Realize Rosslyn Plans must address "Intersection of Doom"

What is Realize Rosslyn?

Realize Rosslyn is a major planning effort currently underway to update the Rosslyn Sector Plan. For over a year, the County has been holding meetings, studying travel patterns, examining viewsheds and gathering feedback from all sorts of people who live, work or play in and around Rosslyn.

The current phase of the project has produced a draft policy framework which the team is currently gathering feedback on. This framework lays out the overall policy that will shape the final Sector Plan. The team has done some great work and the vision for Rosslyn is really coming together.

The Missing Piece

Despite all of the great work in the Realize Rosslyn Draft Framework, there is one item that is conspicuously missing. Ask anyone who bike commutes in Arlington for a list of things they would like to see fixed in Rosslyn, and one item jumps out above all others. When I was gathering feedback in the Washington Area Bike Forum, it rose quickly to the top and is nicely summed up by Robert Cannon in the pictured post. Fix the Intersection of Doom.

The infamous intersection being discussed is Lee Highway and N Lynn Street at the North end of Rosslyn just before Key Bridge. Pedestrians and cyclists connecting from the Mount Vernon Trail to the Custis Trail or from the Custis Trail wanting to cross Key Bridge have to go through this intersection. Passing through the same space is two lanes of traffic trying to exit I-66 and turn right onto Lynn Street in order to be able to cross Key Bridge. Both groups have a green light at largely the same time. Cyclists and pedestrians get a "leading interval" where the walk sign has turned, but the light is not yet green for cars, but without a "no turn on red" sign for the cars, even this period of time is not sancrosanct for the cyclists and pedestrians.

The "doominess" of this intersection is not just anecdotal. According to Arlington County Police statistics, from 2009 to 2013, it was the #1 site for bicycle and pedestrian collisions. In 2011, there were three cyclists injured in a single week (1, 2 and 3).

Potential Solutions

Make no mistake, this intersection is challenging to fix. Arlington County, VDOT, the National Park Service and private individuals all own land right around this intersection. Any construction work in the area has the potential to significantly snarl bike, ped and auto traffic. There are viewsheds that people would like to protect, sensitive habitats, mature trees, and significant grades to be contended with. That said, a solution needs to be found - the status quo is cleary unsafe.

The N. Lynn Street Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail Safety Improvements project is supposed to help the intersection, but it is not a long-term fix. It will improve sight lines, shorten crossing distances and provide some additional space for bikes and peds at this spot, but it will not fix the root issue - a large crowd of bikes, peds and cars all have a green light at the same time. In addition, it is LONG delayed. The last time their was a public meeting, construction was slated to begin in 2013. The current schedule has it beginning in 2015.

The Rosslyn Circle Study examined ways to relocate the trail so as to avoid these intersections. The Rosslyn Esplanade Study examined the potential for tunneling under Lynn Street. Local blogger Steve Offut proposed re-locating the I-66 off ramp. Many folks think the proposal for an air rights development rights over I-66 provides a great opportunity to fix the issue.

Whatever fix is decided on, what Realize Rosslyn needs to recognize is that their is a problem. It is great that the plan calls for new trails and cycle tracks, it is great that the plan calls for new parks and wider sidewalks, but the plan must also recognize that our current trail is unsafe and include a policy to implement a real, long-term fix.

Speak up

There is an Open House scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday March 12th from 6pm to 9pm at the Rosslyn BID offices. Please go and tell them that any plan for Rosslyn for the next 20 years must address trail safety. The County Board will be voting on a "request to advertise" the Policy Framework at the Board Meeting on Tuesday March 18th meeting which begins at 6:45pm at the County Board Room in Courthouse. Please consider coming out and letting the Board know that this is an unacceptable oversight in the plans for Rosslyn. If you can't make it to a meeting, you can also send your thoughts to the County Board, the County Manager and the Principal Planner for the Realize Rosslyn Effort.

Hey Pikers, Come Meet Alan Howze

Please accept this invitation to come meet Alan Howze, candidate for Arlington County Board in the election to fill Chris Zimmerman's seat. Alan is a great progressive voice, community leader and strong supporter of the Columbia Pike Revitalization.

