Founding Farmers, on Tysons Blvd. is a popular place, but the wait time for a table can make you reconsider your options. When the weather is nice, the plaza out front is a good gathering spot for larger parties, but soon across the street, there will be a tempting alternative.
A new restaurant is opening on the ground floor of 1775 Tysons Blvd., with its own small plaza out front. Less than 50 yards away — it sounds like the start of a nice walkable restaurant district — except for the 6 lanes of Tysons Blvd in between. As the brunch wait extends to 45min at Founding Farmers, and the car is already parked in the garage, pedestrians will give walking a shot.
Fairfax County and VDOT maintain strict codes regarding pedestrian crossings, and have argued that pedestrians will have to walk to the nearest crosswalk. Crosswalks on a road of this type — 30 mph in an urban district — can only be located at traffic lights, in this case Galleria Drive, adding several hundred feet to an otherwise short jaunt. The lack of crosswalk coupled with a curve in the road, and drivers focused on the next light ahead, its an “accident” waiting to happen.
As Tysons matures, with an increased emphasis on ground floor establishments, more situations like this are sure to arise – where pedestrian friendly development is separated by infrastructure designed for an auto-centric city. Architecture will always be more agile than infrastructure when it comes to responding to development patterns in the region.
VDOT has an existing toolkit of traffic calming strategies at the disposal of designers and developers, to retrofit roads and potentially make this a possible crossing. Here is an opportunity to apply the toolkit in a new and creative way that can inform future development.
Speed bumps, rumble strips, crossings slightly raised, or with textured pavement, traffic islands and bump-outs in the curb are all existing strategies that are used on a per case basis by urban designers. A thoughtful combination of strategies could make this crossable. The crosswalks location coincides with the driveways for each building, a natural point for traffic to slow for turning traffic.
By narrowing the travel lanes well before the crossing drivers have time to prepare before the crossing is in sight. Plantings at the corner could create a defensible space for pedestrians waiting to cross, and in the median.
Currently, these strategies are used by VDOT and FFX Co., but primarily on residential streets. To retrofit this road with a generous crosswalk could set a new precedent for many of the new developments across Tysons that will contend with existing conditions that prioritized the car.
As Tysons continues to develop, it is situations just like this, that are hard to predict and plan for, that need flexible space planning. To become a pedestrian city, these are the opportunities that must be seized – to reach between the blocks and the stand-alone components of a city, and connect them.