Advancing active mobility in greater Prince William, Virginia

Category: Pedestrians (Page 1 of 5)

Our Final Comments on the Proposed Route 234-Brentsville Road Interchange Design

PWC’s Proposed Route 234-Brentsville Road Interchange (a grade-separated interchange with continuous green-T intersections).  To see the details, view the design display boards from the December 8 public hearing.

Active Prince William submitted the following public comments to the Prince William County Department of Transportation in response to its December 8, 2021 Design Public Hearing on its proposed Interchange at Route 234 and Brentsville Road.  The public comment period closed on December 18, 2021.


The advertised design of the above-referenced project does not safely and effectively accommodate people bicycling, walking, or using other active transportation modes through the project area.  The design of the advertised non-motorized connections should be revised substantially to provide reasonable access and safety for people who are not traveling inside motor vehicles.

1) The Proposed Design Includes Too Many Dangerous At-Grade Trail Crossings of Free-Flowing, High-Speed Highway Ramps

This interchange is the connection point for Prince William County’s two major east-west cross-county shared-use paths; namely, the asphalt sidepaths along Route 294 (Prince William Parkway) and Route 234 South (Dumfries Road).  While the proposed design does include a circuitous shared-use path, meandering through the center of the interchange, that links both major paths, this advertised path connection would require people walking or bicycling to cross five separate at-grade crossings of high-speed highway ramps without any protection from traffic signals.  This tortuous path connection is not merely long, indirect, slow, and tedious; it is extremely hazardous and will both significantly deter trail use and lead to multiple pedestrian and bicycling injury crashes and eventually to traffic deaths.

Four of the six at-grade trail crossings of free-flowing, high-speed highway ramps that are included in the advertised design

Since this proposed interchange would create near-Interstate-highway-quality, free-flow connections for motor vehicles from all five approaches, it is unconscionable to have any at-grade trail-roadway crossings in this project. 

Rather than connect the two existing major trails via five at-grade highway ramp crossings within the center of the interchange, bicyclists and pedestrians should instead be routed near the eastern and northern perimeters of this interchange via pedestrian/bicycle overpasses of three legs of this intersection; namely, Route 234 South, Route 294, and Route 234 Business.   While all three pedestrian/bicycle overpasses proposed below are clearly warranted for safe and equitable access, they are listed above in priority order.

With that said, the trail approaches to many of the proposed at-grade roadway crossings in the present design are often very short and nearly parallel to the crossed roadway, especially at most of the four at-grade roadway crossings near the intersection of Bradley Cemetery Way and Route 294.  With such closely spaced crosswalks and sharply bent trail approaches, a bicycle rider would need to fully stop well before reaching the crosswalk, dismount, and manually reposition her bicycle to clearly view the approaching cross-traffic, and she will thus require much larger gaps in traffic to safely cross each roadway ramp.  The clustering of some of these crosswalks and the resulting short path segments between them would also likely create conflicts and collisions with any trail users approaching from the opposite direction.  If the final design retains any at-grade roadway crossings, the trail approaches should be as perpendicular to each crossed roadway (or in direct line with each crosswalk) as possible and substantially longer than the crosswalk itself.

The advertised design includes four closely spaced at-grade path crossings of free-flowing highway ramps near Route 294

The proposed shared-use path junction for the sidepath along Brentsville Road, near the southern end of the intersection, is also poorly designed.  The approach of the Brentsville Road sidepath to the Ramp C crossing is far too close and nearly parallel, not perpendicular, to Ramp C.  In addition, the Brentsville Road sidepath joins the longer path leading to Route 234 South at a sharp 90-degree angle, rather than making gentle Y-shaped connections much farther east of Ramp C.  The latter design flaw is replicated at the path junction near Bradley Cemetery Way and Route 234 Business.  Published AASHTO and VDOT guidance describe how to design appropriate path connections for people riding bicycles at 15 to 20 MPH.

The sidepath along Brentsville Road is poorly designed at its northern end near the Ramp C crossing.

 

2) Separating Shared-Use Paths from High-Speed, Free-Flowing Vehicle Traffic is a Long-Standing Practice in Northern Virginia

The practice of designing and building high-quality shared-use paths along and/or across limited-access highways without any at-grade road crossings has at least a 40-year history in Northern Virginia.  When the Virginia Department of Transportation designed and built I-66 in Arlington circa 1980, it established a continuous 10-foot asphalt path immediately adjacent to that highway with zero at-grade roadway crossings for the more than four miles between N Scott St in Rosslyn and the City of Falls Church at N Van Buren St and Route 29.