The event is from 2pm to 4pm this Sunday (March 9th) at Barcroft Community House. See the invitation below for full details.

Still No Money in Budget to Plow Arlington's Trails

Just inquired and received a response on any potential trail plowing this winter:

"I've been asked by the County Manager to respond to your question about the status of Arlington’s snow operations plan vis a vis trail clearing. As you stated, staff did prepare a proposal last winter for the County Manager’s consideration that would expand the County’s snow clearing operations to include 13 miles of high-priority trails. Generally, the proposal was to fund, for a single winter, a test program that would have paid a contractor approximately $10,000 per snow event to clear 13 miles of priority trails. (During a typical winter – if there ever is such a thing – snow clearing operations are mobilized about ten times.) Thus this proposal would have reflected an approximately $100,000 budget commitment."

"Given the County’s financial status at that time, it was decided that this could not be accommodated in the FY2014 budget proposal. Nonetheless, the proposal will be raised again during this next fiscal year’s budget discussions, taking place in the coming months. If the budget change request is accepted, I will be sure to brief the Bicycle Advisory Committee accordingly."

If you agree that Arlington's Trails are important transportation corridors and should therefore be cleared of snow, please contact the County Manager and County Board to express your support. At best, perhaps this can be funded from the current fiscal year's closeout funds. At worst, let's start the pressure now to get this included in next fiscal year's budget.

Trail plowing has been requested by Arlington's Bicycle Advisory Commission for years and was the subject of several blog posts and news articles last Fall.

Arlington Needs to Start Plowing its Shared Use Paths

Please pardon a brief detour from my passion for Columbia Pike to my passion for cycling.

I wanted two highlight two questions and answers from today's DES Snow and Streets Chat on Facebook:

Q by Me: Arlington often talks about how bicycling is an important part of our transportation network, and yet our bicycling infrastructure rarely if ever gets plowed, even major cycling thoroughfares like the Custis trail that continue to see hundreds of riders a day despite the weather. Minneapolis manages to keep their bike infrastructure plowed. When will Arlington?

A: Currently there are no immediate plans to plow or treat primary commuting bike trails, but our planners, Department of Parks and Recreation and DES operations staff continue to strategize how to improve the bike commute. The County will be looking to coordinate with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority for priority to treat the WO&D Trail, which is not maintained by Arlington.


Q by MB: I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed by DES' inaction on plowing our primary trails. As people within DES can tell you, thousands of Arlingtonians use those trails every day to get to work. By failing to plow the trails, DES puts more people onto the streets in cars. Is that really what you want, during a snow event?

A: As previously asked by Chris, our planners, Department of Parks and Recreation and DES operations staff continue to strategize how to improve the bike commute. There are many significant safety and environmental concerns for bikers and our trails that we have and are attempting to find the best solution.

This is one of many reasons Arlington continues to languish at Silver as a Bicycle Friendly Community and it directly contradicts the policy laid out in the Master Transportation Plan:

Snow Removal – Snow stored on bike lanes or shared‐use paths impedes bicycling and walking. Program elements include:
• Remove all snow from bike lanes.
• Clear snow from primary shared‐use paths (including the I‐66/Custis Trail and the Route 110 Trail) and make sure that snow banks do not block paths where they cross plowed roads.
• Primarily recreational shared‐use paths, including Donaldson Run Trail and Lubber Run Trail, should be left unplowed for skiing and other winter use.

The Bicycle Advisory Commission has brought this up regularly with staff over the course of several years and seen no progress. If Arlington is truly serious about walking and cycling as legitimate forms of transportation in the County they need to start treating walking and cycling infrastructure as transportation infrastructure not recreational amenities.  If you agree, please take a moment to let the County Board know.

Understanding the upcoming Columbia Pike Weekend Closure

The first weekend in November (the 3rd and 4th), VDOT will be temporarily closing a small section of Columbia Pike that runs underneath the Washington Blvd bridge so that a portion of that bridge can be safely demolished (weather permitting).  The closure will begin late Friday night and normal traffic flow will return by 4:30am Monday morning.  During this time, a number of detours will be in effect.  Columbia Pike traffic will be routed up temporary ramps to a temporary at-grade intersection with Washington Blvd with a temporary stop light.  In addition traffic heading North/West on Washington Blvd (toward Clarendon) that is trying to go Westbound on Columbia Pike will be detoured up to the Second Street exit and shunted through the Penrose neighborhood down South Courthouse Road.

