Earlier this week, Allen Muchnick—a longtime bicycling advocate, WABA member, former WABA board member, and current VBF board member—gave us an update on his ongoing efforts to ensure that safe bicycling accommodations are included in the widening of Route 1 through Fort Belvoir.
Fort Belvoir is just south of Mount Vernon on Route 1. That portion of Route 1 is designated as U.S. Bicycle Route 1, a Florida-to-Maine bicycle route used by long-distance riders. Given Fort Belvoir’s proximity to the Mount Vernon Trail and Route 1’s importance as a connector for northern Virginia cyclists, including accommodations for bikes on the widened road is a critical matter for regional bicyclists.
Local cyclists must speak up: Under current plans, VDOT will not create sufficient safe space for bicyclists in a project that improves a portion of roadway that their own mapping recognizes as part of one of the nation’s most important biking routes.
Please take a moment to send a comment to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board and the head of VDOT stating that Route 1 must be designed to allow for bicyclists to travel safely.
A more extensive explanation from Allen is below:
During the past two years, the Federal Highway Administration, Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division (EFLHD), has conducted environmental planning studies for widening 3.4 miles of U.S. Route 1 through Fort Belvoir in southern Fairfax County, under a $180 million federal allocation from the Defense Access Roads program of the US DoD. Recently, EFLHD has issued a Finding of No Significant Impacts (FONSI) for its Environmental Assessment and Section 4(F) Evaluation on November 20, 2012, and on December 11 asked the Washington area MPO, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), to amend its Transportation Improvement Program at its January 23, 2013 meeting to include this project for construction.
I’ve been monitoring the phased widening of US-1 segments in Fairfax and Prince William Counties ever since a VDOT Route 1 Corridor Widening Study concluded in 1997 with a recommendation (in response to comments from cyclists) to accommodate bicycling on the roadway of this “urban boulevard” with 15-foot wide curb lanes for all 27 miles between the Capital Beltway/City of Alexandria and the Stafford County line, as well as provide a 10-wide shared foot path and a 5-foot wide sidewalk on opposite sides of the roadway.
While I’d have preferred a recommendation for on-road bike lanes, VDOT was evidently reluctant to designate bike lanes on relatively high-speed roadways, and a 15-foot wide curb lane provides enough space to be eventually striped as an 11-foot travel lane beside a 4-foot bike lane. Moreover, at the time, VDOT had no plans to re-align US Bike Route 1 with US-1 anywhere along this 27-mile corridor.
Since then, US Bike Route 1 has been blockaded through Fort Belvoir since the base was closed to the public in September 2001, while VDOT has provided no alternative routing pending EFLHD’s construction of a new parallel connecting road (Mulligan Rd) between US-1 and Telegraph Rd (Rte 611) which is scheduled to open in late 2013. Meanwhile, VDOT’s website now depicts US-1 through Fort Belvoir as the alignment of US Bike Route 1 and that alignment would considerably shorten USBR 1 in this area compared to following Old Mill Rd/Mulligan Rd to Telegraph Rd and then following Telegraph Rd to its southern terminus at US-1 in Lorton. (Despite being intended as a segment of USBR 1, Mulligan Rd is currently being built by EFLHD with 14-foot curb lanes rather than with 15-foot curb lanes or bike lanes.)
As late as 2003, VDOT’s recommendation for 15-foot wide outside lanes to accommodate bicycling on US-1 was retained in VDOT’s Route 1 Location Study and in the three draft Environmental Assessments which the FHWA endorsed in 2003. However, in October 2011, when EFLHD held its first public information meeting for the Fort Belvoir segment of Rte 1, I learned that EFLHD had reduced the width of the curb lanes from 15-feet to 14-feet. I immediately wrote to the EFLHD project manager as well as to VDOT bicycle program staff in NoVA and Richmond, the Fairfax County bicycle coordinator, and others. I also attended EFLHD’s second public information meeting on June 5, 2012 where I submitted both written comments and oral comments with the court reporter, and I again asked VDOT and Fairfax County staff to intervene and support the retention of 15-foot wide curb lanes in this project.
The comment summaries for both EFLHD public meetings include my requests to retain 15-foot curb lanes for bicycling (and to stripe them as 4-foot bike lanes plus 11-foot travel lane), but the approved Environmental Assessment still specifies 14-foot curb lanes. The roadway design specifies a 148-foot wide right of way with three travel lanes in each direction and a 32-wide landscaped median which is reserved as a potential dedicated future transitway. Furthermore, at least two intersections will be designed with triple left-turn-only lanes, and other intersections will have double right-turn-only lanes and/or double left-turn-only lanes. In view of the desirability and the outside pressures to not further widen the roadway, I have recommended that the proposed 39-foot width of mainline roadway (excluding concrete gutters) in each direction simply be reconfigured as a 12.5-foot inside lane, an 11.5-foot middle lane, an 11-foot outside lane, and a 4-foot bike lane. With dedicated right-turn lanes at each intersection, I believe that roadway bicyclists would be far better accommodated, especially at intersection approaches, by a roadway designed with designated bike lanes than by a roadway with wide curb lanes. Regardless, a 14-foot lane is too narrow for a bicyclist to safely share laterally with 50-MPH traffic.
To initiate a final push for bike lanes or at least 15-foot curb lanes in this project, I made the attached public comment at the Dec. 19 TPB meeting. Several TPB members were supportive of my comments [but no changes have yet been made].