The 45-mile Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail, which runs from Shirlington to Purcellville, is Northern Virginia’s preeminent active transportation and recreation facility, largely because it has zero at-grade crossings of fast or busy roadways that are not protected with traffic signals.

In Arlington, the W&OD Trail benefits from both local roadway overpasses of the adjacent I-66 to cross under N. Ohio St and N. Patrick Henry Dr and stream underpasses for the adjacent Four Mile Run to cross under N. Sycamore St, N. Wilson Blvd, N. Carlin Springs Rd, and Arlington Blvd.  As a result, the W&OD Trail has zero at-grade roadway crossings for the nearly four miles between Columbia Pike and the Falls Church line at N Van Buren St.

For at least the past 30 years, NOVA Parks (formerly NVRPA) has required all builders of new or widened roads across its W&OD Trail to include a grade-separated crossing for the trail.  As a result, the W&OD Trail west of Four Mile Run now includes more than two dozen separate trail overpasses or underpasses at Route 29 in East Falls Church, Route 7 in Falls Church, I-495, American Dream Way, Reston Parkway, Town Center Parkway, Fairfax County Parkway, Herndon Parkway East, Center St in Herndon, Herndon Parkway West, Church Road, Atlantic Blvd, Route 28/Sully Road, Pacific Blvd, Loudoun County Parkway, Ashburn Village Blvd, Claiborne Parkway, Belmont Ridge Road, Battlefield Parkway SE, Route 15, Plaza St SE, Route 7/Harry Bryd Hwy, the Route 9/Route 7 Interchange, and the Route 287/Route 7 Interchange.  Many of those grade-separated roadways have lower traffic speeds and/or volumes than Routes 234 and 294.

Currently, the I-66 Outside the Beltway Express Lanes Project is in the process of building 11 miles of shared-use paths adjacent to I-66 in Fairfax County, as well as safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities on nearly all of the roads that cross I-66.  These new bicycle and pedestrian connections have been carefully and creatively designed to avoid at-grade roadway crossings, especially crossings with free-flowing, high-speed traffic.

Operated by the National Park Service’s George Washington Memorial Parkway unit, the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail between Rosslyn and the Mount Vernon Estate is another premier shared-use path in Northern Virgina.  Because it follows the Potomac River, the Mount Vernon Trail has always had few at-grade road crossings.  Nevertheless, many millions of dollars have been invested over the years to remove busy at-grade highway ramp crossings near Reagan National Airport, and—with no highway ramp interruptions—to connect the Mount Vernon Trail to Rosslyn, the Pentagon, and Crystal City and to cross the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

In recent years, the Virginia Department of Transportation has been building a network of pedestrian and bicycle overpasses of I-495 and the Dulles Toll Road in the Tysons area, including along Route 7 across the Dulles Toll Road, Trap Road over the Dulles Toll Road in Vienna,  the Jones Branch Connector over I-495 south of the Dulles Toll Road in McLean, and the Tysons One/Old Meadow Road overpass of I-495 near Pimmit Hills.

Bicycling and walking are viable transportation and very popular recreation modes in communities with high-qualify shared use paths, and the absence of at-grade highway ramp crossings is a key contributor to the safety, use, and enjoyment of those paths.  Prince William County will never create the types of high-quality paved trails enjoyed in most other Northern Virginia localities if it continues to build shared-use paths with hazardous at-grade crossings of highway ramps.

 

3) Install a Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge over Route 234 on the East/South Side of the Interchange to Create a Safe and Direct Connection between the Route 234 and Route 294 Paths

The Route 234 and Route 294 sidepaths–the two major existing bike/ped facilities within the project area—could be linked very safely and directly by building a pedestrian/bicycle bridge between these two trails on the east/south side of the interchange in the vicinity of the Meadows Farms Garden Center.  Because the elevation on the south side of Route 234 is considerably higher than the roadway, no long bridge approach should be needed on that side of the overpass.

Our proposed direct connection of the existing Route 294 and Route 234 shared-use paths via a pedestrian/bicycle overpass of Route 234 on the east side of the interchange near the Meadows Farms Garden Center

 

4) Incorporate Safe and Direct Connections to and from Route 234 Business (Dumfries Road) and the Planned Trail along Route 234 North

Even if the direct pedestrian/bicycle bridge requested above is built, safe and efficient bicycling and walking connections would still be needed to and from all five legs of this interchange; namely Route 294 (Prince William Parkway), Route 234 South (Dumfries Road), Route 234 North (Prince William Parkway), Brentsville Road (Route 649), and Route 234 Business (Dumfries Road).

Although the current Prince William County Comprehensive Plan calls for building a major shared-use path along Route 234 North, the current project design does not depict this future trail or its connections to the four other legs of this interchange.  The current design should be modified to identify the right-of-way and connections for the future Route 234 North shared-use path within the project limits.