Columbia Pike Detour:

Green arrows indicate the detour for Columbia Pike and Blue arrows indicate existing movements that will remain open during this work.

N/W-bound Washington Blvd to W-bound Columbia Pike Detour:

VDOT says that all modes will be accommodated through the detour (cars, bikes and pedestrians. Access to Columbia Pike through South Queen Street will be closed during the weekend, all traffic in and out of the Arlington View will have to be via South Quinn Street.

For more information on the Route 27/244 Interchange Project that is rebuilding the Washington Blvd bridge over Columbia Pike, see the project webpage.

Signs of Life at Columbia Place Development

Their has been significant activity in the County permitting system relating to the long dormant Columbia Place project, including new building permit applications and approval progress on others. One of the first projects approved under the Columbia Pike Form Based Code back in 2009, Columbia Place ran afoul of the financial crisis and did not begin construction. There is no word on when construction might begin, but the activity certainly bodes well for movement on the project.

The project consists of 2,960 square feet of retail, 14 residential condo units and 8 townhouses on the empty parcel of land behind the Columbia Pike Rite Aid. The project will begin the construction of the missing segment of 11th St between Walter Reed Drive and Edgewood Street; at the completion of this project, 11th St will be one way eastbound. When and if the Rite Aid building redevelops under the Form Based Code, that project will provide additional land to finish the street resulting in a final 2-way cross section with parking on both side. The building heights vary from 5 stories at the corner of Walter Reed and 11th St down to 3.5 stories as the project approaches the surrounding neighborhood.

As with most Form Based Code projects, Columbia Place will result in significant streetscape improvements including 13ft sidewalks on Walter Reed, 19ft sidewalks on Edgewood and 14ft sidewalks on the new 11th St all with street trees. Any utilities along the edge of the project will be undergrounded and on-street parking will be added on Walter Reed Drive.

Improving Part II - Trails

This is part II in a series on improving by updating the underlying OpenStreetMaps mapping data. See Part I for the background.

Adding Trails to via OpenStreetMaps
Step 1 - Find a place that needs changing

For this tutorial, I'll add the trail through Rock Springs park which connects the broken piece of George Mason Drive between Yorktown Blvd and Little Falls Rd. As you can see in this screenshot - no trail:

Step 2 - Start the Editor

Same as our previous tutorial, open up and find the spot in question. Then we go to the edit dropdown and choose an editor - I recommend "Potlatch 2". You'll then have to setup an account - though you can login using many different accounts you may already have like a Google account or Yahoo account.

Step 3 - Draw the Trail
Go up to where the trail connects to the rest of the bike network (in this case, I'm starting from Little Falls Rd). Don't be afraid to zoom way in, it makes it easier to follow the aerial photography. Click on the road/trail that you're starting from and then either select an existing point where the intersection is, or if there isn't one add one by shift-clicking on the line to add it.

If potlatch hasn't already entered draw mode (connecting your mouse cursor to your select point by a red dotted line) then shift-click on your node and it will start to do so as shown in the following shot:

Now just keep clicking along the trail adding points to help it follow the contours as best you can. Don't worry if you need to pan around a bit, the tool is smart enough that if you click and drag to pan it doesn't put a point down. Don't worry too much if you have trouble following the exact contours of the trail, the most important thing is that it exist and that it connect the starting point and ending point of the trail so that can route on it!

When you get to the end, make sure your final point connects onto the next trail or road. The editor will show you nearby points on the road as you hover near it or change to a pen icon with a + next to it to indicate that it will add a new point on the existing road/trail.

Once you've made this final connection hit enter to exit drawing mode.

Step 4 - Set the Trail Properties

Now we need to tell it that the line we just drew was a trail and not a road, powerline or other random thing you can add to OpenStreetMaps. Click the large dropdown on the left, select Paths and then the appropriate option. In this case I'm selecting "footpath" as this particular trail is extremely narrow. For something like the Custis, Mount Vernon or Bluemont Juction Trail I would select "cycle path". Now add the name (if it has one) and set the pedestrian and cycle access options. I chose "allowed" for each. You should also set the surface to "paved" or "unpaved" accordingly. (especially if it's unpaved!!!) Now hit save and add an explanation.

