Arlington prides itself on its public engagement, but when there is a fundamental disagreement on the basic design of our streets, public engagement becomes a frustrating, repeated rehashing of the same arguments rather than a productive and collaborative conversation about what might make a particular street unique. Arlington needs a Street Design, Operations and Maintenance Guide — a set of localized standards, tools, interventions and policies that reflect not just professional engineering standards, but also community-driven values.
I have heard some variation on that sentence more times than I can count at public engagement sessions, County Board hearings and civic association meetings: “Cars just come speeding around that corner.” They shouldn’t be able to. A street designed for pedestrian safety uses a solid, dependable and simple technique to force cars to slow down, the “corner radius.” Arlington is building streets using corner radii that are much larger than our policies say they should and they don’t seem to be taking into account a key concept: “effective” versus “actual” curb radii. The end result: drivers can whip around a corner at a high rate of speed making them much more likely to kill or severely injure a pedestrian in the crosswalk.
Unlike most counties in Virginia, Arlington owns and maintains the vast majority of the County’s roads… but not all of them. Highways like I-395, I-66 rightly belong under the control of the Virginia Department of Transportation, but for other streets in Arlington, the value proposition is much less clear.
Arlington recently announced the end of one of the only good things to come out of the pandemic: the widespread implementation of automatic pedestrian phases on many of our traffic signals. In many areas, pedestrians will have to go back to pushing a button in order to trigger an opportunity to safely cross the street. The response from many has been “pushing a button is not a big deal,” and indeed, pushing a button is not hard or onerous; what is a big deal is the guaranteed additional pedestrian delay that comes along with it, the negative effect on accessibility and the message that it sends.
Most of Arlington’s current Protected Bike Lanes have a weak point: bus stops. While riders have a largely low-stress, comfortable ride separated from moving cars by parked cars, that protection falls away at the bus stop where they need to mix with large vehicles that have somewhat limited rear and side visibility. Floating bus islands to the rescue!