Changes to the City of Falls Church section of the Washington & Old Dominion trail are coming by late 2020 and local cyclists and pedestrians alike favor the safety improvements, but are split when it comes to the total overhaul the City’s portion of the trail is expected to receive.
A $3.2 million award from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority will allow the City to more than double the width of its segment of W&OD trail, increasing its current 10-foot width to a total of 21-feet with an 11-foot wide bike trail and an eight-foot wide pedestrian path separated by a two-foot wide median.
The current wooden bridge over Four Mile Run will be replaced, while the funding will also be used to make a 20-foot wide bridge that arches over Lee Highway (Route 29) in order to mitigate one of the more hazardous crossings for both bikers and pedestrians. Furthermore, new ramps connecting the trail to streets as well as more lighting will be added to the City’s section of the trail.
“The Falls Church section of the W&OD is one of the most heavily trafficked portions of the trail. On weekends, with the large amount of users the trail can be quite dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians alike — especially for kids using the trail,” Zach Gasper, an everyday bike commuter on the trail and director of design at Falls Church’s GreenSpur, Inc., said. “Separating the trail into distinct uses will greatly improve the safety and usability of the trail. The larger plan to build a bridge over Lee Highway will probably be the most significant improvement.”
Owner and manager of Bikenetic, Jan Feuchtner, echoed Gasper’s praise for the trail improvements, particularly the bridge over Lee Highway, with its enhanced safety outweighing its potential to be an eyesore.
Feuchtner admits he typically uses the trail during off-hours (unlike Gasper, who rides it during peak commuting hours), but says he’s had enough close encounters with cyclists and runners on the trail, and heard of run-ins from commuters who frequent his store, to believe dedicated lanes will help reduce the possibility of collisions. He notes that activity on the W&OD has grown tremendously in recent years in terms of cyclists and commuters, and segregating the modes of transportation on the trail could only help in terms of diluting the congestion.
Those who are less enthusiastic about the proposed improvements can’t wrap their head around the practicality of changing just the City’s 1.2-mile section of the trail.
“City of Falls Church residents don’t just walk or bike that one small portion of the trail and then turn around and go home,” ProBikeFC owner, Nick Clark, said. “It just doesn’t make sense to make those kinds of changes to a small section of a [45-mile] trail.”
Clark is adamantly impartial on what happens to the trail since, as a professional cyclist, the public thoroughfare is too casual for him to want to ride on it regularly. That’s why he thinks using the money to pay for more patrols to monitor cyclists using the trail for unnecessarily intensive purposes could serve the community better than making infrastructure changes.
Though Clark does believe that some kind of committee formed between the different municipalities the trail spans could serve as a benefit to how the W&OD trail is managed. For example, when Clark lived in Greenville, S.C., the Swamp Rabbit trail crossed over multiple counties and cities. City officials got together with locals to form a committee with the ultimate goal of making the trail safer, while saving some money in the process.
Larry Comella, who penned a Letter to the Editor in the News-Press last week, has used the trail less in retirement, but wondered why the money being spent on the trail improvements couldn’t go toward another local peccadillo in correcting the “sidewalks to nowhere.” More so, he fears the trail will lose some of its nature-oriented allure.
“I’m afraid if they widen it, they might chop down a few more trees, [add] more concrete and put a little boulevard in between. Then it’s not as quaint of a bike path,” Comella said.
Dave Myles, a pedestrian who mainly uses to the trail to get to and from the Metro, also felt the money could be better spent elsewhere. But he didn’t see any problems with adding more lighting for trail goers, which, he imagined, would be better received by female users who may feel uncomfortable in some of the darker, forested parts of the W&OD trail.
All who spoke with the News-Press acknowledged there will likely be some level of confusion to the trail’s users at the entrance and exit of Falls Church’s modified section.
As Feuchtner mentioned, however, he hopes that the success of the split lanes will cause the changes to spread east and west of the City, making the improvements uniform rather than unique.