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Build The Washington Boulevard Trail

The extension of the Washington Boulevard Trail is an important step forward in safely connecting the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor to Columbia Pike for cyclists and pedestrians.

As this column has noted before, Arlington’s cycling and pedestrian infrastructure is lacking in good north-south connections. The completion of the Washington Boulevard Trail will provide an invaluable, mostly off-street connection between the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Columbia Pike. Misguided opposition should not derail forward movement on this project. 

Right now, the Washington Boulevard Trail starts at Arlington Boulevard and ends at South Courthouse Road. At its northern terminus, it connects to the existing Arlington Boulevard Trail, as well as the smaller Fillmore Park Trail that offers a good connection to Clarendon and Ballston through the Lyon Park and Ashton Heights neighborhoods.

The Washington Boulevard Trail’s southern terminus, however, is a rather unceremonious end of pavement with a sign promising good things to come.

Cyclists who want to continue on to Columbia Pike at present need to head over to South Courthouse Road to complete the trip. While South Courthouse Road certainly isn’t the worst road in Arlington for cyclists, it does tend toward higher-speed vehicular traffic, and wouldn’t be a very good place for those uncomfortable in traffic to ride.

The completed Washington Boulevard Trail will connect to Towers Park and terminate at South Rolfe Street, a far more cycling-friendly connection to Columbia Pike.

Given the general lack of a good off-road north-south connection between the destination-dense Rosslyn-Ballston and Columbia Pike corridors, the completion of the Washington Boulevard Trail was highlighted as a priority in Arlington’s Master Transportation Plan, which was adopted in 2008. The idea of a trail on the west side of Washington Boulevard has been discussed since the 1990s, and the county even announced on its CapTrack that the west-side trail would be constructed in 2007

Unfortunately, the project has recently encountered a bit of opposition from local civic association members and Arlington’s Urban Forestry Commission. Some of the civic association complaints are the same as those frequently heard about transportation projects in general – “Nobody told me!” And I’ve certainly got some sympathy, as someone who tries hard — yet frequently fails — to keep up with local transportation projects. But that’s simply not a valid complaint in this case. The project has been on the books for years and, heck, anyone who has driven down Washington Boulevard for the past few years has seen an actual sign announcing the project’s future.

The balance of the objections turn on the removal of trees. And, yes, construction of the trail will unfortunately require the removal of some trees. Some have suggested that the trail be built on the east side of Washington Boulevard, but that option has been examined and rejected in light of significant topography challenges, property-rights issues and the additional complications of having to cross Washington Boulevard itself.

As someone who cringes whenever a tree comes down, even necessarily, I urge the county to work very hard to minimize the number of trees cut. The cited figures have varied, but reports from Tuesday night’s meeting of the Penrose Civic Association on the matter have the latest figure at about 140 trees. While that’s an initially arresting figure, the same reports state that only 16 are large trees — that is, they are more than 20 inches in diameter — and the balance are invasive species or small/medium trees. Almost 200 trees will be planted as replacements adjacent to the finished trail or elsewhere in Penrose. 

When it is finished, the Washington Boulevard Trail will convert the side of Washington Boulevard from its present neglected and inaccessible state into a landscaped and safe means for cyclists and pedestrians to move across the county. The county government should ensure that it minimizes tree removal and move forward with construction as soon as possible.

Read blog coverage of the project here and here. It also sounds like the county is going to put up a page with updates about the project soon. I’ll alert readers when they do. 

Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.

