sprawling and rural areas. Maps in this feature show the stark differences. (Washington Post)

Moving moves us: People are most open to considering new modes of transportation right after they move into a new place, according to research out of Cardiff University. (CityLab)

Traffic studies make things worse: Virtually no development goes up without a traffic study, but are traffic studies bad for cities? When the results are plans that focus on moving the most cars quickly, pedestrians and other modes usually get the short end of the stick. (Fast Company Co-Exist)

LA, it is a changin: Los Angeles has long been known as the domain of the car. But before it was, LA had a huge transit system that connected far off parts of a large region. Writer David Ulin believes things are shifting back, and the region will be a nicer place because of it. (New York Times)

No more surging: With autonomous vehicles around the corner, Uber considering ending surge pricing. It won't happen right away, but the company expects that at some point, as its systems get smarter, surge pricing won't be needed. (Minnesota Public Radio)

Walk this way: Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov predicted moving sidewalks would be everywhere in our cities—by 2014, he said, New York would be covered with them. But the realities of wear and tear have slowed the technology down. (Inverse)

Quote of the Week

"We all, of course, have our own notions of what real America looks like. If your image of the real America is a small town, you might be thinking of an America that no longer exists." Economist Jed Kolko on the demographics of America today versus 1950. (Five Thirty Eight)

Public Spaces


Rosslyn's sidewalks are getting a makeover

Sidewalks are critical parts of where we live. They connect us to restaurants and businesses, make for a safe environment, and foster a sense of community. A plan for Rosslyn's future is focusing on making its sidewalks easier and more pleasant to use.


All images from the Rosslyn BID.

Cities today are focused on sustainability and on developing mixed-use areas, with businesses and residential sharing the same space. Passed in 2015, "Realize Rosslyn" is Arlington County's long-term sector plan to transform the city into a "live-work-shop-play" urban center. To make access by foot, bike, or car easier, one element of the plan is a call for smarter street designs wider sidewalks.

The plan also prioritizes expanded parks and public spaces and better access to public transit, including Metro.

In a separate but connected project, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) launched the Streetscape Elements Master Plan. During the planning process in 2013, the BID collaborated with Arlington County and Ignacio Ciocchini, a New York-based industrial designer, to develop the streetscape initiative that would extend the benefits of the public sector improvements envisioned by the larger plan down to the sidewalk and pedestrian levels.

To do this, the BID carried out a comprehensive look at Rosslyn's sidewalks to determine what was missing and what could help create a unified and active streetscape. The BID also studied examples of other dense urban districts that had successfully transformed their pedestrian environments.

After researching, the BID decided on what to install as part of the streetscape. New benches, newspaper corrals, and planters will improve the pedestrian experience; way-finding signs and a mobile informational kiosk will make it easier for visitors to navigate; bike racks will encourage multimodal transportation; and the mobile curbside parklets will support retail and dining establishments. Many of these elements are mobile, meaning they can be moved to where they'll best support the community at a moment's notice.

Combining form and function, the sidewalk elements also complement the unique identity of the neighborhood and the business and residential development happening all around us. For example, the perforated design used in many of the street elements, including benches and chairs, is unique to Rosslyn and derived from the window lights of prominent buildings on our skyline that were simplified and digitally transferred to form the pattern.


Benches with etchings of the Rosslyn skyline.

Currently, the streetscape project is in a demonstration phase: the public can see many of the elements at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and Oak Street. The hope is to eventually roll out over 600 elements in all of Rosslyn's 17 blocks.

A key aspect of this project was the proactive communication and collaboration between all of the stakeholders, from city planners and policymakers to business leaders and the public. While the Rosslyn BID leads the streetscape initiative, it has received immense support from Arlington County. The BID will use private money to fund the project.

The guiding mantra behind the Rosslyn BID's efforts has been to ensure that all development is people-centric and a reflection of the community's identity. Much like the BID did with the mobile vending zone pilot, the BID will be actively gathering feedback from the community and using that input to guide the next phase of the project as it expands to the rest of Rosslyn.

We hope that everyone who lives or works in Rosslyn—or who visits from DC and elsewhere in northern Virginia—will come and experience our new streetscape elements and let us know what you like, what can be improved upon and what additional steps we can take to build a better Rosslyn.

Pedestrians


How urban foresters made Canal Road's new traffic signal way more useful

In December, a traffic signal went up on Canal Road near Fletcher's Boathouse, meaning there's now a safe way for pedestrians and cyclists to cross that very recently did not exist. But if it weren't for the work of DDOT's urban foresters, a key sidewalk leading up to the crossing would still be totally useless.


This sidewalk used to be covered in growth that made it nearly impossible to walk. Photo by the author.

Lots of the District's 8,600 fishing license holders visit Fletcher's to fish in the Potomac River or C&O Canal. It's a popular place to rent bikes, boats, and canoes, and there are great places nearby to have a picnic or walk along the Canal.

For years, pedestrians and cyclists had no safe, direct route from the Palisades and adjacent neighborhoods to Fletcher's Boathouse and the C&O Canal. For example, someone taking the D6 bus to MacArthur Road at U Street NW would have to walk the half mile down Reservoir Road, then bravely cross fast-moving traffic at an unsignalized intersection across Canal Road.


Canal Road and the Clara Barton Parkway form a barrier to pedestrian and cyclist access to the C&O Canal National Historic Park. The red dots represent existing crossing points, and green dots are existing parking lots. The more southern blue dot is where the new signal went in. Base image from Google Maps, with labels by Nick Keenan.

This changed this past December, when DDOT, in cooperation with the National Park Service, completed a crosswalk and traffic signal at Canal and Reservoir Road. The walk or bike ride across Canal Road became safe and feasible thanks to the crosswalk, a pedestrian or vehicle activated traffic signal, and marked areas for pedestrians to stand.


Pedestrian prepares to cross Canal Road NW using new traffic signal. Photo by the author.

A recently unusable sidewalk near the new signal is back in action!

Even with the work on the new signal underway, the sidewalk along Reservoir Road could have been featured as abandoned urban infrastructure. The actual connection to the neighborhood had in some places completely disappeared. Brush, grass, vines and invasive trees had completely overgrown the sidewalk, and nearly all of the quarter mile sidewalk from V Street down to Canal Road had uncontrolled vegetation growth.

Anyone walking or cycling would need to use the street in many places because the sidewalk was so obstructed.


Photo by DDOT.


Photo by DDOT.

This past August, as the intersection project progressed, I contacted DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) and asked them if they could take a look at the sidewalk. UFA confirmed that the trees were in fact invasive and had not been intentionally planted. And from there, foresters from the agency set about restoring the sidewalk.

The first things to go were bushes and other vegetation along the sidewalk. Foresters also chopped down the numerous invasive trees that had grown between the sidewalk and retaining wall and, in some cases, in the wall itself. Stumps of up to 4" in diameter remained, but they were cut as low as possible. And, finally, foresters removed the leaves and soil that had accumulated over the years.


After cutting down trees and before removing shrubs and vines. Photo by DDOT.


After final clean-up. Photo by DDOT.

The traffic signal and other intersection improvements added a decades-in-the-making crossing to Canal Road for pedestrians and cyclists. It also makes things safer for the 58,000 drivers who turn down into Fletcher's Cove each year. But the less well known efforts of DDOT's urban foresters completed what pedestrians and cyclists really needed in order to make the connection useful.

Bicycling


15th Street's protected bikeway is a sidewalk now

At 15th and L Street NW, where construction is underway to turn the now former Washington Post building into Fannie Mae's new headquarters, the protected bikeway is also serving as a sidewalk. DC's policies say this kind of situation should be avoided if at all possible, and in this particular case, it could be.


All photos by the author.

By DDOT's rules, Carr Properties, the permittee doing the demolition and construction, is required to set up two separate temporary paths next to this work site: one to replace the closed sidewalk and one to replace the closed bikeway. Space for this would come temporary removing parking or moving (and maybe even closing) driving lanes.

But what's actually there is a series of signs, fences, cones, and plastic barriers establishing a single narrow chute that is partially blocked by fence stands.

On paper this is an alternative track for bicycles only, because pedestrians are admonished to cross at the intersections and walk on the east side of 15th. What's actually happening, though, is that people are taking the most convenient path they see, meaning cyclists, wheelchair users, joggers, people pushing strollers, and people on Segway tours are all sharing the space.

