Lax Practices Create Dangerous Streets in Arlington

With so much construction involving Arlington's streets, the county must do a better job of ensuring that they remain safe for all users.

Last month, this column touched on the idea that . In fact, bad pavement condition holds significantly more danger for the individual cyclist than motorist. In that column, I used the example of a recent crash caused by a temporary patching of a utility cut along Quincy Street. It turns out I’ve got video of that crash, and I’d like to show you what happens when Arlington County fails to ensure that those working on its streets fail to do so safely.

What you’ll see in the video embedded at the right are a number of riders who have just crossed Lee Highway on Quincy Street heading south. A car comes up from behind, and a rider in front of it moves to the right to let the car pass. As he moves right, his front wheel is caught by the ridge of a very poorly patched pavement cut. He goes down — hard — in the middle of the street. While he was ultimately OK, he ended up cut and bruised and sustained damage to his bike.

While the video doesn’t have the resolution to show the nature of the temporary milling/pavement cut on Quincy, the photo at right illustrates the very same spot. The lip is unnecessarily sharp, and — as clearly demonstrated — poses a significant danger to cyclists. This on a primary north-south route that the county encourages cyclists to use. 

One might think that poor pavement during construction is inevitable, and to a certain extent, that is true. However, his cut in particular has been on Quincy for months, and it’s just one of many dangerous “temporary” pavement conditions around the county. Clarendon Boulevard, from Courthouse to Rosslyn, provides dangers that change daily in the form of roughly milled pavement, loose gravel and poorly marked steel plates. 

Arlington County recently reviewed the costs associated with improving its own paving efforts, and trade-offs will certainly have to be made. However, those trade-offs should never result in street conditions that are as dangerous as those cited above.  

Further, to the extent that the poor pavement condition is the result of work done by utilities or other contractors? The county need not spend a dime — it simply need enforce its existing standards. The county’s own roadway restoration standards require that “The quality of materials used in the restoration of existing pavements and driveways shall produce a street surface equal to or better than the condition before the work began." I’m sure that’s been the result on some streets in Arlington, but there are no shortage of places where the results haven’t come within a country mile of this standard.

Failure to aggressively hold itself and others to reasonable standards of safe pavement — both temporary and permanent — does a real disservice to Arlington County. It not only works against the county’s laudable efforts to get more people on bikes, but it puts Arlington citizens who do ride in actual danger of bodily harm. If that seems overwrought, I suggest pushing play on that video again.


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

Kristine October 15, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Streetcar tracks, especially wet streetcar tracks, pose a big risk to bicyclists, motorcyclists, and other 2-wheel vehicles.
Allen Muchnick October 18, 2012 at 04:51 PM
There's also the problems of unfilled potholes on roadways throughout Arlington and the poor pavement conditions on much of Arlington's shared-use paths. Utility work and redevelopment are not to blame for these hazards.


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