Presently, Route 234 Business (Dumfries Road) provides bicycle and pedestrian access to the project area from most of the City of Manassas, the Bradley Square development, and the Godwin Drive corridor.  Bicyclists and pedestrians now readily use Route 234 Business to access Brentsville Rd, the Route 234 South sidepath, and the Route 294 sidepath via the roadways and crosswalks at the two nearby existing Route 234 intersections (and alternatively via Bradley Cemetery Way if desired).

The proposed design, however, would severely degrade this walking and bicycling access to and from Route 234 Business by expanding the limited-access control perimeter and by creating a large new signalized intersection at Route 234 Business and Bradley Cemetery Way.  To access any other leg of the interchange, bicyclists and pedestrians from Route 234 Business (and also the future shared-use path along Route 234 North) would apparently need to 1) cross two separate legs of a large, signalized Route 234 Business/Bradley Cemetery Way intersection—spanning a total of 12 vehicle lanes—2) cross a free-flowing lane of right-turning traffic from northbound Brentsville Road, and 3) finally cross either one or four-additional high-speed highway ramps within the center of the interchange, depending upon one’s destination.  This proposed pedestrian and bicycle access is neither safe nor effective and is a significant degradation of the existing conditions.

The advertised design would require at least a four-stage maneuver for pedestrians and bicyclists using Route 234 Business (or the future shared-use path along Route 234 North) to access any other leg of this interchange: 1) cross five lanes of stopped traffic at Route 234 Business, 2) cross seven lanes of stopped traffic at Bradley Cemetery Way, 3) cross one-lane of free-flowing right-turning traffic from northbound Brentsville Road, and 4) cross either one or four additional highway ramps—located elsewhere inside the interchange–with free-flowing, high-speed traffic, depending upon one’s final destination.

The current design should be modified to add an elevated trail on a berm along the north side of Bradley Cemetery Way, with pedestrian/bicycle bridges over both Route 234 Business and Route 294.  Such an elevated trail would connect the existing Route 294 path with the west side of Route 234 Business and the long-planned future trail along Route 234 North.  Placing this trail connection on a berm along the north side of Bradley Cemetery Way should lower construction costs and improve walking and bicycling conditions by minimizing grade changes along this trail connector between the pedestrian bridges over Route 294 and Route 234 Business.  Integrating these safe and direct grade-separated trail connections as part of the current project should provide them at far lower cost than if constructed later as one or more standalone projects.

Rough alignment of our proposed grade-separated trail connections along the northern perimeter of the interchange, with two relatively short pedestrian/bicycle overpasses of Route 234 Business on the west (connected to future shared-use paths along Route 234 Business and Route 234 North) and Route 294 on the east (connected to the existing Route 294 shared-use path).  Between Route 234 Business and Route 294, the connecting path could be built on a berm along the north side of Bradley Cemetery Way.

 

5) Reduce Interchange Construction Costs by Eliminating Unnecessary Trail and Roadway Features

To offset the cost of adding up to three pedestrian/bicycle bridges, the current design could be modified to eliminate unnecessary features.

If all three pedestrian/bicycle bridges recommended above are built over the eastern and northern edges of this interchange, all currently designed pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure within the center of this interchange would be unnecessary and could be eliminated, including the currently proposed 14-foot-wide shared-use path on the western interchange bridge.

The cost of the western interchange bridge should be further reduced by eliminating the advertised continuous green-T intersection at the exit ramp from southbound Route 234 and by eliminating one of the two northbound travel lanes from Brentsville Road on the western interchange bridge.  Traffic volumes on Brentsville Road, which had an AADT of only 2800 in 2019, will never warrant two northbound lanes through this interchange.  Eliminating one unnecessary travel lane (and potentially also the shared-use path) would reduce the cost of this roadway bridge considerably.  A traffic signal, stop sign, or a roundabout could replace the proposed continuous green-T intersection.

 

To reduce project costs, one northbound lane from Brentsville Road could be eliminated on the western overpass.  This second northbound lane is not warranted by current or future Brentsville Road traffic volumes and was only designed to accommodate an unnecessary continuous green-T intersection for traffic exiting southbound Route 234.  If the advertised design is modified to add all three pedestrian/bicycle overpasses recommended above, the 14-foot wide shared-use path could also be eliminated from this overpass.  The width of the advertised western overpass could thus be reduced 39%, from 67 feet to 41 feet.

Reducing northbound Brentsville Road to a single lane though the interchange would also reduce the widths of the roadway north of the western overpass and the width of the signalized intersection of Brentsville Rd/Route 234 Business at Bradley Cemetery Way.

