“The City of Falls Church’s Greenest Street” is how a master plan for the W&OD Trail has been developed by the City’s Planning Department that was presented to the Planning Commission earlier this month.
The City’s Principal Planner Paul Stoddard shared the efforts of the department which will be seeking approvals from the Planners and the City Council. It is both a functional and romantic vision for the 16 acres in the City of Falls Church of the “Washington and Old Dominion” trail, also known as the “bike path,” that is owned and developed by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.
The Park Authority under the leadership of the late Walter Mess of Falls Church acquired the right of way which had been operated by the W&OD Railroad from 1859 to 1968. It stretches for a total of 45 miles from the Shirlington section of Arlington in the east to Purcellville deep in Loudoun County to the west, and runs right through the center of the City of Falls Church.
In fact, its renovation into a park started with its first mile in the City of F.C. in 1974. Since then, however, the section of the trail that runs through the City has fallen behind the developments along it such as in Herndon and Loudoun County spots where restored train stations and cars have been made into shelters and way stations for cyclists that are the most prevalent users of the trail. Signage has also been deployed elsewhere to direct trail users to nearby services and restaurants.
In Falls Church, on the other hand, “shaded seating benches are placed inconsistently along the trail and historic signs and markers are not coordinated with other features,” according to Stoddard’s report, although some “incomplete plazas created through citizen effort” could benefit from a City partnership and provide opportunities.
Other shortcomings identified here include “signage that is in disrepair and is unappealing and gateways that are inconsistent with signage and landscaping at roadway gateways.” Also, there are six at-grade crossings by City streets which divide the trail and make things “confusing and frustrating for both park users and street users,” Stoddard said.
This said, the plan presents a vision for the park as follows: “Develop the W&OD Park as a Great Street and greenway within the City, a place that provides opportunities for recreation, relaxation and transportation; preserves and improves the natural environment; connects to the City’s commercial and residential neighborhoods; and provides transitions between commercial and residential areas.”
Among the proposals presented to achieve this are to provide separate walking and biking trails, to provide lighting between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. for safety and consistency, and to improve the crossings. At the crossings, the plan is to use raised crossings to calm street traffic and to provide sidewalks for better access.
The plan also involves a solution to the problem of the awkward and dangerous intersection of the trail with N. Washington St. (Route 29) by diverting the trail onto the Four Mile Run path and putting an overpass there akin to the trail’s overpass on W. Broad Street (W. Broad St.), reconnecting to the trail on the other side.
“This will improve pedestrian and bicycle safety and comfort, and provide a gateway feature in the City,” Stoddard said.
Plans to use the entire park would provide more tree canopy, define boundaries between public and private spaces and create areas for activity where the story of the trail and of Falls Church can be told, and the City branded for the “special place that it is.”
The attention to the trail, Stoddard said, “will provide social and health benefits, providing for social interaction and exercise, environmental benefits as a natural habitat, enhancing air quality and stormwater mitigation, and economic benefits through “place-making, business attraction and labor attraction.”
The draft master plan, which can be viewed on the City’s website, will come to the City Council early in the new year.