Step 5 - Add Additional Connections

Often trails have many entrances and exits. Take the time to add them if possible. When I first looked at the OpenStreetMap data the Bluemont Junction Trail was there but was only connected at each end. had no idea you could access it or use it to cross the various neighborhood streets that flank it. The Rock Spring Park Trail has two additional entrances right across from eachother. You can follow the same steps as above to add these additional portions of the trail. (don't forget to save!)

Step 6 - Wait

As before, updates their map data every two weeks so it may take a while before you see your changes reflected there. Now you're done!

Improving's map data

In case you missed the announcement, there's a new tool for planning bike trips:

Unlike Google Maps, uses map data from OpenStreetMaps which is essentially the Wikipedia of map data.  Anyone can go in and add or update information on the map.  According to developer OpenPlans, refreshes their map data every two weeks.

If isn't giving you the results you expect, it is likely due to deficiencies in the underlying map data.  Editing OpenStreetMaps data isn't hard (and it can be kind of addictive) here's a tutorial on how to get started.

Before I start, a few caveats: I'm not affiliated with, OpenPlans, MobilityLab or really anyone involved with The information I'm presenting has been pieced together from OpenStreetMap tutorials and this link outlining the OpenStreetMap data that OpenTripPlanner (which powers pays attention to.

Adding Bike Lanes to via OpenStreetMaps
Step 1 - Find a place that needs changing

For this tutorial, I'll add the missing the on-street bike lanes on South Arlington Mill Drive between South Walter Reed Drive and the entrance to the Windgate development. You can see that doesn't know about them by the lack of a green line on Arlington Mill Dr.

Step 2 - Start the Editor

So we open up and find the spot in question. Then we go to the edit dropdown and choose an editor - I recommend "Potlatch 2". You'll then have to setup an account - though you can login using many different accounts you may already have like a Google account or Yahoo account.

Step 3 - Make Your Changes

So now click on the road, in this case South Arlington Mill Drive and you'll see it highlight.

In this case, too much of the road is highlighted. If we set the bike lane options as-is, OpenStreetMaps will think there are bike lanes down the whole length of the road which is sadly not the case. So we need to "split" the road into segments. Often there will already be a point to split on as it will be an existing intersection. In this case, the entrance to the Windgate is not currently added to OpenStreetMaps as a road so we'll need to add the point. To do so, hold down shift and click on the spot on the road where you want to add the point. You'll see a new red dot added.

With that dot selected, click the scissors icon in the bottom right to "split" the road at that point. Now when you re-select the road only the part of the on one side of that point will be selected. Depending on what you're doing, you may need to do this at the other end as well.

Now with just the segment you desire selected, go to the cycling tab of the road segment and set the options for "Bicycles Permitted" and "bike lanes". In this case, I chose "Designated" for "Bicycles Permitted" option and "On-road Bike Lanes" for the "bike lanes" option. Finally, hit the "Save" button in the top left and describe the sort of changes you're making and you're done editing!

Step 4 - Wait

Within two weeks your update should appear on

Doing More

You can also add trail connections, mark designated bike routes, mark roads that should be avoided by cyclists, mark bike lanes that only appear on one side or the other and many other pieces of data that uses. If people find this tutorial useful I'll definitely do one on adding trail connections. If you want to dive in yourself, the most vital link is this one which outlines how OpenTripPlanner uses OpenStreetMaps data for routing purposes. You should also spend some quality time in the rest of the OpenStreetMaps Wiki.

Streetcars Are Key to Retaining Affordable Housing

The following is a guest post by friend-of-the-blog and Columbia Pike advocate John Snyder.

Some folks seem to think that the way to preserve affordable housing on the Pike is to make it an undesirable place to live, so rents stay low. They worry that building the planned streetcar route on Columbia Pike will cause the loss of affordable housing. But their solution—to undermine the quality of life on the Pike—won’t preserve affordable housing. On the contrary, the streetcar system will be necessary to preserve affordable housing on the Pike.