Allie July 19, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Save the trees. Sign the petition. Speak at Saturday's County Board meeting, 8:30 AM, 2100 Clarendon Blvd.
irret July 19, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I will address some of your opinions You said: The idea of a trail on the west side of Washington Boulevard has been discussed since the 1990s, and the county even announced on its CapTrack that the west-side trail would be constructed in 2007. The truth is: The master tranportation plan has NO details, plans, maps nor were discussions held with the Penrose Civic Assn. We assumed the trail would be on the shoulder of Washington Blvd. We were NEVER consulted or informed or notified that the trail be going into Towers Park. Going in Towers Park IS the problem as this route will cut down 140 trees (new design) and disturb the roots of at least 111 trees which could die from construction. The woods would be gone. Actual tree losses: 6 very large (with one possibly pre-civil war) 12 large 65 medium 91 small 14 non native some of the trees to be cut down are exceedingly rare (American Elms-Hickories-American Ash-Black Walnuts) A small tree may well have been growing 20-30 years as some species grow very slowly. Your statement about the woods: when it is finished, the Washington Boulevard Trail will convert the side of Washington Boulevard from its present neglected and inaccessible state into a landscaped and safe means... My reply: turning the "neglected" 2.67 acres of woods into a landscaped area is absurd. We want to keep our woods! The County should get the trail out of Towers Park and back onto Washington Blvd where it belongs.
Pragmatist July 19, 2012 at 01:34 PM
It can't fit along the Washington Blvd without narrowing it to the point of uselessness. What would a trail look like that fits between the road and the fence at this point: http://goo.gl/maps/TuKu
Janet July 19, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Save the trees. The bicyclist groups are another greedy selfish special interest the County Board can't say no to.
Pragmatist July 19, 2012 at 03:50 PM
This is not an us vs them issue - to frame it as such cheapens everyone's opinion. Most Arlingtonians are pro-trail, most Arlingtonians are anti-cutting-down-trees. This trail has gotten so contentious because it is causing disagreement among those who would normally agree - it puts our values into internal conflict with each other. I want a trail, but I don't want to cut down trees - yet in this case you can't have one without the other, so everyone is coming down in various places based on their internal priorities. To one person, the trail benefits outweigh the cost in trees. To another person, the cost in trees outweighs the trail benefits. Neither is anti-trail, neither is anti-tree and yet they disagree.
TWDC July 19, 2012 at 06:20 PM
How many acres of trees were cut down to make room for the parking lot and tennis courts at Towers Park, not to mention all the parking at the apartments in the area? Was that okay because it was in the past and it's easy to pretend the trees never existed? The reality is that trees are nice, but we need to balance our population growth and infrastructure with our desire to preserve nature, (even if "nature" in this case is a strip of trees sandwiched between apartment complexes and a suburban highway) particularly when things like multi-use paths help prevent trees from being cut down in the future to widen a highway or expand a parking lot. Any trees sacrificed for the building of non-car transportation infrastructure almost certainly will be worth it in the long run.
kir July 19, 2012 at 06:22 PM
How exciting! A real possibility that I could bicycle to Arlington! Sure beats trying to park over there or metro-wait-transfer-wait-get home awfully late. I am sad to hear about the trees, though. Maybe a better solution could be found -- perhaps take the space from a driving lane instead? There's only so much room. It's unfortunate that progress always comes with some downsides, but it does. PS Am I a special interest group if I don't own a car but find Metro unworkable for venturing across the river?
Mark Blacknell July 19, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Pragmatist's point is excellent. This is a balancing of priorities, and there will be differing judgments. As I note in the column, I really hate to see trees come down (just ask my neighbor, who's long been after me to take down a couple of my trees). On balance, though, I see the somewhat-temporary loss of trees as an acceptable cost for the long-term improvement of non-road north-south connections in Arlington. Kir, integrating the trail with Washington Boulevard is unworkable for a number of reasons. First, I don't think VDOT would cooperate with such a venture. Second, the speed differential (between cars and cyclists) at that point is very high, and would necessitate significant barriers (which would increase the space required for the facility, pushing it into the hillside - which is very expensive, in terms of construction). Finally, it would still need to connect at S. Rolfe, because there simply isn't the room to connect it directly to Columbia Pike at the southern end (see the map link above).
Geof Gee July 19, 2012 at 06:59 PM
So the proposed trail would just provide another connection from 2nd ST S to Towers Park and Columbia Pike?
Mark Blacknell July 19, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Not "another" connection, because there isn't an off-street/low-traffic one now. That's critical to its purpose, I think.
Geof Gee July 19, 2012 at 08:18 PM
I never thought that S Courthouse was that busy. I'm guessing that the long plans are for this corridor to get people closer to a connection with the tunnel by the Army/Navy golf course. Otherwise, getting someone whose adverse to S Courthouse traffic to the intersection with Washington Blvd. and Columbia Pike seems to be a modest connectivity improvement.