The Route 234 Business/Dumfries Road roadway is already needlessly wide south of Godwin Drive.  According to VDOT’s 2019 traffic count data, this roadway segment has an AADT of only 8600.  Presently, the Route 234 Business roadway south of Godwin Drive is five lanes wide, whereas only three lanes of roadway (one travel lane per direction plus space for a left-turn lane in the center) would adequately accommodate a future doubling of this Route 234 Business Traffic (i.e., to an AADT of 17,200).

Rebuilding Route 234 Business between Godwin Drive and Bradley Cemetery Way as a three-lane roadway, instead of as a five-lane roadway, would allow the addition of both a shared-use path and a sidewalk within the existing right-of-way along this key road segment.  Moreover, the shared-use path (and not the sidewalk) should be located along the west side of Route 234 Business to align with the west-side path just built within the City of Manassas between Hastings Drive and Donner Drive.

Thank you for considering these comments.  We look forward to seeing a substantially modified final design for the shared-use path connections that will eliminate all at-grade roadway crossings and accommodate safe and reasonably direct pedestrian and bicycle access to and from all five legs of this key interchange.


On December 27, 2021, we submitted the following additional comment:

Building 12-foot-wide travel and turn lanes on Brentsville Road, Route 234 Business, and Bradley Cemetery Way is clearly excessive, since 11-foot-wide lanes are more than adequate for those local, lower-speed roadways.  Designing 11-foot travel lanes on the Brentsville Road bridge over Route 234 would further lower the cost of building that overpass.  With 8-foot-wide paved shoulders included on that overpass, 12-foot-wide travel lanes are most definitely wider than needed.

A narrower Route 234 Business on the north side of Bradley Cemetery Way would also reduce the cost of a pedestrian and bicycle overpass at that location and would shorten pedestrian crossing times if at-grade crosswalks are still included at Route 234 Business and/or Bradley Cemetery Way in the final design.

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Active Prince William’s Initial Comments on the Proposed Design of the Route 234-Brentsville Road Interchange

 
PROBLEM:
Forcing bicycle and pedestrian users to cross FOUR separate free-flowing, high-speed vehicle lanes is an unacceptable way to connect two of the major trails in the county.  The section should be removed from the design.  It is too dangerous.  [Added Note: The proposed design forces bicyclists and pedestrians to negotiate a fifth high-speed at-grade road crossing (of the ramp from northbound Brentsville Road to southbound Route 234) to actually link these two major trails.  Furthermore, to access or egress Route 234 Business/Dumfries Rd, bicyclists and pedestrians would be forced to negotiate a sixth high-speed at-grade road crossing plus 12 vehicle lanes at two controlled intersection legs at Bradley Cemetery Way.]

 

RECOMMENDED SOLUTION:
Add an additional bike/ped bridge crossing of Route 234 south/east of the planned interchange to directly and safely connect the Route 234 Trail and the Prince William Parkway Trail.

 

HOW TO PAY FOR THIS RECOMMENDED SOLUTION:
1) Remove the proposed bike/ped infrastructure with four at-grade roadway crossings from the Bradley Cemetery Way area:

2) Change the Continuous Green-T Intersection at Brentsville Road and the off-ramp from VA234 Bypass South to a Roundabout, Standard Two-Phase Traffic Light or a Three-Way Stop Sign.  Future traffic volumes do not warrant the expensive infrastructure needed for a Continuous Green-T Intersection.

3)  Remove one northbound lane from the planned Brentsville Road Bridge to create a smaller/cheaper bridge footprint.  Future traffic volumes do not warrant having two northbound vehicle lanes on this bridge.

Our General Comments on Active Mobility and Trails for the Mobility Chapter in the PWC Comp Plan Update

On June 16, 2021, Active Prince William submitted the following general comments on the active mobility and trails element for the Mobility Chapter in Prince William County’s Pathways to 2040 Comprehensive Plan:


Active Prince William’s General Comments on the Active Mobility and Trails Element of the Mobility Chapter in Prince William County’s Pathways to 2040 Comprehensive Plan

1. Active Prince William encourages Prince William County to plan for the expeditious development of a robust, connected, and diverse countywide network of bikeways, walkways, and trails as part of the Mobility Chapter of the Pathways to 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

2. The County should invest in building more “active transportation” infrastructure through 2040 to rebalance the excessive car-centric focus of the past.  A robust, countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Plan should be created to identify and prioritize bikeways and walkways that connect all activity centers and provide safe routes to all schools, parks, recreation centers, libraries, transit hubs, shopping centers, and employment sites, so bicycling, walking, and rolling can increasingly replace many short-distance (under 5-mile) motoring trips

3. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Plan should identify where various types of bikeways, trails, and sidewalks will be completed by 2040.  One goal, synchronized with the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Chapter and the Systemwide Master Plan for county parks, should be to create a connected network of shared-use paths, sidewalks, and bikeways, so all neighborhoods with a density of 4 or more dwelling units/acre are within a 10-minute walk (1/2 mile) of a neighborhood park or school/community-use site.

