Pedestrian-Bicycle Footbridge Needed at Traffic-Gridlocked Key Bridge

Do you agree? Weigh in with your thoughts in the Comments box.

Photo by Lucas Cantor/Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by Lucas Cantor/Flickr Creative Commons

(Editor's note: The following is reprinted with permission from Mobility Lab; it was written by Sam Krassenstein.)

Heading to Washington, D.C. over the Francis Scott Key Bridge can be a daunting task during rush hour, for motorists and pedestrians alike.

The Key Bridge exists as the only elevated crossing between Georgetown and Arlington County and is responsible for moving pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.

The bridge’s right lane is prone to frequent stops thanks to the pedestrian crossing at the Whitehurst Freeway access ramp. On a sunny day, motorists often get stuck and backed up trying to turn on the Whitehurst Freeway ramp, waiting for scores of pedestrians and bicyclists to cross. All too often, motorists will try to sneak in between a short gap of foot and bicycle traffic, only to come inches from collision. While at relatively low speeds, this still poses a major safety risk to those outside of the vehicles.

While some outside-the-box options (such as streetcars and gondolas) have been proposed for expanding river crossing options into the District, not enough consideration has been given to the erection of a dedicated bridge to handle non-motorized pedestrian and bicycle traffic between Arlington and D.C.

While a pedestrian bridge will not fix the underlying traffic resulting from the innumerable delays on M street and the George Washington Parkway, a dedicated bridge would surely help to “bridge” the gap between D.C.’s growing bicycle trail network and Arlington’s expansive trail system, all while decreasing risk to pedestrians and bicyclists, and alleviating a major point of congestion on the Key Bridge. Improving access to the Mount Vernon Trail and Potomac Heritage Trails is already included in the Rosslyn and Arlington strategic plans.

The concept of using pedestrian and footbridges to connect bike-path systems has been adopted successfully in other cities. The parallel span of the Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh spans nearly 1,200 feet (albeit 500 feet shorter than the Key Bridge) and was used to successfully connect and expand the South Side bike trail system with the broader Pittsburgh trail network. In San Francisco, the 3,000 foot Bay Bridge Bike Span, which also uses a parallel span-based system to run alongside the Bay Bridge, is being used to connect mainland San Francisco and the Yerba Buena Island.

In addition to providing a safe and dedicated alternative for non-motorized traffic, the elimination of sidewalks on the Key Bridge opens the possibility of creating a dedicated bus lane for the Circulator and 38B bus routes that depend on steady traffic flow to be a usable transit option between the District and Arlington County.

The traffic and pedestrian safety issues surrounding the Key Bridge need to be addressed. If Arlington County and D.C. are serious about expanding safe options for non-motorized traffic in the region, it should consider adding a river crossing option that promotes the use of alternative transportation to connect our growing and interdependent areas.

Photo by Lucas Cantor

What do you think? Weigh in with your thoughts in the Comments box below.
Allen Muchnick April 16, 2014 at 12:18 PM
Thinking broadly about moving people, this is a low priority, although all six of the bicycle and pedestrian crossings of the Potomac River merit significant improvements, and there currently is no such crossing at all north of the Chain Bridge. The most effective improvement near the Key Bridge would be a new Metrorail crossing of the Potomac, to expand Metrorail capacity throughout Northern Virginia and also serve Georgetown. REDUCED (not facilitated) motor traffic on the Key Bridge should be the long term objective.


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