Study Would Look at Improving Access to Dulles Town Center for Bikers, Walkers
By Jason Jacks
Thursday, 25 February 2010
For many walkers and cyclists, the island that is Dulles Town Center is paradise lost.
Cut off from many surrounding communities by six-lane highways that have few crossings, the county’s sole regional mall is a treacherous trek to get to for those who use their legs for transportation.
In the mall area, avid cyclist Patricia Turner sees the dangers. Experienced on two wheels, she opts for longer circumventing routes that sometimes take her six miles out of her way in order to avoid Loudoun’s busier highways like Routes 7 and 28. But, as she points out, others tempt fate by riding the roads.
“They really are taking their lives into their own hands,” she said of the cyclists she sees inching precariously along Route 7.
She adds: “A side path would be really helpful.”
Soon enough, county officials may be collecting similar suggestions for making the walk or bike ride to the town center a safer journey. That’s because on Feb. 17, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors took initial steps to launch a study into pedestrian and bicyclist needs along the Atlantic Boulevard corridor in Sterling.
Atlantic runs just east of Route 28 and terminates at Route 7. It links up to the south with the region’s busiest pedestrian and cyclist thoroughfare, the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, and is a vital artery in the expanding community that is Dulles Town Center. More homes and offices are planned for the mall property, which has few trails and walkways that access it.
“There is really no safe way to get there,” said Supervisor Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac), the maker of the proposal, explaining the idea for the study arose during community meetings in eastern Loudoun conducted in 2008. “To me, it is a major, major safety issue.”
In her proposal, McGimsey is calling on county planners, business owners, landowners and citizens to take part in making the town center a “multi-modal” destination. That is, increase its accessibility options to other than just roads. More sidewalks, crosswalks and walking and biking trails are initial suggestions made in McGimsey’s proposal as is the addition of bike lanes to some of the roads found in the corridor.
The county’s broken network of trails and sidewalks has long been a sore spot for Loudoun’s walkers and peddlers. In 2003, a county bicycle and pedestrian mobility master plan concluded that only 14 percent of Loudoun’s nearly 850 miles of roadways had sidewalks. Of the 70 miles of pathways in Loudoun that are dedicated for non-motorized use, only 12 miles were said to be wide enough for cyclists and pedestrians.
“Bicycling or walking is often not a safe or convenient option,” the plan concluded.
Of late, tragedy has shed light on the safety hazards of being a pedestrian in Loudoun. In 2007, two pedestrians were killed in a short span at the intersection of Algonkian Parkway and CountrySide Boulevard. On Feb. 13 of this year, 18-year-old Mitchell Guerrero, of Ashburn, was struck by a car as he tried to walk across Route 7 near George Washington Boulevard. He later died.
According to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, there were 48 accidents in Loudoun in 2009 that involved a pedestrian or cyclist. Of those, three occurred on Route 7 and none on Route 28.
Turner, co-chairperson of BikeLoudoun, a group advocating for making Loudoun cyclist-friendly, was on the committee that crafted the 2003 plan, which, she said, has done little to improve access for Loudoun’s “carless” crowd.
“That has been sitting for seven years collecting dust,” she said, before adding, “There is not a single bike trail in Loudoun.” The W&OD is a shared trail.
To oversee the county’s efforts to expand its trails and paths, her group wants Loudoun’s government to appoint or hire a bicycle coordinator, as Loudoun, she said, is the only major locality in Northern Virginia that does not have one. Her group also wants the county to follow through with many more of the recommendations made in the 2003 plan.
“There is a lot to be done,” she said of making Loudoun walker and biker-friendly. “But,” of McGimsey’s plan, “this is a great start.”
As an architect and 22-year resident of CountrySide, Alan Hansen has a duel perspective on the lack of accessibility to Dulles Town Center. He said areas like CountrySide, Cascades and the mall area are “island communities,” separated by impassable roads.
“When you look at Route 7 and 28, it’s not inviting, and not conducive for biking or walking,” he said. “It’s about automotive. It’s about driving 60 miles per hour. It’s a lot of concrete.”
More regularly, he said, he’s seeing “teens” from CountrySide cross Route 7 to get to the mall, while teens living on the mall side, are heading in the opposite direction toward the movie theater at CountrySide. “You have a lot of kids going back and forth,” he said.
To aid their crossing, as chairman of the Loudoun Design Cabinet, Hansen recently worked on a design for two pedestrian bridges over Route 7 between CountrySide and Dulles Town Center. Each would cost about $500,000 to construct. There has also been talk of adding a bike lane along Algonkian Parkway. Both ideas are in the hypothetical stage, as no funding has been set aside and no landowner has applied to move forward with the suggested projects.
Without a better network of trails, paths and sidewalks, Hansen said neighborhoods like CountrySide, Cascades and the town center will remain “islands” within a sea of pavement.
“We need to figure out how to connect these communities,” he said.
McGimsey said her study would include a look at how to pay for making the mall more accessible. She also wants to remind residents that this is a long-term process. Supervisors will discuss McGimsey’s proposal at one of their future Transportation and Land Use Committee meetings.