4. The County should establish a more vigorous and ongoing Active Transportation Program within its Department of Transportation, guided by a comprehensive and strategic Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Plan adopted by the Board of County Supervisors. The development of that plan, which could require a year or more of effort and community outreach, should be guided by dedicated in-house transportation planning staff and a diverse citizen task force. An outside consulting firm with strong expertise in active mobility planning (e.g., Toole Design Group or Alta Planning + Design) should be hired to coordinate the development of this Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Plan.

5. Formal Complete Streets and Vision Zero policies and action plans–adopted by the Board of County Supervisors following substantial public input–could help guide the County’s development of active mobility infrastructure.

6. The Mobility Chapter should include a table listing specific planned bicycle, pedestrian, and trail facilities, comparable to Table 2 listing the Thoroughfare Plan projects.

7. Appropriate bicycle and pedestrian accommodations should be planned and aggressively implemented, both as an integral component of all roadway widening and reconstruction projects and as standalone projects actively pursued separately from roadway reconstruction, during both scheduled roadway resurfacing and as fully independent projects.

8. A strategic prioritization process should guide the implementation of the standalone bicycle and pedestrian projects. The prioritization process for standalone projects and retrofits should consider many factors, with “opportunity” (such as upcoming roadway resurfacing, grant availability), trip demand, cost effectiveness, equity, and pedestrian safety being key considerations.

9. Bicycling accommodations for collector and arterial road corridors and urban boulevards should not be largely limited to shared-use paths (sidepaths), which are often hillier, more meandering, and less well maintained than the adjacent roadway and frequently interrupted by hazardous motor vehicle cross flows at intersections and driveways. These features make sidepaths much slower and more stressful for bicycling than simply sharing the roadway with vehicular traffic.

10. Whenever feasible, dual bicycling accommodations–both off-roadway (sidepath) and on-roadway (bike lanes, separated bike lanes, paved shoulders, or signed shared roadways)–should be provided to serve the diversity of people who ride bicycles.

11. Roads with Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT) less than 1,000 vehicles/day generally require no special accommodations for bicycling enthusiasts.

12. Adding paved shoulders (on open-section roadways) or bike lanes (on closed-section roadways with curb and gutter) is appropriate for road cycling enthusiasts and can provide very suitable bicycle accommodations, particularly in the Rural Area.  As traffic speeds and/or volumes increase—and for roads along a designated bike route– the need for (or desirability of) wider paved shoulders or bike lanes or for more separation between the bike lane and the adjacent travel lane (with either a crosshatched buffer or a physical barrier) increases.

13. The Mobility Chapter should include a policy that when the traffic volumes on roads in the Rural Area rise above 1,000 vehicles/day, VDOT will be asked to retrofit modest (2- to 4-foot wider) paved shoulders during scheduled roadway resurfacing, retaining the original 30-foot prescriptive easement. Such modestly widened roadways could then be striped with two 10-foot travel lanes flanked by two 5-foot paved shoulders for walking and bicycling.

14. When any residential development involving 10 or more homes is permitted beside a road without a sidewalk, the developer should be required to build a sidewalk or a sidepath along the road frontage for that subdivision.

15. On roadways where traffic volumes are forecast to exceed 10,000 vehicles/day over the next 20 years, adding a central two-way left-turn lane as well as paved shoulders or bike lanes should be proposed, as an alternative to widening to four or more travel lanes.

16. Roads planned for “Class II” bikeways should be identified as planned for “sidewalks plus bike lanes,” or just for paved shoulders or bike lanes.

17. The current designation for 14-foot “wide” outside lanes (termed “Class III” bikeways) should be eliminated. All of those roads should be re-designated for bike lanes (aka “Class II” bikeways). If multilane roads are simply striped with 11-foot travel lanes instead of the Interstate-regulation 12-foot travel lanes, a 14-foot outside lane becomes at least 16 feet wide, which is wide enough to allocate as a 5-foot wide bike lane plus an 11-foot travel lane.  Thus, the category of “wide outside lanes” is not only a poor bicycling accommodation; it’s a completely unnecessary category.

