Monday, January 6, 2014

VDOT Beltway Crossing Improvments -- Gallows and Little River Turnpike

Overview:  VDOT posted an announcement saying that "bicycle and pedestrian paths have been completed for the beltway overpasses with Fairfax County paths".  The VDOT web site was horribly vague about what the projects included, so I went out to explore.  I rode Gallows Road and Little River Turnpike.  I'll update later with information about Braddock Road when I have a chance to ride it.  

Generally the projects crossing the beltway include wider sidewalks and crosswalks marked with signs for drivers to yield to people in the crosswalks.  There are no on-road bike facilities or bike lanes on either of the beltway crossings that I rode.  

Initial Observations:  Some of the crosswalks have good site lines for those using them and for approaching automobiles.  Many have very poor site lines and are extremely dangerous.  The yield signs for the crosswalks are extremely small (14" square) and completely inadequate for marking the crosswalks.  They are often obscured by other traffic signs that are 36" tall and bigger.  
Tiny yield sign is lost in the visual clutter

The announcement talks about "trail extensions".  I didn't really find all the connections that the press release talked about.  I'll go through the connections as I look at each crossing.  

Gallows Westbound:  The sidewalk along Gallows Road now connects to the sidewalk on the bridge across I-495.  The sidewalk is about 6' wide, which is not really wide enough for a bicycle rider to comfortably pass pedestrians without getting quite close.  The crosswalks have quite good site lines, but the yield signs indicating to drivers that a crosswalk exists are woefully too small.  They appear to be about 14" square and are completely lost in the visual clutter of all the other signs along the road.  

Gallows Road West-bound

On the west side of the bridge, the sidewalk crosses the exit, but does not really connect to anything on the other side.  This appears to be a connection to a sidewalk or path that does not yet exist.   

Gallows Eastbound:  The Eastbound side of the Gallows Rd. Bridge has much better connections.  There are sidewalks and crosswalks that connect to the Fairfax Innova Hospital and to bike-friendly roads on the west side.  Woodburn and Holly Roads are ones that I use regularly and are quite bike friendly.  The site lines for the crosswalks are good, but the one crossing the ramp entering I-495 south has pedestrians and cyclists crossing a bit of road where cars are entering fast and trying to accelerate up to beltway speeds (55mph speed limit that is usually driven at 65mph+).  A 14" square yield sign is nowhere near adequate to promote safe crossing.   

The sidewalk across the bridge connects up well to the sidewalk on the east side of Gallows Road and makes the best connection for pedestrians.  The crosswalk on the east side has a traffic light and is the safest that I toured today.  

Conclusion:  As a cyclist, I'll stick to the road and avoid the Gallows Road Sidewalks.  I personally feel much safer mixing with cars because there are not really usable connections for cyclists on all sides of the bridge.  For novice cyclists, the sidewalks will get you across the beltway very safely.  You just need to make sure you're able to connect to where you want to go.  If you're inside the beltway and need to get to Fairfax Innova hospital, you'll want to cross on the south side of the bridge.  That is the side that has better, safer connections.  
Gallows Road Eastbound.  See the tiny yield sign?

Little River Turnpike Westbound: The sidewalks on Little River Turnpike are much wider.  They're 8 feet wide.  They connect up perfectly on the east and west sides and are a joy to ride.  This is arguably the safest way to cross the beltway…. or is it???  Unfortunately the site lines are sometimes much worse than what we saw on Gallows Road.  The first crosswalk has the same 14" yield sign to announce its location, but there's barely 50 yards of site line for cars that are entering fast and trying to accelerate up to highway speeds.  This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS crosswalk.  The crosswalk at the far side of the bridge is very good and has great site lines.  The wide path/sidewalk connects up to the frontage road on the west side perfectly.  It is a great way to cross the beltway!
Cars moving quickly plus short site lines equals dangerous crosswalk

Connection to Cross County Trail:  Nothing to see here, you bunch of Looky-loos.  When I read about bike trail connections at Little River Turnpike, I was SOOOOO excited… anticipating a connection to the Fairfax Cross County Trail.  As I rode across, I could see where it was!  I could see that people had used it!  I was so happy!   Then I got to the No Trespassing signs.  There is still no connection to the CCT on this side of Little River Turnpike.  
No CCT access here!

Little River Turnpike Eastbound:  This is the best of the bunch when it comes to connecting to where people want to go.  Accotink Parkway on the west side connects the Fairfax CCT to the beltway crossing.  The yield sign is tiny, but the site lines are good.  On the far side of the bridge, the story is different.  The crosswalk has okay site lines, but the drivers are going EXTREMELY fast.  I stood at the crosswalk to see if anyone would yield to me.  After 30 or 40 cars crossed, a minivan tried to stop.  He couldn't do it in time.  I heard his ABS rattling as he tried to stop.  He ended up rolling through the crosswalk at about 15mph.  He demonstrated that an average Joe couldn't stop for one of these crosswalks in real-life conditions if he wanted to.  

Dude tried to yield, but couldn't

Conclusion:  I'm going to revise my original conclusion.  The last few times I've ridden that area of Little River Turnpike, it has been very ugly and not a place I am comfortable riding.  I've talked to 4 of my friends who ride through there regularly, and they gave me some local intel.   For experienced cyclists riding 236 across the beltway is probably safer on the street.  I'll go back and evaluate that again for myself.  If you ride through the area, give it a good look and let  me know what you think. 

Here are more photos of my trip if you're interested in seeing more of what I experienced:

I'll report on Braddock Road in the next few days. 

Happy Riding.  



  1. I always wonder if the people who make these designs ever actually try walking/cycling/driving through them in realistic conditions.

  2. Welcome to my world! You were very close to my door!

    All of what you say is true - but this is a vast improvement over the conditions before. I do use the sidewalks (south side of Gallows and both sides of LRT) Most of the time I dismount and walk the bike across the ramps (note these are also the pedestrian routes across the beltway and for them taking the lane is not an option.) I am still not sure why the yield signs are so tiny. BTW did you notice the ped crossing signs on Hummer - I email, FCDOT responds :) Motorists still speed through as if they were not there :(. See you at the next FABB meeting!