Sunday, August 9, 2009

New bike lanes in Reston

The planned road diet on Lawyers Road is finally a reality. The road was recently repaved and converted from a dangerous four-lane road with fast traffic to a three-lane road with five foot bike lanes. The bike symbols are not yet painted in the bike lanes but they should be in place soon. The road is a much different road than before the restriping.

Traffic was flowing well today as I rode up and down the approximately two mile stretch of new bike lanes from Reston Parkway to Myrtle Lane. The lanes end at Myrtle, just before the older, narrow two-lane section. Most cyclists headed east will turn left on Soapstone Dr to head to Glade Dr instead of continuing on Lawyers.

Traffic was much calmer than before the new bike lanes were striped. Instead of having the fastest motorists setting the pace in one of the two 45 mph lanes in each direction, the slowest cars now set the pace in the single through lane. Those who will dislike the results are the fastest motorists, the ones who likely cause the most crashes.

After riding along Lawyers for a while I turned south on Myrtle Lane to explore the roads south of Lawyers. The new bike-friendly Lawyers is a revelation; there is so much more territory to explore safely by bike now. I turned onto Running Cedar Rd, back to Soapstone, then to Foxclove Rd. I had forgotten that Foxclove continues south to Stuart Mill Rd with a jog past a chain across the road where motorists are not allowed to pass. One can take Stuart Mill Rd left to head to Birdfoot Ln and back to Lawyers Rd; a route often used by the Reston Bike Club.

Other options are to head west on Lawyers to Reston Parkway and the Reston South Park and Ride lot, Fox Mill Shopping Center, and the sidepath along West Ox Road that heads south to Route 50 and the Fair Oaks area.

I encourage everyone to check out the new, traffic-calmed Lawyers Rd and the new bike lanes. While it's a relatively short stretch of road, it could be a sign of things to come. There are many mean streets like Lawyers that could be tamed by adding bike lanes. While all lanes are bike lanes, some are better than others.

Update: There is one problem with the new lane configuration; the speed limit is still 45 mph. We think it should be reduced to 35 mph, which is likely the new 85 percentile speed. Traffic will move slower and safer, and a new speed limit would be a recognition of that reality.

There also need to be turn arrows for left turning vehicles at Steeplechase and Soapstone. Both of these changes can be made relatively easily in the future.

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This is fabulous news! I am looking forward to riding on it. Once people see the results they become more comfortable with road diets, so I'm confident that this will be a great precedent for Fairfax. Thanks to VDOT, Supervisor Hudgins and FABB for making this happen.

There's a bit of criticism about the new configuration in a Fairfax County Times story today. What's the situation with the so-called suicide lane (middle turn lane)? I haven't seen the new Lawyer's Road yet, but I live off Pleasant Valley Road (also in Fairfax County), which underwent a similar road diet years ago (before such things were called road diets apparently, and albeit without bike lanes), and they just put a painted median in the middle with an occasional center turn lanes only when appropriate -- so I quite don't understand why Lawyer's would be so dangerous -- Pleasant Valley Road now is much safer than old four-lane Pleasant Valley Road.
I will have to give it a try again.

My recollection is that the pavement on Birdfoot isn't all that great. Given the hill you can get going pretty fast and then have a hairpin turn at the bottom..
In the Fairfax Times article, the same people who were against the project from the beginning are continuing to disparage it, and the project isn't even completed yet. There are still orange barrels in the center lane, making the turn lanes unusable. Even so, I've been on the road a couple of times since the bike lanes were striped, including during rush hour, and traffic flows well, and it will flow better with the turn lanes functional.

Traffic is slower, but I happen to think that's a good thing. I think most people will be able to figure out the center turn lanes. There isn't that much traffic turning onto the unsignalized side streets, so that really shouldn't be a problem.

What I've also seen is many people besides cyclists using the bike lanes, runners, walkers, and others; people who are finally able to use the road without a car. What a concept.

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