18. Signed shared roadways (e.g., relatively low-speed collector roads with shared-lane markings (a.k.a. “sharrows”) or low-traffic residential subdivision streets with way-finding signs) are the only “Class III bikeways” that should remain.

19. Signed shared roadways should be planned only where traffic speeds and volumes are relatively low, and bike lanes are either infeasible or unnecessary due to low traffic speeds and volumes.  This category should be designated as “Sidewalks and Shared Roadways”, rather than as “On-Road Trails.”

20. The Vision Zero strategies appropriate for different areas in Prince William should be identified and incorporated in all transportation planning.  Crashes involving a vehicle with a bike or pedestrian should be reported as a “vehicle-bike crash” or “vehicle-pedestrian” crash, not as “bike crash” or “pedestrian crash”.  Since vehicle speed greatly influences the severity of such crashes, VDOT and the County Department of Transportation should seek to lower the design speeds and posted speed limits on roads within activity centers, and emerging technologies, such as automated speed enforcement, should be used to reduce speeding. Particular attention should also be paid to minimizing risk when designing intersections that permit right turns on red and intersections where people walking or bicycling must cross two or more lanes of free-flow traffic.

21. Since transportation is our largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and Prince William has committed to reduce these emissions by 2030 to 50% of the 2005 level, the County should quantify the greenhouse gas emission impacts of proposed new transportation projects, including trails, for the county’s Climate Action Plan.

22. For shared-use paths, bike lanes, and sidewalks maintained by the county, rather than VDOT or an HOA, the PW County Departments of Transportation and of Parks, Recreation and Tourism should budget annually for routine maintenance as well as for capital maintenance (e.g., periodic repaving).  That includes removing storm debris, managing winter snow and ice, mowing grass, and removing encroaching vegetation.

23. For Traffic Impact Analyses, the county should report average pedestrian delay at intersections together with reports of average vehicle delay, and calculate bicycle and pedestrian Levels of Service and/or Comfort, comparable to calculating Level of Service for Vehicles.  Intersections should be designed to balance delays for bicyclists/pedestrians as well as delays for vehicles.

Manassas’ Motorist-First Sudley Road Third Lane Project and Its Awful Public Process

The City of Manassas’ upcoming northbound-only Sudley Road Third Lane Project illustrates how the Manassas City Council has, over many years, allowed pro-motoring locality Engineering  and Public Works staff to avoid meaningful public involvement in transportation project development to advance a dismal, anti-pedestrian, largely unnecessary, and counterproductive arterial-road-widening project through a healthcare-focused regionally significant activity center planned for mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly redevelopment (as described on pp. 56-58 in the City’s Comprehensive Plan).

View the City’s project design presentation, which was finally linked from the project webpage on May 28, 2021, one workday before the June 1 project public comment deadline.  View the project area on Google Maps.

The design of this relatively modest $8.4 million project—despite providing some much-needed and long-delayed pedestrian facilities—fails to make Manassas more livable, equitable, or sustainable, because it prioritizes excessively fast travel in motor vehicles over safe, pleasant, and effective non-auto mobility.

Moreover, the chronic lack of timely and impactful public involvement throughout the multi-year development of this City-led transportation project has squandered a valuable opportunity to help transform the City’s Sudley Medical character area into an attractive, mixed-use, walkable, healthcare-focused activity center, by ignoring or undermining the objectives, focus priorities, and design principles outlined on pages 56-58 in the Land Use chapter of the Manassas 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

An Abysmal Public Process

Although this project has been listed with a nutshell description in the City’s Capital Improvement Program (as project #T-015) since 2000, staff work apparently did not begin in earnest until the fall of 2015, when the project was submitted for the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s first round of SMART Scale (HB 2) funding (for FY 2017).  On November 23, 2015, the Manassas City Council adopted a pair of resolutions to support the City’s transportation funding applications, but there was no prior public speaking opportunity.

Ideally, City staff should have begun engaging the community to discuss the scope of this long-planned transportation project at least six to 12 months before applying for any outside funding.  However, the City had no transportation planner at that time, and the City departments responsible for Community Development and Planning and for Public Works and Engineering were siloed at separate locations.

In short, no community meeting or public hearing was ever held to discuss the scope, nature, or particulars of this project until City staff finally held a virtual public information meeting on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, when preliminary engineering was more than 90% complete.  Had the City held such community conversations early and throughout project development, the scope and proposed design of this project would likely have been substantially better.

Originally, the southern terminus of this project was Dorsey Circle, the roadway widening was limited to the short segment between Rolling Road and Godwin Drive, and the scope included undergrounding the NOVEC electric wires on the east side of Sudley Road.  However, in mid-2017, staff determined that the electrical undergrounding would cost more than extending the road widening farther south, to add a third northbound lane to Sudley Road between Grant Avenue and Stonewall Road.