Availability of high quality transit is not the only factor affecting the affordability of housing in Arlington. Over half of Arlington’s 6418 committed affordable units (3325) are in the Metro corridors, so good transit does not prevent affordable housing preservation. Nor does poor transit guarantee low rents. There are plenty of expensive places to live that have poor transit options. Note the hundreds of affordable apartments that are about to be re-developed in the Beauregard area of Alexandria, an area not served by Metro. Inflicting poor transit and traffic gridlock on the Pike neighborhoods will not preserve affordable housing.

For example, the former Concord Village Apartments (at Four Mile Run Drive and Walter Reed Drive) were converted into condos a few years ago, even though they are not on a Metro or streetcar line, and do not have bus service as good as that on the Pike. It was, and still is, very car dependent. Parking was, and still is, a big problem. Yet over 500 units of affordable housing were lost.

Other factors, like age of the buildings or internal business needs, affect a property owner’s decision whether to re-develop, or simply to raise the rent. Any property on the Pike in Arlington is within five miles of the job centers of DC, the Pentagon and Crystal City and thus can command higher rents than a similar building farther out. Even with the horrible traffic that will result from not building the streetcar line, an Arlington Pike resident will have to endure less of it than a Fairfax or Prince William resident, just by the Pike’s close-in location. Rents will go up. You just can’t hurt our neighborhoods enough to overcome their location advantage. Housing policy, not lack of transit, is necessary to preserve affordable housing.

The land use policy adopted decades ago on the Metro corridors—not the Metro itself--has been the primary anti-affordable housing driver in those areas. That policy allows high density development, encouraging re-development of land where affordable apartments once stood. Metro or not, zoning that allows larger buildings will encourage destruction of existing smaller buildings. The land use policy on the Pike is different, and is being reviewed with the specific goal of maintaining affordable housing. Additional density is being considered only as an incentive to preserve affordable units, but that density cannot be added (another 6000 apartments) without high capacity, high quality transit. Conventional buses are at maximum rush hour capacity now. Larger, articulated buses can only keep up with growing transit demand for 10 years, even if these 6000 additional apartments are never built.

Without the streetcar, the Pike neighborhoods simply can’t handle the density. The county’s best affordable housing preservation tool—bonus density—can’t be used. Without the streetcar, affordable housing on the Pike will be destroyed.

Bike Trail Benefits

Recently the Washington Boulevard Trail project has come under criticism from the Urban Forestry Commission and the Penrose Neighborhood Association due to the number of trees that would be impacted by it's construction.  While the potential loss of trees is unfortunate, the myriad environmental, health and mobility benefits of the trail seem to have been lost in the shuffle.

Project Overview

The Washington Boulevard trail project would construct a new bike and pedestrian trail along the west side of Washington Boulevard between Route 50 and South Rolfe Street just shy of Columbia Pike by way of Towers Park. Phase I of the trail was completed in 2009 as part of a water main project and runs from Route 50 to the South Courthouse Rd exit of Washington Blvd.  Phase II will complete the trail and is currently at 90% design completion (the approximate area is outlined in yellow on the map).  The trail is identified as high-priority project in the Arlington Master Transportation Plan and would link the Arlington Boulevard Trail to planned bikeways coming to the east end of Columbia Pike and to a long-term project that would provide a new connection under I-395 via the Army Navy Country Club called the "Hoffman-Boston Connector".

Tree Removal

Because of the hilly nature of the land along Washington Blvd, approximately 2.7 acres of currently vegetated land would need to be disturbed during the construction process.  This results in 297 trees that could potentially be impacted, of those 186 (of which 6 are dead) would have to be removed, while the project would try to preserve and protect the remaining 111.  Of those that would need to be removed only 17 are "large" (20" diameter+) while over half (91) are "small" (under 10" in diameter).

Clearly, this is a LOT of trees and not an ideal situation, but what do we get in exchange?

New Trees

Any trees removed would be replaced under the County's Tree Removal formula - the current calculation would result in the planting of 250 new trees.  If space allows, they would be planted within half a mile of the project site.  While the trees planted would be small, they would all be native species (unlike many of those being removed) and would eventually, after decades of growth, result in a fuller tree canopy and improved air quality in the area.  While the County's trail guidelines recommend not planting new trees within 10' of the trail (so as to avoid tree roots destroying the trail over time) much of the area being dug up is only being disturbed in order to regrade it - those areas are prime locations for replanting and will eventually help shade the trail.  In addition, Towers Park which the trail runs through is fairly bare and would benefit from the planting of many new trees (at least in my opinion).

