Our Picks

VDOT Cloverleaf Wasting Useful Space

The design of highway on-ramps and off-ramps have become prescriptive over the past six decades of transportation engineering with a set of a codes and requirements published by AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) and state DOTs. What has happened over that period of time is a conservative approach to land use for the purpose of “safety” which requires very specific geometric layouts, minimum radii, which result in massive swathes of land remaining fallow at the heart of these interchanges.

This is a serious problem for many communities. The highways that bisect our nation’s urban cores cause serious connectivity and walkability issues. Land under overpasses is often targeted for criminal activity and vandalism. With the conservative AASHTO requirements we’ve seen this exponentially worsened by dozens of acres of wasted land along side of the highways turning disconnected neighborhoods into abandoned no-man’s lands.

An obvious example is here in Tysons. The 495/Route 123 interchange is massive. The size of a single cloverleaf is larger than the entire campus for Capital One (the future home of millions of square feet of development). This space should be prime real estate, at the core of the city, and yet it is the most barren use. Sure it is also used for some storm water control for the highway, but this can also be replaced with more space sensitive storm water systems as well.

Just one example of what these could be converted to is public park space or recreational fields. The onramp at the southeast corner of the interchange is large enough not only to be home to a full sized regulation soccer field, but leaves enough room to create landscaping and walkway improvements, stormwater controls… heck you could fit a whole high-rise next to the soccer field if you wanted to.

The green rectangle within the cloverleaf is the size of a regulation soccer field.
In a city where we are cramming rec fields into residential neighborhoods, or eating into park land like is the case along the future Boone Boulevard extension, it seems odd that we simply ignore the unused spaces at our highway interchanges. The reality of course is, when we design mega-infrastructure, we must mitigate the danger of that infrastructure that comes to pedestrians. Whether that is the health affects of being exposed to exhaust or the lethal implications of crossing a highway onramp, when we prioritize commuters over all else, good land uses become more difficult to implement.

Of course, we could have the soccer fields, the health promoting park lands and landscape, and have it paid for by private development opportunities like a near by high-rise if we could design our on ramps with other travel modes in mind. We’ll never want people crossing highway lanes of course, that is a given, but over the past 6 decades we have seen the no-man’s land grow from the highway itself to it’s connecting roadways. The new frontier is creating pseudo-highways that are wholly separate from the highway which is also inhabitable to pedestrians, i.e. stroads.

When we take back roads, and keep highways where they are meant to be we can reduce speeds, and return safe access to the core wasted spaces of these interchanges. When we do that we see great opportunity at the core of our communities that before were nothing more than over grown grass.

Related Posts

Sep 13, 2017 

Amazon HQ2 Fun In Tysons

When Amazon announced it as looking to build a second headquarters office last week, one that would house up to 50,000 employees, the city planning community exploded in speculation and salivation over the prospect of landing the biggest white whale business out there. As the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon coming to town would make […]

Jul 04, 2017 

Jun 01, 2017 
Rendering of The View in Tysons, VA

May 01, 2017 

Apr 24, 2017 
Tysons, VA skyline

Mar 14, 2017 
Jones Branch Parcel in Tysons

Mar 02, 2017 
Tysons, VA construction gif

Feb 05, 2017 

Dec 19, 2016 
Dominion Square Tysons West

Dec 12, 2016 
The sky bridge under construction at Kingston apartments

Share This