Arlington residents may see improved sidewalks and crosswalks in a few neighborhoods in the near future.
The county council approved funding for four projects at its meeting on Saturday June 18.
Among the projects:
- Construction of a missing sidewalk block on S. Irving Street between 6th and 7th Streets S.
- Construction of an accessible section of sidewalk at the service driveway entrance to the AT&T Building on 9th Street S. between S. Walter Reed Drive and Highland Street near Columbia Pike.
- Construct new transit stops, intersections, mid-block crosswalks, and three-crosswalk bike racks on S. 28th Street between S. Meade Street and S. 26th Street.
- Construct crosswalks on N. Fairfax Drive between Arlington Blvd. and N. Barton Street, near Rocky Run Park.
The four projects are expected to cost about $1.7 million in total, according to a board report.
The proposed project on S. Irving Street consists of constructing a continuous accessible sidewalk on one side of the road, between 6th Street S. and 7th Street S., which includes accessible ramps, existing streetlights and street parking.
Just over 50% of local survey respondents believed the proposed project would make them feel “much safer” walking around. Some have expressed concern about the distance and visibility of the S. 7th Street crossing, according to the project’s community engagement summary.
The proposed project on 9th Street S. would modify the driveway leading to the AT&T building so that its curbs could be in an accessible sidewalk condition that complies with federal law. The county worked with the company on the design plan.
“This project will support a safe walking environment adjacent to the AT&T building, where there is a high volume of traffic and children playing in the area,” said Robert Weaver, chief operating officer of the Mid-Atlantic region of AT&T. , in a letter of support.
The proposed project on 28th Street S. aims to reduce speed and shorten pedestrian crossing distance by narrowing the roadway. This place was high on the county’s list of potential rebuilds because it has a history of car accidents and speeding.
Thirty percent of respondents who walked in this area thought the proposed project would make them feel “much safer.” Many respondents also expressed concern for cyclists along this route. However, the county has determined that the road is too narrow for a bike path, according to the project’s community engagement summary.
The proposed project on Fairfax Drive near Rocky Run Park aims to increase the visibility of pedestrians crossing the street and shorten the crossing distance. He also proposes to remove the crossing in the middle of the block closest to the intersection with N. Barton Street.
However, many people who provided feedback to the county raised concerns about the removal of the crossing. According to the project’s community engagement summary, nearly 20% of survey respondents who walked in the neighborhood said the proposed changes would make them less safe when walking.
But the county will remove it anyway because it’s less than 100 feet from a crosswalk controlled by an “All Way Stop” sign.
The four projects were part of the Neighborhood Complete Streets program, which aims to “make the streets safe for all users of all ages and abilities” and “preserve or enhance neighborhood character,” according to its commission’s website.
The Arlington County Transportation Commission voted unanimously to support the projects, but felt that Irving Street could have been better.
More information from a letter sent to Council by the Transport Commission, below.
The proposed projects are good and will improve safety. The proposed redesign of the Irving Street project, however, is much worse than previously proposed. The original design for this project included a dedicated landscape strip between the sidewalk and the street. This landscape strip would have increased the permeable surface, provided a place to pile snow, and prevented lampposts and traffic signs from blocking parts of the sidewalk.
Unfortunately, this original design was rejected due to the Virginia Fire Code’s 20′ clear width rule, an issue that the Neighborhood Complete Streets Commission and this Commission have raised with the County Board and County Manager in the past. This is yet another example of the safety and accessibility of streets affected by this rule without a clear or convincing argument from our Fire Marshal quantifying the safety benefits that flow from it. The 20ft clear width rule was cited for removing on-street parking which had been safely in place for years, encouraged speeding by unnecessarily widening streets and prevented the installation of medians of pedestrian refuge and protected cycle paths.
Sometimes the rule is waived, but the process for doing so is entirely shielded from the public eye, with no stated criteria, priorities or guidelines. According to Neighborhood Complete Street Commission Chair Elisa Ortiz, former county managers granted blanket waivers to the Department of Transportation to drop below a 20-foot clear width to meet public safety goals, a option that is incorporated into the text of the Fire Code, allowing firefighters to “authorize modifications to required access widths . . . if necessary to achieve the jurisdiction’s public safety objectives,” but the current county executive has failed to do so.
Many streets in Arlington violate the 20′ clear width rule and many have done so for decades. Most could be brought into compliance simply by adding no parking signs to one side of the street. If the 20ft clear width rule was critically important to safety, it would have been done a long time ago. If the availability of on-street parking trumps the 20′ clear width rule, surely better and safer cycling and pedestrian infrastructure should?
The 20′ clear width rule isn’t just an issue in Arlington. Baltimore removed it from its fire code for similar reasons. To learn more about the 20′ clear width rule in Arlington, check out this blog post.
Road deaths are 200 times greater than fire deaths. It’s critical that we consider how we balance these conflicting safety needs in Arlington, or we could save one person from a fire, at the cost of 10 people in additional car crashes. As such, the Commission recommends that the County Council direct the County Executive to either waive the Virginia Fire Code’s 20′ clear width requirement at the discretion of the Department of Transportation, or initiate a community process to formulate clear guidelines on when waivers of the free width requirement will be granted.