Increased Cycling

Building new bicycle infrastructure is vital to encouraging additional people to bike, especially off-street infrastructure like trails.  There are many folks who are interested in biking but are intimated by the idea of sharing the road with cars.  Trails and other off-street routes function like training wheels allowing new cyclists to come up to speed with urban cycling in a slow, controlled way.  The Washington Boulevard trail would be the only off-street route linking the Columbia Pike corridor with points north other than the W&OD trail in the western portion of the County.

Public Health

With increased cycling comes public health benefits.  Cycling, whether as recreation or as transportation is excellent exercise and helps combat the obesity epidemic sweeping our nation.

Decreased Carbon Footprint

With increased cycling comes environmental benefits.  Some trips that would previously have been taken by car will instead be taken by bicycle resulting in decreased emissions.  Recreational trips may displace other forms of recreation like watching TV or going to the movies which require electricity providing further emissions benefits.

Increased Park Safety

One request that frequently comes up in Neighborhood Conservation plans is for increased police presence in our parks.  Many are concerned about vandalism and crime in these often out-of-the-way areas.  Putting the Washington Boulevard trail through part of Towers Park would provide many additional "eyes on the park" throughout the day as cyclists and pedestrians pass through helping deter crime and vandalism in the park.

A New Generation of Environmentalist

Finally, the best way to ensure that our parks and natural areas are preserved in the future is by instilling a love and passion for nature in our children.  By increasing access to our parks and natural areas, and by encouraging outdoor activities like cycling and jogging, trails help bring this love and passion to people, especially young people.  Those spending all day inside staring at the TV are much less likely to care about trees and streams as they age.

The Washington Blvd trail would be especially useful in this regard as Towers Park is relatively cut-off from the rest of the neighborhood, surrounded on 3 sides by Washington Blvd and Department of Defense property.  To access it from the majority of Penrose, one must walk down South Courthouse Road to Columbia Pike, walk East down the Pike and then double back up to the park on Rolfe or Scott Street.  The trail would make for a much more direct and pleasant path for residents using the planned trail access at 6th Street.

Alternatives?  Improvements?

The Penrose Association's letter is careful to oppose the trail project "as currently designed".  The Urban Forestry Commission, however, go so far as to recommend that the trail be completely scrapped as their is a "safe alternative for bicycle and multiuse...available along South Courthouse Road"  which is absurd to anyone who has attempted to bike in the area.  South Courthouse is a relatively busy, extremely hilly street with significant speeding problems.  Biking on it is fairly common, but only by cyclists who are already quite comfortable with on-street cycling.  South Courthouse Road doesn't actually get you to Towers Park, however, to do that you have to traverse four blocks of Columbia Pike.  Cycling on-street on Columbia Pike is something done only by the bravest and most confident cyclists, and the alternative is narrow sub-standard crumbling sidewalks.  While improvements are coming to the portion of Columbia Pike, and some improvements are coming to South Courthouse Road, it will never be welcoming to beginning cyclists like an off-street trail would be.

Other suggestions I've heard include narrowing the trail, narrowing the buffer around the trail and making portions of the trail on a raised "boardwalk" to avoid damaging significant trees.  We have some existing boardwalk section of trail in Northern Virginia.  In my experience they are all dangerously slippery at least a portion of the time - many are dangerously slippery ALL the time.  Narrower trails present obvious safety concerns.  Narrowing the buffer on either side of the trail is something that seems like a reasonable place to further compromise as long as it doesn't adversely affect sight-lines on the trail.

Building a project like the Washington Boulevard trail is a balancing act.  The route that is best from a transportation perspective is likely not the best from a tree-preservation perspective; neither is probably the most cost effective route.  County Staff weigh these and many more factors when planning these projects.  To not build the project at all or to make further compromises that impede the trail's effectiveness as a transportation corridor would lose us all of the benefits outlined above.  If you feel as I do that those benefits outweigh the loss of trees, please join me in signing the online petition below: