Myers-Briggs tests consistently show that I am an introvert with a capital I. My idea of hell on earth is being in a big reception and not knowing anybody. Another manifestation of hell on earth is US Route 1 in Fairfax County. To put two hells together I attended a long range planning meeting tonight on the future of Route 1. The meeting was billed as “Route 1 Multimodal Alternatives Analysis”. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
It’s actually a pretty interesting project. Route 1 has no rail rapid transit, is overwhelmed by car traffic, is a nightmare to ride a bike on or walk across, and is butt ugly. And the 15 miles of Route 1 between Alexandria and Route 123, just over the Prince William County line, is expected to see plenty of growth in the next 25 years.
The project is being done by a bunch of state and local agencies that recognize that planning for more car traffic which currently rules the road is a non-starter. Many years ago the people who planned Metro decided not to run the yellow line down Route 1. Everyone now sees what a mistake this was. The future will almost certainly include a rail (light or heavy) or bus rapid transit. It will also include something like six lanes for cars. Eek!
The meeting was held at the South County government center on Route 1 about 1 1/2 miles from my house. Normally, I had already ridden this stretch of Route 1 earlier in the day to fetch my car from a body shop. That was in daylight with no rain. The meeting was after dusk and rain was falling. I drove. Shoot me.
The perimeter of the meeting room was lined with posters explaining various aspects of the project. I saw the word “bicycle” twice. Once was on a board about the desire to build a healthy alternative to the current car-centric mess. The other was on a poster that showed the new bike lanes already being built along Route 1 through Fort Belvoir. I was not optimistic about the bicycle aspects of the project.
Project leaders gave a 30 minute presentation. For the first 20 minutes, the word bicycle was not mentioned once. In the last ten minutes, it was mentioned six times. The development team realizes that making the corridor bike and pedestrian friendly is a high priority. (There is nowhere to go but up.) One slide was dedicated to the fact that the bike routes near Route 1 are, to cut to the chase, an inadequate mess. When the presenter said that the bike routes in the area lacked “connectivity” I actually laughed out loud, because that’s the word I used on my comment form.
Fortunately the project planners are aware of successful retrofits to old infrastructure in Arlington, DC, Charlotte, and Richmond. They seem to intend to steal liberally from the best of these kinds of projects.
After the presentation I went up to the “connectivity” speaker to offer more bike comments. It turns out he’s a bike commuter (from DC to Arlington). He obviously gets it. Then I got interviewed by a reporter for the Patch online newspapers. I don’t know why she picked me out of the crowd. Maybe it’s the new “Interview Me” tattoo on my forehead.
After the presentation, the project staffers were aligned around the room next to their posters to listen to feedback. I went to one poster to make a comment about biking and the first thing I saw on the adjacent white board was “Make it more bike and ped friendly”! Somebody beat me to the punch. I hung around and chatted with some folks, explaining how much nicer a place it would be to live if you could access all that retail activity without driving.
So, with some irony, I left the meeting and drove home.
Part of me envies the planners because it’s a cool project with so much upside for making the area a better place to live. From 1970 to 1990, Fairfax County bought in to the idea that sprawl and haphazard development was good. Now that county residents have had 20+ years to experience the fruits of these policies, the county and state realize that they have a ton of work to do to make.