With the opening of the Silver Line last week, advocates for car-free commuting are calling attention to remaining bicycle and pedestrian safety challenges around the new stations.
“We know Fairfax County is committed to making Tysons and Reston pedestrian and bicycle-friendly urban centers with safe and convenient access to the new Silver Line Metro stations,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a released statement. “Still, we are urging more funding, including state funding, for accelerated implementation of projects. Investing in the Tysons and Reston local street network and providing safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure is a critical investment in safety and also essential to successful economic development along the Silver Line.”
Fairfax County transportation officials acknowledge that there is more work to be done in making routes designed with cars in mind friendlier to people traveling on foot or on bike.
“We have a lot more work to do … but we have made a lot of progress,” said Fairfax County Director of Transportation Tom Biesiadny. “We’re trying to retrofit an existing environment. That’s going to take time.”
During a study process in 2011, the county identified 39 pedestrian and bike projects needed to improve access to the four Tysons stations. About one third of those projects have been completed so far, Biesiadny said, and the Board of Supervisors has identified funding for all of them. However, it may be several years before they are all complete.
A similar planning process took place in Reston.
Some of the projects will take longer because they require the county to obtain right of way, or work around the extensive underground utilities in Tysons, Biesiadny said. Some are challenging because of the way the roads are designed.
For example, Biesiadny said, the intersection of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive, near the Tysons Corner Station, does not have a crosswalk across the segment of the intersection that has a dual right turn lane. Dual right turn lanes are designed to speed traffic flow, and adding pedestrians to the mix will require the intersection to be reconfigured.
“That is a challenge, so that you don’t create something that is going to cause a very significant and abrupt increase in traffic,” he said.
The county prioritized the projects that provide pathways to the rail stations’ most densely developed areas, Biesiadny said.
If people have concerns about walking around certain areas, he noted that there is also a low-cost circulator bus service in Tysons. The bus is essentially free with a transfer to or from Metro and has a regular fare of 50 cents.
Bruce Wright, president of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, said he understands that it will take some time for the county to get projects done, but he believes there are some low-cost fixes that can be used in the interim to improve safety for cyclists.
For example, he said, the county could paint “sharrows” on certain key roads — a chevron with a bike symbol that indicates that bikes will be sharing the road — or install signs that state that cyclists have the right to use the full lane.
Without some additional awareness on the part of drivers, Wright said, people are hesitant to bike on roads like Westpark Drive and Gosnell Road that connect Tysons to big residential areas because they get harassed by drivers or feel unsafe.
“If Gosnell and Westpark were more bike-friendly, then I think a lot more people would bike,” Wright said.
On a positive note, Wright said there has been significant bike traffic to the Wiehle-Reston East station in Tysons, where much of the free bike parking as well as the secure 200-space indoor bike room inside the parking garage is seeing regular use.
“That is in part because Reston is such a bike-friendly community,” Wright said. “If you provide bike facilities … people will use them.”