Further suggestions for Arlington Center

On the evening of November 6, 2013, I attended a public hearing about the Arlington Center project. A representative of the city described the town’s plan. There were some changes and clarifications of what was shown at Town Day, and described before the hearing in Adam Auster’s blog post. (Also see his newer posts since the meeting). For one thing, the right-angle parking on Swan Place is gone. As had been pointed out, drivers in two of the parking places would have had to back out into a crosswalk, and  drivers in any parking space would back out across the path of bicyclists.

I left the meeting as the discussion shifted to parking, but the graphic I saw indicated that the new plan is to find replacement parking spaces one by one around the town center. Adam Auster’s blog post goes into more detail about that. One important clarification was that we got at an idea of the traffic signal plan — which would include a special bicycle signal intended to alleviate the conflict between right-turning motor vehicles and through-traveling bicyclists at the northeast corner of Mass. Ave. and Mystic Street.

Still, many attendees commented, as I did, that right-hook collisions were likely here with a bike lane to the right of a right-turn lane, because motorists frequently turn right on the through arrow.  Many raised objections to the zigzag, pillar-to-post proposed routing for bicyclists (shown in green in the drawing below).

My previous post started by describing how a confident adult cyclist could go through the intersection east to west operating as a driver. I embedded a video illustrating that. But I also said that continuity of the path would be important for young and novice cyclists. Let me now illustrate what I consider to be a promising option. I described it briefly in my previous message, and at the meeting.  I’ve added it to the town’s drawing, below. You may click on the drawing to enlarge it.

Possible bicycle route through Arlington Center

Possible bicycle route through Arlington Center

The red line indicates a route for westbound Rail-Trail traffic and the blue line, eastbound Rail Trail traffic. The dark gray lines represents a barrier and curb extension. Is anyone surprised that I would make this suggestion? Get over it! I’m a confident road cyclist but I also ride the Rail Trail, and I’m also a realist. What I propose is going to work better than the Town’s current proposal, and would be preferred over any on-road route by many if not most Rail Trail  users. On the other hand, what I propose, unlike the Town’s proposal, does not complicate bicyclists’ travel on the road!

Advantages as I see them:

  • My proposal continues the path as a path through Arlington Center, consistent with the expectations of Rail-Trail users.
  • It makes full use of the new signals at Swan Place for two-way bicycle travel, rather than only one-way.
  • If timing of the signals is adjusted appropriately, bicyclists crossing Swan Place on a green light would reach Mystic Street just as the signal changes to allow them to cross, and vice versa.  With an average anticipated bicycle speed of 10 mph and motor vehicle speed of 30 mph, this is probably achievable.
  • My proposal avoids the need for the two-way left-turn waiting area in the middle of an intersection (at the right-angle between the two green bike lane segments at left in the drawing.)
  • It avoids messing with Massachusetts Avenue, and in particular, it avoids the attempt to have a westbound bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue serve conflicting purposes as a through route and route to the Rail Trail.
  • It avoids the need for any special traffic signal phases or timing, or added delay for street traffic beyond that imposed by the traffic signal at Swan Place, which is already in the plans.
  • It avoids the driveway crossings on the south side of Massachusetts Avenue. No driveways cross my proposed route.
  • It takes advantage of the unusually wide sidewalk in this area. Is there a possibility of moving the fence back and making the sidewalk even wider — or placing the path  in Whittemore Park, like the one which is already proposed for Uncle Sam Park?
  • Bicyclists using this route eastbound could turn left and continue on Mass. Ave.
  • This route has bicycle and pedestrian traffic cross each other away from intersections, rather than in the crowds on the corners of an intersection, avoiding confusion and sight obstructions.

Potential problems and concerns:

  • This proposal uses sidewalk space and/or parkland. Arlington is concerned with bicyclists’ using sidewalks — but, primarily, the south sidewalk on Massachusetts Avenue, requiring crossing two legs of the major intersection with Mystic Street/Pleasant Street. Let me suggest that the Town’s current proposed design will do little to reduce sidewalk use, and particularly, westbound. What would reduce sidewalk use is to have a more attractive off-street route — and to remove the path leading to the Massachusetts Avenue south sidewalk from Swan Place.
  • Bicyclists would ride in the crosswalk area across Mystic Street in both directions.  Crossing from right to left in a crosswalk, in particular, has been shown to be hazardous. On the other hand, this is already an established crosswalk, and to be blunt about it, I don’t see any alternative other than a grade separation which would realistically result in less use of crosswalks.
  • Strong signage and markings would be needed to direct eastbound Rail-Trail users to turn left into the crosswalk area  at Mystic Street to continue on the Rail Trail. I suggest a special bicycle signal to indicate clearly that the crossing at Mystic Street is for the Rail Trail.
  • Three or four parking spaces on the north side of Massachusetts Avenue would need to be removed to continue the trail to the signalized intersection at Swan Place. (Whether the six parking spaces and taxi stand on the south side would also still be removed, is a different question. That certainly would free up space for through travel and a median. The Town does appear to have found several replacement parking spaces. Can it find a few more?)

Additional Comments:

What I have shown is only a sketch. If anything like it is to become reality, technical and political issues would have to be resolved.

The town held up the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue, U Street and 16th Street NW in Washington, DC as an example of a treatment using a special bicycle signal. Problem is, I know that intersection well. I have studied it extensively and it does not work. You may read about it here. Bicyclists at that  intersection do not use the two-way left-turn area: they instead ride in the crosswalks, taking the most opportunistic route depending on the signal phase. That is what also happens in Arlington Center, and will continue to happen with the town’s proposed design.

5 Responses to Further suggestions for Arlington Center

  1. Your choice is somewhat suprising. Walking through your logic it really is a better choice for Hobsonian dilemma! Thanks for the thoughtful analysis!

  2. Color me surprised too! But after some misgivings I see a lot to like about this proposal.

    It’s pretty clear that this does more for the “Minuteman family cyclist” demographic than the Town’s pending design can.

    I’m a little unclear about the other features of the design. If this is in lieu of the two 5′ bike lanes, however, that would provide the space needed to add a 10′ cycle track on the north side of the sidewalk by Whittemore Park. So, no encroachments on the park needed, I think.

    On the other hand the route would cross the sidewalk, which can be quite busy, 3 times. (To say nothing of the crosswalk because you already mention it.)

    I do find that troublesome, but maybe the Town would not, since the designers have no qualms about doing that once already.

  3. I have responded to Adam’s comment in my next post.

  4. Can you clarify what you mean by, “Crossing from right to left in a crosswalk, in particular, has been shown to be hazardous.”? It’s not clear what left and right mean in this context.

    • Yes: crossing from right to left in the near side of the intersection, so the cyclist beginns crossing the right front of the first waiting motor vehicle (or left front in countries where traffic keeps left). The danger is primarily in that the driver is preparing to turn right, will be be looking left for traffic, and will not see the cyclist before starting. This can happen if the cyclist is in a crosswalk, or riding on the wrong side of the street.

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