Trying New Things

July 30, 2014 · Posted in Bike 

The Silver Line is open after a long, long wait. On Monday, I had to drop off the minivan at the Honda dealer for some recall work. Since the dealer is literally right next to the Silver Line's Spring Hill station, I decided to ride it for a couple of stops to McLean. My train's car was full, but not packed, when I got on. People were boarding at every station in the Tysons area, a bit to my surprise. Also surprising was how long the short tunnel under the high point of Tysons was.

Eventually, I hopped off the train at the McLean station. I probably could have walked the rest of the way to work, but with ongoing road construction on Anderson Road, I decided to try out the Fairfax Connector bus instead. Buses were arriving fairly frequently, and there were quite a few people hopping off and heading to the Silver Line to commute in to DC. I expect there will be a lot of those to start off, but that the reverse commuters (especially those who work at Mitre right next to the McLean station) will start picking up in the next few months. Oh, and that nifty Park and Ride lot at the McLean Station? Total ghost town. So much for the parking apocalypse.

On my way back to the dealer, I took the Fairfax Connector again, this time the one that was replacing the old 24T Metrobus route (which is still signed along the route, but I let Metro know so they can fix it). The bus, as the 24T always was, was nearly empty, making me wonder why they are still running this line with huge buses. It's certainly not for my couple of times a year I use it when dropping my car at the dealer. The route ran right back up to the Spring Hill station, and I walked across the station bridge to avoid trying to cross the umpteen jam-packed lanes of Route 7. Overall, it was a pretty decent commute, made convenient only because of where my car dealer is currently located.

Yesterday, I rode my bike to work and decided to check out the new "upgraded" Route 7 bridge over I-495. What. A. Nightmare. First off, I forgot how steep the hill up Magarity Road is, and my quads were burning, big time. Then came the moment of truth, the attempt to cross over five separate highway ramps. The first two were easy, as the light at Magarity and Route 7 was in my favor, and I was able to get across them without any trouble. In addition, one of the ramps actually has a signal, so I could be sure it was safe to cross. However, that single ramp was the only one with a signal out of five I had to cross. The first problem came when I tried to cross the ramp from I-495 northbound to Route 7 westbound. A steady stream of cars came off the ramp, with no break to see, all proceeding too fast for me to try to get anyone's attention to allow me to cross. With the clover leaf approach, most cars didn't even see me until they were 50 feet away. Finally, after several minutes of waiting, a wonderful gentleman in a Honda Accord stopped and wave me through. PHEW! The walkway on the bridge is nice and wide, but then came the ramp from Route 7 westbound to I-495 southbound. The sidewalk there veers to follow the ramp, then forces a sharp left turn across the ramp, with very difficult visibility of the traffic approaching from behind on Route 7. Luckily, the traffic there was all proceeding westbound on Route 7, and I was able to scoot across quickly. The last ramp also had difficult visibility, this time due to the vegetation growing between the sidewalk and the ramp itself. Honestly, if I was going to ride this route again (which I am not), I would probably wait for a favorable light at Route 7 and Magarity, and ride in the roadway, rather than try to navigate the ramp crossings on the sidewalk. If I was taking this route with any regularity, I would likely choose to ride one of the buses to cross I-495 on Route 7 rather than put myself at risk with the extremely dangerous ramp crossings.

Proceeding west down Route 7, I considered taking Towers Crescent Drive over to Gallows Road, but instead decided to continue west straight to Gallows Road itself. Alas, the sidewalk after Fashion Boulevard was closed, and I was forced to cross near the Fairfax Square shopping area (home to Chef Geoff's). I then cut over on Aline Avenue to Gallows. Here, there was a short, but harrowing ride in high speed traffic before I reached the relative safety of the Gallows Road bike lane which inexplicably starts after Madrillon Road, rather than connecting all the way up to Route 7. Again, if I rode this route again, I would certainly take the Towers Crescent route, which would drop me on Gallows Road in the middle of the bike lane. The bike lane could use some sweeping, as there was lots of gravel and debris in it, but was a smooth ride that allowed me to pass several cars stopped at lights. Room for road education: those dotted lines in the bike lane leading up to right turns? Cars are supposed to cut into the bike lane at that point prior to making the turn. Really, it's okay, it lets me know that you are turning at a more gradual pace, rather than cutting across my path in a right hook. All the cars I saw stayed in the car lane, even when I was pretty close behind them. One more side note, there was a little hill down Gallows near Idylwood Road, and I totally blew past a sputtering moped, highlight of my ride for sure.

This post shows there is still a lot of work to be done in the area to accommodate pedestrians and bikers. Even when transportation engineers and planners try to add facilities, as they did with the commodious walkway on the Route 7 bridges, they fail to consider the big picture of how people are going to get to and use the facilities. In the case of Route 7, no one is going to try to regularly cross those ramps without signalized crossings like the ones provided by the HOT lane ramps. Unfortunately, VDOT is continuing to ignore these basic realities while touting its new pedestrian accommodations, like the planned Route 123 sidepath and the Idylwood sidewalks to nowhere. (P.S. It would have been really nice to put in bike lanes when you repaved Idylwood Road, guys!) I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, since they still haven't even added needed crosswalks in Tysons during the YEARS they had to prepare for the Silver Line opening. Tysons has a long way to go before it becomes the idyllic walkable Arlington-esque paradise planners envisioned. I am optimistic that it will happen eventually, but if I were new to the area and looking for somewhere to live, I'd go to Dunn Loring over Tysons right now. The Mosaic District is great, and once the construction surrounding Dunn Loring station is complete, it will be extremely easy to access for pedestrians and bikers alike.

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