Monday, December 24, 2012

Route 1 widening at Fort Belvoir

The Transportation Planning Board (TPB) was recently asked to amend the long range plan to include the widening of Route 1 from Fort Belvoir to Mt. Vernon Highway. The road will be widened to 6 lanes with a wide median that can accommodate future transit. Currently a 14-foot wide outside lane and a 10-foot shared use path are included in the design. The project is being funded and managed by the Federal Highway Administration. See the project website.

Route 1 widening project extent
Allen Muchnick of Virginia Bicycling Federation testified before the TPB asking that bike lanes be added to the project, by narrowing the travel lanes to 11 feet and creating 4-foot bike lanes. With a design speed of 50 mph, a 14-foot outside lane is not adequate. Even 4-foot bike lanes are not sufficient given the high speed of traffic, but they are better than 14-foot wide outside lanes. At a minimum Allen asked that the outside lane width be increased to 15 feet.

Several of the TPB members supported Allen's comments, including DC Councilman Mendelson and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Hudgins. The FHWA rep was asked to respond to their concerns at the January 23 TPB meeting. We'll be asking cyclists to send comments to the TPB in support of bike lanes in this project.

Here's Allen's statement. He modified the statement after the meeting, noting that the median is 32 feet wide and the 10-ftoo wide sidepath will not meander:

Virginia Bicycling Federation
Statement to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board
by Allen Muchnick, VBF board member, December 19, 2012
I’m Allen Muchnick with the Virginia Bicycling Federation, and I’m speaking in reference to Item 15 on today’s TPB agenda, a request by the Federal Highway Administration to amend the TIP to include funding for widening US Route 1 through Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County.

Sadly, this proposed highway widening project illustrates a serious shortcoming of the TPB’s Complete Streets Policy and a failure of both of the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation to adhere to their own long-established bicycle accommodation policies.

This 3.4-mile segment of US Route 1 is the planned route of four, nationally significant, long-distance bicycling routes, three of which run from Maine to Florida; namely, AASHTOs US Bicycle Route 1, the East Coast Greenway, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, and the Adventure Cycling Association’s Atlantic Coast Bicycle Touring Route. As the Commonwealth of Virginia’s only north- south bicycling route (and even as the sole north-south bicycling route through the huge Fort Belvoir army base), this project should adequately accommodate experienced long-distance bicyclists who prefer to travel on the roadway which is considerably faster, much better designed and maintained, and arguably safer than the meandering shared-use path which will also be included in this project.

Since the mid 1990s, VDOT planning studies for the Route 1 corridor through Fairfax and Prince William Counties have consistently specified 15-foot wide curb lanes to accommodate bicycling, and 15-foot wide curb lanes for bicycling were specified in VDOT’s 2003 Route 1 Location Study and in the three draft Environmental Assessments which the FHWA endorsed in 2003. While 15-foot curb lanes are--at best-- a minimal bicycling accommodation on a roadway with 50 MPH design speed, the space could be striped as 4-foot bike lanes adjacent to 11-foot travel lanes to facilitate motorist overtaking and the comfort and safety of roadway bicyclists.

Unfortunately, in designing the current project, the FHWA has narrowed the long-planned wide curb lanes to 14 feet. While non-cyclists may consider this 12-inch narrowing to be a minor, those lost inches have a big impact on a bicyclist sharing a travel lane with 50 MPH traffic. It’s illogical to consider a 12- foot travel lane to be a minimal accommodation for motor vehicles, yet maintain that, by adding only two more feet, a bicyclist, who tracks at least 3 feet wide and deserves at least 3 feet of safe passing clearance, can safely share that space laterally with 50 MPH traffic. For decades, both FHWA and VDOT have issued policies and guidance for accommodating bicyclists on high-speed roadways. As early as 1990, VDOT’s bicycle accommodation policy called for routinely providing appropriate bicycling accommodations on US Bicycle Route segments, and in 1994 FHWA published guidance that a 15-foot wide curb lane is a bare minimum bicycling accommodation on a 50 MPH roadway.

Providing 15-foot curb lanes in this project does not require a wider roadway, although the proposed 27- foot landscaped median provides ample space for doing so. Instead, 15-foot curb lanes can be achieved simply by shaving 6 inches from the inside and middle travel lanes. We ask the TPB to require FHWA to provide at least 15-foot curb lanes for bicycling as a condition for adding this project to the TIP.

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