Monday, June 24, 2013

Exploring Fairfax County by bike

The W&OD and Mt. Vernon trails are the two primary bike facilities in Fairfax. Both of those trails have become overcrowded. The W&OD Trail is one of the premier rail trails in the U.S. On busy summer weekends it seems that every cyclist in the county has decided to ride the trail. I think many of us are in a trail rut; we need to get off the trail and explore the county.

FFX Co Parkway Trail at Route 50
The county Bicycle Route Map contains hundreds of miles of bicycle-friendly roads where few cyclists ever ride. On Saturday we decided to take a long bike trip using the route map as our guide. We chose a route that included the Soapstone Drive and Lawyers Road bike lanes, the West Ox trail to Ox Trail/Rugby Road to the Fairfax County Parkway trail.

FFX Co Parkway Trail still unpaved between
Rt 50 and Fair Lakes Blvd
We wanted to check out the Parkway trail at Fair Lakes to see if it had been paved. Unfortunately the trail is still not paved. As we've reported several times in the past, the trail was closed for many months. After many requests to provide a detour VDOT finally opened the trail although it was still not paved. In April we were told it would be paved any day now. In general the Parkway trail is in bad shape. Fortunately there are plans to repave several of the worst stretches this year.

FFX Co Parkway Trail south of Lee Hwy
Bad news - The trail is in bad shape
Good news - The trail is not crowded
At Fair Lakes Parkway the trail diverts from the Fairfax Co Parkway but there are no wayfinding signs. We followed the Fair Lakes Parkway trail to West Ox Road toward Lee Hwy. At the entrance to Costco the trail crosses West Ox to the east side and continues across Lee Hwy to rejoin the Fairfax Co Parkway trail. At Braddock Road there is another detour that is partially signed.

We continued on the Fairfax Co Parkway trail all the way to Burke Centre Parkway where there is another FFX Co Parkway trail
Rt 123/Burke Centre Parkway
FFX Co Parkway detour signs
detour along Burke Centre Parkway and Route 123. We did see a couple of signs showing a detour route, but not enough for someone who isn't familiar with the area.

We had lunch in Burke where we saw two bike racks installed incorrectly, a common theme in the county. After lunch we returned to Route 123 where we headed north for a short stretch and then followed a route on the map along very quiet neighborhood streets, a good alternative to riding on the 123 trail that is in very poor condition as you approach Braddock Road and GMU.

We ended up on Sideburn Road where we headed north to Braddock Road and on to GMU. We rode the bike lanes along Patriot Circle to University Drive, through the City of Fairfax all the way to Route 50. We could have taken the wide sidewalk but we rode on 50 to Plantation Parkway. There's a connecting trail at the end of Plantation Parkway that leads to Five Oaks Road, which turns into Saintsbury Drive after crossing Blake Lane. We passed the Vienna Metro station and continued on Vaden Drive to the trail through Nottoway Park.
Incorrectly installed bike rack
at Burke Centre

From Nottoway Park there is a short cut-through trail to Tapawingo Rd. We followed neighborhood streets back to the W&OD Trail. Sometimes the W&OD Trail can't be avoided. Between Vienna and Reston the trail is about the only decent route. Usually later in the day the trail is less crowded.

During the 2 hours and 45 minutes we rode before reaching the W&OD Trail we saw a total of 15 bicyclists. It took less than 3 minutes to see that many bicyclists on the W
&OD Trail. There are many, many miles of roads and trails in Fairfax that are almost unused by bicyclists. It takes some effort to find them, but the bicycle route map is a great resource. We're told the new interactive route map is available as a smartphone app using ArcGIS. We'll write about that later.

Let's get out of our W&OD Trail rut and ride on some of the other bike-friendly routes in the county. Most county residents who are not familiar with the W&OD Trail have no idea how busy it is. They see almost no bicyclists. Why not get out and explore the county by bike?

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It's the only maintained trail option, as you pointed out. Most of the trails are an embarrassment, and our elected representatives seem to prefer building new roads to any kind of maintenance.
The Cross County Trail is a nice ride although the terrain can be rough at times. It is a lot less crowded than the W&OD or Mt. Vernon Trails...but shhh...don't tell anybody!

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