Design of circuitous crosswalk in Reston raises eyebrows

Advocates are questioning the design of a new traffic island near Lake Anne Plaza that currently snakes around a crosswalk.

The island allows pedestrians and cyclists from Village Road to pass a right-turn lane and continue past Baron Cameron Avenue.

Previously, the island was essentially a straight shot, but now, the sidewalk circles around a crosswalk signal. The Virginia Department of Transportation said constraints, including updating the sidewalk to conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act, were part of the design.

But advocates suggested that the new crosswalk appears to be worse off for people in wheelchairs.

Bruce Wright, president of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, called the sidewalk design an afterthought and said this often happens.

“Anyone with a wheeled vehicle will have a hard time making the sharp left turn and then swinging around to the right,” he said in an email. “And pedestrians want to walk a direct path.”

He described the design as bad and would have preferred taking out the right-turn slip lane, requiring drivers to make a 90-degree turn.

Wright said FABB has discussed another issue with these designs with county and state transportation departments, noting that steep sides of curbs can lead to cyclists slamming their pedals there, causing crashes.

VDOT says design constraints involved

Transit officials said the upgrades were tied to Lake Anne House, a project to build 240 affordable units for seniors.

A Fairfax County staff report regarding the development previously stated “A pedestrian crosswalk across Village Road, near its intersection with Baron Cameron Avenue, will be provided. An existing pedestrian countdown signal and crosswalk are located on the east side of the site entrance, and will remain, to provide access to the Village Center.”

Fairfax County Department of Transportation spokeswoman Robin Geiger said the developer made the upgrades by right without transit approval.

But a representative for the development, Christy Zeitz, CEO of senior affordable housing provider Fellowship Square, said in an email that the Virginia Department of Transportation “controlled the design of the sidewalk.”

VDOT suggested a permit was involved but couldn’t immediately clarify who signed off on the project. It did acknowledge constraints and implications of the design, though.

“The new ramp is part of the improvements associated with the Lake Anne House site plan (right-of-way improvements are included in VDOT permit #139453) and replaces the existing ramp/sidewalk in the island at that intersection that was non-compliant with ADA requirements and would no longer address pedestrian connectivity between the project site, Village Road and Baron Cameron Avenue,” VDOT spokesperson Ellen Kamilakis wrote in an email.

Site constraints also included traffic signal boxes and at least one underground utility hole, meaning a more standard refuge island was not possible, according to VDOT, leading to the curved path.

“This unfortunately does elongate the length of walkway for pedestrians traveling across Baron Cameron Ave. to the east side of Village Road from the existing condition, pre-construction,” Kamilakis wrote.

With the design, ponding within the sidewalk shouldn’t occur.

‘Mini-golf putting course’

“You’re under certain rules when you’re redesigning something,” Reston resident Fionnuala Quinn said. “However, the redesign doesn’t serve the purpose that the island is for.”

Quinn, who works as a consultant and seeks to promote traffic improvements through her business, questioned the design through a video on Twitter, joking it was a “new mini-golf putting course.”

She noted she didn’t know the background of the design but contacted Fairfax County regarding her concerns. County officials suggested a contractor was involved due to a new development.

It was unclear if design constraints, such as a sewer system, played a role or if the setup was temporary.

Quinn, who previously worked as a civil engineer, said the design was convoluted and said it could be problematic for a cyclist, a person in a wheelchair or someone pushing a stroller when there’s another pedestrian.

She said she was hesitant to talk about the matter because it didn’t appear to be a finished project, but she was wondering what kinds of effects the design could have, even for able-bodied people.

Quinn said many people think infrastructure is a fixed resource that can’t be changed. But that’s not the case. She said it’s better to raise issues in the design phase and at public meetings and described the current setup as unfortunate.

“I live in Reston because it’s a walkable, bikeable place, and we have this amazing network that allows us to get around the community,” she said. “When I encountered that particular reconstruction, I was pretty surprised.”

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