The northbound roadway between Stonewall Road and Rolling Road has long had an essentially continuous right-turn-only lane, as well as two straight-through-only travel lanes, and was never proposed for any additional widening (or sidewalk improvements).

Google Streetview of Northbound Sudley Road across fron Novant/UVA Hospital.  Except to allow through traffic in the rightmost lane, the Third Lane Project will not alter this road segment. The narrow, 4-foot sidewalk is only 2 feet from the roadway and without shade, street lights, or street furniture (except at this single, mid-block bus stop).  The current continuous right-turn-only lane helps buffer the sidewalk from high-speed traffic and also provides bicycle access for traffic-tolerant bicyclists.  The proposed Sudley Road Third Lane Project would essentially extend this pedestrian-hostile street design with three northbound travel lanes the full distance from Grant Avenue to Godwin Drive.

On December 11, 2017, City staff placed a change-of-scope request for this project on the consent agenda for the Manassas City Council.  The project was re-scoped to create a continuous third northbound lane from Grant Avenue to Godwin Dr and to abandon all electric wire undergrounding.  Again, there was no public comment opportunity, community meeting, or public hearing to discuss the re-scoped project, and the Council’s resolution approving the re-scoping falsely stated in part: “WHEREAS, the public involvement process is complete and all resulting comments have been addressed, as needed;”

In February 2021, the project was quietly re-scoped again to add two extra turn lanes on Sudley Road at Godwin Drive for Prince William County’s proposed four-lane Route 28 Bypass in the Flat Branch floodplain.  To accommodate the proposed Bypass, Prince William County has transferred $1.03 million in surplus federal highway (RSTP) funds from a recently completed highway project to the City’s Sudley Road project (see pp. 39-43 here).  This time, not only was there no public comment opportunity, community meeting, or public hearing to discuss these project changes; the changes were not even mentioned on a City Council agenda.  Instead, the fund transfer was discussed and approved at the February 11, 2021 meeting of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, with no public comment opportunity.

The Manassas City Council, as the policy-setting body for the City, has both the authority and a public duty to ensure early, continuous, robust, and impactful public involvement in the development of all City-led transportation projects going forward.

A Wasteful, Motorist-First, Pedestrian-Hostile,-and Bicyclist-Unfriendly Street Design

1) Sudley Road already has more than ample capacity for motor vehicles and lacks a traffic congestion problem that warrants a third northbound travel lane. 

This two-way Sudley Road segment carries only 28,000 vehicles/day, a volume well accommodated with only four travel lanes, especially with dedicated left and right turn lanes at every intersection.  By contrast,  nearby Sudley Road in Prince William County carries 38,000 vehicles/day north of Godwin Drive and 50,000 vehicles/day north of Sudley Manor Drive.  For comparison, Grant Avenue by Georgetown South, which the City seeks to squeeze into only two travel lanes, carries 16,000 vehicles/day, and southbound Sudley Road has only two travel lanes and no dedicated right-turn lanes south of Digges Road.

This project’s 2015 SMART Scale application scored very low for congestion-reduction benefits (see page 8 of the referenced application); over 90% of the project’s SMART Scale score (1.7 out of 1.9) was for “transportation-efficient land use” due to its location within a healthcare-focused mixed-use activity center that could be made more walkable and accessible via non-auto travel modes.  In other words, SMART Scale funding was awarded because this project is located where enhanced walkabiity and non-vehicle access is important, not to address any traffic-congestion “deficiency”.

During the development of the City’s Transportation Master Plan (TMP) in 2019, existing arterial roadways and intersections throughout the City were analyzed by a traffic engineering consultant for traffic congestion, both at present and in the year 2040.   As documented on pp. 11-13 of the TMP, Sudley Road has no existing traffic congestion problem between Grant Avenue and Godwin Drive, especially in the northbound direction.  Furthermore, a similar analysis of roadway and intersection performance in 2040–in the absence of any currently non-programed transportation improvements–failed to identify any future traffic congestion problems along this segment of Sudley Road (see pp. 22-23 of the TMP).

Simply put, the repeatedly claims by City staff that this is project is “needed” to relieve traffic congestion and would “improve the capacity of northbound Sudley Road to accommodate vehicular traffic needs” is shear nonsense.

2) The proposed design is blatantly hostile to pedestrians.  The project is designed to move motor vehicles at or above 45 MPH and would shift much of that fast traffic close to a narrow, poorly buffered sidewalk.

