Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day bike advocacy events

It was appropriate that most of today, Earth Day, was spent on bike advocacy. The day started with an interview on the local TV show Reston Impact hosted by John Lovaas. We joined Anne Mader of The Bike Lane for a second show taping, this time we discussed biking to Metro and using the soon to open bike room at the Wiehle Ave Metro station that is part of the Comstock development Reston Station. The first show is viewable online.

Anne discussed some of the challenges of having a family, owning a business, and using bikes for transportation. She showed a good photo of her husband Todd taking one of their kids to school on the back of their cargo bike. Her kids assume they will be riding to school; it's just part of their daily routine.

Next I rode to a meeting at VDOT headquarters. I chose a route that would take me past the Fair Lakes/Fairfax Co Parkway construction project where the Parkway trail was closed for over a year. The trail is now open but still unpaved and there's still work underway. As you can see from the photo on the right, the trail was blocked yet again but the crew thankfully stopped what they were doing and guided me past. The project should be finalized in a little over a week.

The meeting at VDOT was to review plans for  temporary bicycle and pedestrian access on three projects; Stringfellow Road widening south of Route 50, Telegraph Road widening at Kings Highway, and a small project at Nutley Street and Route 29. The Nutley intersection is near the Vienna Metro station and is heavily used by bicyclists and pedestrians.

It was encouraging to see that ped/bike detours are an integral part of the plans for each of the projects, including the very small Nutley Road project. The Stringfellow Road project will last for a couple of years, so it's critical that safe, well-signed detours are provided for pedestrians and cyclists. Frog Branch  Trail and Big Rocky Run Trail are both affected by the construction and detours will be provided.

After the meeting I rode along Fair Lakes Drive to Stringfellow Road where the above-mentioned project is underway. I was a little dismayed that the trail was blocked just north of Melville Lane near where the northbound detour is supposed to begin. The detour signs were up but were covered. The crew blocking the trail stopped what they were doing and let me pass; I assume the detour will begin soon. Further north there were three road warning signs placed in such a way that they blocked half of the trail.

When I reached Poplar Tree Road there was a police cruise blocking the sidewalk and ramp on the NW quadrant. A policeman was manually working the traffic signal to try to ease the congestion caused by the one-way traffic on Stringfellow just north of there. Schools were letting out and traffic was a mess. I suggested there were other places for him to park, such as a spot adjacent to where he was standing or just around the corner. Maybe he'll think twice about blocking the sidewalk the next time he's there.

Finally I decided to check out the intersection of the W&OD Trail at Wiehle Ave. The crosswalk across Wiehle Ave is very close to the Sunset Hills Dr intersection. There have been numerous crashes at both the W&OD Trail crossing and at the
Sunset Hills/Wiehle intersection. FFX Co has long term plans to provide a bridge over Wiehle Ave at the W&OD Trail crossing. For the short term the county is considering "improving" the crossing by moving it to the Sunset Hills intersection and having trail users cross at the traffic signal.

I see a couple of problems with this solution. The signal timing is not favorable for pedestrians and cyclists, who legally can only cross at a signalized intersection when there is a WALK signal. At the Sunset Hills crossing of Wiehle there are 5 seconds out of every 2 minutes when trail users would be able to legally enter the crosswalk and cross.

The other problem is that there are many potential conflicts between motorists turning right on red, who rarely come to a complete stop and usually just look to their left. There is also left turning traffic from eastbound Sunset Hills that could lead to conflicts.

I don't think that it's been shown that crossing at the intersection is any safer than the current crossing. In fact, I think it's more dangerous. Since there is so little legal crossing time, many trail users would choose to cross when it's not legal, putting them at fault if there's a crash. We'll discuss our concerns with FFX Co.

Happy Earth Day!

Update: I didn't mention that I noticed today that some spot repairs have been made to the Fairfax County Parkway Trail. Several potholes and large gaps in the trail have been filled in with asphalt. Most of the trail needs to be repaved, but until then, these small spot repairs help make the trail safer. Thanks to VDOT for doing this work.

We have heard that VDOT has funds for doing some major repair work on the Parkway trail. Not enough to repave the entire trail, which would cost around $4-6 million, but enough to fix some of the worst sections.

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I've been biking to work most days for the past 9 months and I cross the Sunset/Wiehle intersection each way. I think the current location of the crosswalk is a better option than at the corner--at least at the current location if you wait at the median you can absolutely make sure that turning traffic sees you and stops for you.

There are almost always cars blocking the crosswalk in the southbound lanes and every day I try to think of creative solutions to this problem. Maybe a stop line before the crosswalk, or a button that cyclists could push that would make lights around the bike signs flash so motorists would notice that there are cyclists (and usually pedestrians) trying to cross. I'll keep thinking about it!

Thanks for your advocacy!

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