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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bike/pedestrian accessibility improved at beltway in Annandale

New crosswalks on Gallows Road at the beltway.

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s recently completed $550,000 project to improve bicycle and pedestrian accessibility at the beltway overpasses on Gallows Road and Little River Turnpike are helpful but could have been better.

That’s the assessment of avid bicyclist Pete Beers, who lives in the Falls Church area of Fairfax County and travels those routes frequently. (VDOT also improved the trails at the Braddock Road overpass, but Beers hasn’t checked out those changes yet.)

Heading toward Annandale on Little River Turnpike.
The best improvements are at the Gallows Road overpass, Beers says. New sidewalks, crosswalk markings, and signage make it easier to bike or walk from the Raintree condominiums over the beltway and continue on Gallows to Fairfax Inova Hospital and the medical offices at Woodburn Road.

On the other side of Gallows Road (the side closest to Tysons), “it’s a sidewalk to nowhere,” he says. Once you cross from Annandale on that side of Gallows and continue over the beltway, there’s nowhere to go from there.

Walking or bicycling along Little River Turnpike from Heritage Drive, parallel to Americana Drive, and on the new, wider sidewalk over the beltway, the trail improvements make it easier to get to the Cross County Trail at Wakefield Park. That sidewalk is now wide enough for a bicyclist to safely pass a pedestrian, Beers says.

Continuing on to Route 236 to get to Northern Virginia Community College would require riding in the street—although there’s a service road on part of that route and a fairly wide shoulder.

While the new crosswalks are good, the yield signs are too small and hard for motorists to see. Drivers accelerating to get onto the beltway won’t see the signs in time to slow down, Beers says. In some locations, the sight lines are completely obscured. “People will have to be really attentive when crossing those streets,” he cautions.

Beers stood on the sidewalk at the south side of Little River Turnpike heading Annandale waiting to cross the beltway ramp as 10 cars sped by at about 50 mph; none of them made an attempt to yield. He was wearing blaze orange, so there was no way they couldn’t have seen him. Finally, a car attempted to slow down—he heard the ABS brakes engage—but was going too fast and didn’t have the reaction time to do it.  

Beers notes there is a very small yield sign at that spot, and it’s hard to see amid the visual clutter of several much larger signs. The new crosswalks are nicely marked, but they’re not clearly visible, he added. All of these facilities would be safe if people were obeying the speed limit, “but virtually no one drives that way.”

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