Barry July 19, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Save the trees...bicyclists are getting enough gimmes from the taxpayers.
TWDC July 19, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Cyclists ARE taxpayers.
Allen Muchnick July 19, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Mark, the referenced Google Map link shows the *current* Washington Blvd exit ramp to Columbia Pike, but the Washington Blvd-Columbia Pike Interchange is now under reconstruction, and that exit ramp (labeled Ramp G) will be moved one block east, from S Quinn St to S Queen St. A diagram showing the new Interchange is here: [ http://www.vdot.virginia.gov/projects/resources/NorthernVirginia/Proposed_Interchange_Configuration.pdf ] . While VDOT's new noise wall (depicted in orange) near Ramp G will create a severe new pinch point for any extension of the Washington Blvd Trail south of Towers Park, perhaps the County can get VDOT to relocate that noise wall to create more space for a trail extension.
Fedup July 19, 2012 at 09:32 PM
How narrow is the bicycle path under the Route 50 bridge? Is that narrow to the point of uselessness? Why does the trail have to be 10 ft. wide with 2 ft. borders on either side for cycling or walking?
Geof Gee July 19, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Oh boy ... there is a whole literature on that. In large it comes from AASHTO (http://www.transportation.org/) and you can check out a whole bunch of diagrams and so on. Below is a link that might be helpful ... http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/04103/07.cfm
C.D. July 20, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Another organized taxpayer rip off orchestrated by another of the County Board's pet special interests. Save the trees. Dump Garvey.
ArlVaPete July 20, 2012 at 11:35 AM
I don't understand why a half mile dedicated trail is so important, honestly. It isn't fed from a dedicated trail, really, since the first part is only something like 1/4 mile long? Bikers have to travel streets to get there, why can't they ride on a street to get to Columbia Pike. Once they get to Towers Park, they're back on streets again. That said, I'd sure like to see some trees replanted along Wash. Blvd. where they died because of recent construction. The neighborhood has seen significant noise increases because of the loss of those trees. It's a constant 60 db in my front yard.
Cliff July 20, 2012 at 03:28 PM
I'm a biker that lives on Columbia Pike and would really, really, really like to see the trail completed. I commute to work by bike, I don't own a car, and getting from Columbia Pike to the existing trail now is sketchy at best. I'm in the group that doesn't want to see unnecessary trees cut down, however I think it is important to improve the existing bike infrastructure for the betterment of the community. The more people that can ride to work and do so safely is also the more people off of roads in cars and other vehicles. I'm sorry to see such negative attitudes towards bikers as being selfish, greedy, and otherwise, but I simply would like to commute safely to work and other destinations. Kind regards, C
Cliff July 20, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Columbia Pike is by far and away one of the most dangerous roads in Arlington to ride a bike on. When I do ride on it I actually ride on the sidewalk because drivers are not very bike conscious. Like you, I'd like to see as many trees replanted as well because I'm a firm believer that the more, the better. I'm sorry to hear about the noise levels as well, however another large contributing factor might be due to the overall increased traffic in our neighborhood (Pike resident 6 years and counting). Obviously, things are a changin'.
Cliff July 20, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Thank you, I'm a taxpayer just like everyone else and I don't own car, nor do I want to. I think it is only fair that I am provided with a safe travel infrastructure just like everyone else.
Cliff July 20, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Does your petition have a legitimate compromise?
Barry July 21, 2012 at 05:11 AM
Arlington Way - A selfish special interest group that's notorious for doing what it wants when it wants to gets to have its way with the environment too.
Robert Alvord July 21, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Why not "Road Diet" Washington Blvd. as was done to Walter Reed Drive?
irret July 21, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Mark, you are incorrect on many points....VDOT owns the land that the County wants to bulldoze so they obviously are co-operating on some level. The trail WOULD be on Washington Blvd for some of this distance (it has too) and would safely seperate bicycles from traffic. The connection to S. Rolfe is not need because it could connect to S. Quinn instead if is STAYS on Washington Blvd like it should have all along. The off ramp of Wash Blvd at Columbia Pike is moving east a block in the VDOT map and that should allow PLENTY of space to accomadate the the trail on the shoulder of Wash Blvd. thereby SAVING the woods from being bulldozed into oblivion.
irret July 21, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Allen yes you are getting it now thanks.
Pragmatist July 24, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Because the County owns Walter Reed Drive and the State owns Washington Blvd (at least along that stretch).
Pragmatist July 24, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Just about useless - VDOT really boned us there already. It's almost impossible for two bikes to pass each other there. Two wrongs don't make a right.

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