Installing sidewalks seems like a fairly simple task. Some tools, some cement, and some time ought to fix things up, right? Actually, no. By the time it’s under construction, years may have passed in the engineering and design of the walkway, obtaining the land rights to construct, getting bids to construct, and then building the new pedestrian facility.
Decades ago, as the automobile made suburban travel distances easier, many new neighborhood developments were built without sidewalks. Additional amenities took precedence — perhaps a family room, a powder room, or a garage and driveway. At the same time, traditional front porches that fostered a social neighborhood fabric disappeared, and families focused on new backyard decks and patios, adding privacy, but losing some sense of community. The car became king, and its realm was wherever you wanted to drive, not walk. That worked fine — for awhile.
With today’s traffic congestion and a new desire to get outdoors and walk, or bicycle, demands for pedestrian and bike facilities have increased exponentially. Not long ago, the response to plans for a new sidewalk in Annandale was “why in the world would anyone want to walk in Annandale?” Today, the plea is, “ I’d love to be able to walk to the Giant, The Block, Walgreen’s, the library, etc.”
Major walkway improvements in Mason District include the pedestrian bridge across Arlington Blvd. at Seven Corners; a trestle-like crossing over Holmes Run on Columbia Pike, across from the Lake Barcroft Dam; a walkway along Little River Turnpike from Beauregard Street to Willow Run Drive; and a walkway along Elmdale Road, on the north side of the Pinecrest Golf Course. Other improvements include installation of pedestrian-controlled signal heads that count down the amount of time left to cross a busy intersection, and crosswalk ramps that are accessible to residents with walkers or strollers along major roadways and at bus stops.
There’s much more to be done. A sidewalk along Sleepy Hollow Road is a good example. For years, my office has been fielding requests for a walkway or sidewalk on Sleepy Hollow Road, a heavily travelled connection between Arlington Boulevard on the north, to Columbia Pike, on the south. Such potential projects are placed on a countywide list for review and identification of possible funding. Part of the review process identifies the public right-of-way that may exist, an estimation of how much private property would be needed, and how to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Public walkways must be accessible for wheelchair use and other assistive devices.
Many homeowners are unaware that their property may not extend all the way to the street. The first 10 feet or so may be public right-of-way, maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), not the homeowner, even though the homeowner may have landscaped it, mowed it, etc. Existing sidewalks likely are built in VDOT right-of-way, but private property rights may have been needed and obtained through negotiation between parties. Fair compensation for land rights and construction easements is required. Despite these challenges, providing more pedestrian access in our community is a worthy goal, and well worth the effort in the long run, now and for generations to come.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.