Last night VDOT and FCDOT met at Westgate Elementary to discuss plans for improving pedestrian and bicycle access to the eastern portions of Tysons and the Pimmit communities. The topic specifically was a planned pedestrian and bicyclist crossing of 495 to connect the often isolated portion of town, with amenities along Route 7 and the mall.
The discussion on how to connect this part of Tysons to non-vehicle modes of travel has been a long one, dating back to when the HOT lanes were originally being implemented. The issue at hand is that 495 is a real and permanent obstacle. The County has seen some issues with past overpass style access bridges (such as the infamous issues at the East Falls Church bridge across Route 50) so it would appear some hesitation in implementing this approach garnered further study. Of course, there have also been popular overpass style pedestrian/cycling bridges, such as the one connecting portions of Vienna to Wolf Trap above the Dulles Toll Road.
The bridge option was weighed against a more traditional multi-use path along Route 123, and the preferred option from this analysis was determined to be the bridge. From an urbanism stand point, sometimes pedestrian/cycling bridges can be tough to use. To climb elevation they often require several “switch back” ramps and no one loves crossing above more than a dozen lanes of traffic below. At night, low lighting and limited visibility to populated areas can create opportunity for crime.
Weighing all of the pros and cons, I think Fairfax County is making a good choice at the moment with this option. While appropriate cycling and pedestrian improvements are needed directly on Route 123, without making real changes to the road itself, planners and engineers would be putting users at risk. What is ultimately needed on 123 is a larger change, incorporating Tysons first protected bike lanes, and addressing the crossings of on/off ramps with a more urban friendly design. For now, those changes face the obstacles of entrenched vehicle use priorities, but over time that could (and should) change, allowing for a true comprehensive solution.
Another design workshop will happen on November 28th, and is open to the community. If you have comments or ideas your attendance is requested.