The rules say this shouldn't happen

A few years ago, the DC Council unanimously enacted the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013. Among other provisions, the act included a measure to protect the rights of people who get around on bike and on foot.

Since the rule went into effect, any permit application has had to comply with the following new District Department of Transportation rule: When construction permit applications ask to close sidewalks and bike lanes, the applicant must submit a plan for safe and convenient alternatives, and DDOT has to approve it before issuing a permit.


Detail of the traffic control plan.

The rules themselves are not radical: Maintain safe space separated from each other and other traffic for people who bike and walk, close parking and travel lanes if necessary to create that space, and add shared road markings and signage if cyclists must merge into general travel lanes. The standard "SIDEWALK CLOSED CROSS HERE" signs can only be used as a last resort when no other alternative exists.

There are alternatives here. The current traffic plan preserves five full-width driving lanes (two southbound, three northbound), and only removes a few parking spaces. Almost that almost half the space in this plan is actually occupied by the barriers themselves. The regulations allow taking more space from driving lanes, which could go a long way to easing the disruption.

Demolition on this site should be finished soon, then construction of the new building will take two to three years. DDOT has announced that Carr Properties and Clark Construction will host a public meeting to present the next steps for this project to the community.

Protected bikeways like the one on 15th Street and L Street are a big part of the growth of cycling in the District. This one should remain open and useful during the ongoing demolition and construction project.

Pedestrians


If students were cars, schools would have opened sooner

Many of the region's schools closed for a full week after the recent blizzard, leaving parents to scramble for childcare and students missing out on valuable classroom time. That's what happens when your storm recovery efforts prioritize making it easy to drive rather than giving everyone a safe way to move around.


Photo by Fionnuala Quinn on Twitter.

The historic storm hit the DC area on Friday, January 22nd. By the time the last flakes fell on Saturday night, just about everything was covered in over two feet of powdery, slippery, transportation-crippling snow.

It was soon pretty easy to drive, but not get around by any other means

As crews throughout the region got to work on their respective snow clearing plans (impressive work for which they deserve a lot of thanks), roads became passable and then completely clear. In contrast, sidewalks, curb cuts, and bus stops were often blocked not just by snow, but also frozen slush.

Some of the area's bike trails were cleared, but access points were plowed in, and the network as a whole was not rideable. Metro returned to service, but getting to stations was a dirty, icy, boulder-climbing adventure and plowed-in bus stops left people waiting often in very busy streets.

Without good options, the only choice left for most people was to drive, clogging our already strained roadways that the remaining snow had narrowed.

As the week wore on and roads became clear, adults returned to work. But faced with the conditions that would have left children walking and waiting for buses in the streets, school officials decided there were not enough safe routes to school, and kept most of the region's schools closed for the entire week.


DC's 5th and Sheridan NW, the Tuesday after the storm. To the right on 5th (the street going left to right) is Coolidge High School. To the left is Whittier Education Campus. Photo by Julie Lawson.

This didn't happen randomly. Arlington is an example of why.

These conditions were a result the fact that our systems for clearing snow focus first on getting cars moving again. People walking and biking are, at best, an afterthought in the region's snow clearing plans.

For example, Arlington posts a clearly thought-out snow operations plan on their snow operations web page:

  • Phase I: During the storm, county crews keep the arterial and collector roads as functional as possible to make sure that emergency access like EMS, fire, police, utility trucks etc. could still get through.
  • Phase 2: Immediately after the storm, they keep working those major corridors, widening lanes so everybody else could start driving again, too.
  • Phase 3: When those are under control they start working their way into residential streets.
Arlington has no unified public plan for clearing the rest of the transportation network - the sidewalks, trails, curb cuts and bus stops that are necessary for people walking, biking and taking transit.

Private individuals are responsible for clearing the majority of sidewalks, and various agencies of the County government are responsible for some routes. Apparently, there are designated "safe routes to schools" that are meant to get priority in snow clearing, but those routes are not made public and are not given priority if the schools are closed. However, many stretches are left without anyone to clear them, unless the County chooses to on an ad-hoc, complaint-based basis.

For example, the stretch of sidewalk along Lynn Street between the intersection of Lee Highway and the Key Bridge is along National Park Service Property. After this storm it took more than a week before the snow and ice were clear along this stretch, which cut off the main sidewalk access between Rosslyn and DC.