Each travel lane would be 12-feet wide, the standard for Interstate highways.  Only one pedestrian crossing signal and marked crosswalk to cross Sudley Road is provided at each signalized intersection, and no mid-block pedestrian crossings or Sudley Road crossings at non-signalized  intersections are accommodated.   At many intersections, pedestrian-unfriendly free-flowing right turns are provided for vehicles entering Sudley Road from side streets.  Higher vehicle speeds greatly increase the incidence and severity of traffic crashes, especially for pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

This project will provide only narrow 4- or 5-foot sidewalks that are separated from the roadway with just a two-foot grass strip.  Such narrow sidewalks poorly serve two-way foot traffic.  Northbound Sudley Road lacks tree shade, urban street furniture, or pedestrian-scale street lights and offers only widely and irregularly spaced highway-style street lights.  The design also lacks bus stops and bus shelters, except to preserve one mid-block bus shelter opposite the hospital.  This project will not add or upgrade street trees, street lighting, street furniture, or bus stops.  Those were not considerations.

The added lanes on Sudley Road at Grant Avenue, Rolling Road, and especially Godwin Drive would make crossing Sudley Road longer and more treacherous than if those lanes were not added.

3)  The project design lacks promised and planned bicycle facilities which are both needed and eminently feasible.

Although the 2019 Manassas Transportation Master Plan calls for on-road bike lanes on Sudley Road (see maps on pp. 60-61 of the TMP), and project staff had promised to study the feasibility of adding a shared-use path (see page 62 here), the proposed design lacks bicycle accommodations.  Furthermore, the project would eliminate the existing, continuous right-turn lanes that currently do accommodate traffic-tolerant northbound bicyclists.   According to the Bicycle Network Recommendations Prioritization Matrix, conducted in 2019 as part of the development of the City’s Transportation Master Plan (Appendix E),  installing bike lanes on this segment of Sudley Road (Grant Avenue to Godwin Drive) was tied as the most impactful bicycle network improvement identified for the plan.

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

Since this project will likely be constructed with minimal design changes, two priority modifications merit immediate consideration.  These two alterations would alter the current design by only  changing some proposed pavement markings and roadway signs:

1) In lieu of the unnecessary and pedestrian-hostile third northbound travel lane, stripe and sign a continuous right-hand lane dedicated to right turns, buses, bicycles, and perhaps motor scooters.  

2) Reduce the widths of the three 12-foot northbound travel lanes to 11 feet (or 10.5 feet if necessary) and reallocate 5 feet of roadway space to install bike lanes between the right-hand lane (described in #1 above) and the two straight-through travel lanes.  To make ordinary striped bike lanes on Sudley Road reasonably safe, all right-turning traffic must be channelized in a right-turn-only lane to the right of the bike lane, and the vehicular design speed should be lowered toward 35 MPH, by narrowing the straight-through travel lanes and not expanding their number.

Of course, only a barrier-separated (“protected”) bike lane or an off-roadway shared-use path would provide a low-stress bikeway on Sudley Road serving the “interested, but concerned” “aged-eight-to-eighty” bicycling public.   In addition, if striping similar bike lanes along southbound Sudley Road is not presently feasible beyond Digges Road, shared-lane markings (aka sharrows) might be a necessary, if less desirable, southbound alternative.  However, neither a shared-use path nor a separated bike lane is politically or practically feasible under the current project, and the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

How You Can Help

Public comments on the design of the Sudley Road Third Lane Project can be submitted at this link.  The previously announced deadline for submitting  those comments is Tuesday, June 1, 2021, but we have requested a two-week extension of that deadline.

There is no deadline to contact the Manassas Mayor and City Council to express your concerns with the project design and/or the awful public process.  The Mayor and City Council are ultimately responsible for setting policies for the City, and they need to hear from their constituents that pedestrian-hostile street designs and the lack of early, robust, and proactive public involvement during the development and funding of City transportation projects are no longer acceptable.

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City of Manassas Transportation Project Virtual Public Meetings, May 18, 20, and 25

During May 2021, the City of Manassas held three virtual public meetings on various transportation projects:

1) Tuesday, May 18 @ 7 pm–virtual public meeting on the Sudley Road Third Lane project . View the project design presentation on the Sudley Road Third Lane Project from the May 18 meeting.

2)  Thursday, May 20 @ 7pm–virtual public meeting on four sidepath projects (Godwin Dr, Dumfries Rd, Gateway Blvd, and Wellington Rd trail gap) and three sidewalk projects (Portner Ave, Quarry St, and Gateway Blvd).  View the meeting presentation and a 31-minute recording of the Zoom meeting.

3) Tuesday, May 25 @ 7pm–virtual public meeting on the Dean Drive Extension ProjectView the project design presentation on the Dean Drive Extension Project.

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