Arlington's "Intersection of Doom," at Lee Highway and N Lynn Street, just south of the Key Bridge. People walking and biking would need to climb over this snow/ice mound to get to the iced over sidewalk that leads to Key Bridge. Photo by the author.

When this snow plan was implemented, the streets were cleared, but the sidewalks and bus stops students would have needed to get to school were covered, often in mounds of snow deposited by snow plows. Instead of forcing kids to walk or wait for buses in the street, officials closed most of the region's schools for the entire week after the snow storm, forcing students to lose valuable instructional time at the end of the grading period.

Meanwhile, the region began to get back to work. By Wednesday, after three full days of being closed to allow the region to focus on digging out, most business were open and workers were working.

There are other ways to do this

During and immediately after the late winter blizzard of 1996 that dumped about the same amount of snow as last week's storm, New York City shut down all streets in Manhattan to private cars. The only vehicles on the roads were emergency equipment, garbage trucks, transit vehicles and of course snow plows.

NYC-DOT knew it could never get the city up and running again quickly if they decided that their first priority was to make it possible for everybody to drive their cars again. Roads were opened to traffic only after the sidewalks and bus stops were clear. In New York this took two days.

Arlington could do the same thing: Clear just enough of the roadway to accommodate emergency and service vehicles and eventually transit, but not more. With virtually no cars on the roads, people could at least get around on foot without putting their lives in danger.

And because transit and school bus stops would be cleared and almost no traffic on the road, these buses could actually get through and run on normal schedules. All kids, walkers and bus riders alike, would have a safe way to get to school.

Arlington does transportation well… when it doesn't snow

Fortunately, a good model exists right under our own noses. Arlington's transportation program looks at mobility as a public right, and sees all modes as legitimate. This includes mobility for people in cars, but doesn't leave out people on bikes, people on transit and people on foot.

Arlington's snow operations planners should try looking at mobility the same way when they plan for snow removal.

In this storm we saw a snow removal plan focused on getting cars back on the road. That happened by Wednesday. But cars don't occupy desks at schools.


After snow storms, it'd be smart to prioritize getting schools up and running. Photo by Arlington County on Flickr.

Our public schools closed for a week because there wasn't a safe way for kids to get to them. We need a transportation system that serves the students, whether they drive, ride the bus, walk or bike to school.

We didn't have that after the recent blizzard, so we didn't have school.

Transit


Walking and transit score high in Virginia's transportation rankings

Scores that evaluate transportation projects in Virginia recently came out, and many of the highest belong to projects focused on walking and transit. That's because they provide the most bang for taxpayers' bucks.


West Broad Street and Oak Street in downtown Falls Church. Image from Google Maps.

In Northern Virginia, projects that focused on improving walking conditions and transit service came out on top in statewide rankings for cost-effectiveness. These included:

  • Sidewalk work in downtown Falls Church between Park Avenue and Broad Street (#2 statewide)
  • More marketing of transit and carpooling in the I-66/Silver Line corridor (#3)
  • Improving crossings at several intersections on Broad Street in downtown Falls Church, including at Oak Street (pictured above) (#8)
Passed in 2014, a state law commonly known as HB2 requires Virginia's Department of Transportation to use an objective and quantitative system to score transportation projects. The idea is to make planning more transparent, but high score doesn't guarantee funding nor does a low score preclude it.

In the most recent rankings, 287 transportation projects from across the state received two different scores, one based on the total projected benefit and one based on the benefit divided by the total funding request.

Each of the projects above would cost between $500,000 and $1 million, while most other projects would cost many times that amount. For total project benefits, the addition of High-Occupancy/Toll lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway has the highest score, but it requires a $600 million public investment.

Here's more detail about the law

Virginia law requires that "congestion relief" be the primary metric in scoring projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Scores also account for a project's environmental impacts, how it fits with local land use plans, and what it might do for economic development.

Three agencies developed the evaluation system: Virginia Department of Transportation, the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, the and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The agencies have posted a wealth of data on the HB2 website. You can search for projects in various ways, including by jurisdiction. Data points such as whether or not a project has bicycle facilities, and how it is coordinated with nearby development projects, are posted in an easily navigable format.

What do you think of the analyses? Is there a project in your area that scores higher or lower than you would have expected?

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