Post #354: Scooter/bypass mash-up.

This is not about some new form of traffic accident.

Instead, I’m going to do a mash-up of several of my prior posts to come up with a suggestion:  Create two (or maybe three) formal electric scooter/ebike routes, to bypass Maple, in the Town of Vienna. 


Background.

If you are not up-to-date on the rental electric scooter issue, read Post #338.

As always, when you start talking about “multi-modal” (i.e., non-car) transport, and traffic on Maple, it’s good to keep your expectations low.  Here’s a graph of traffic counts, during rush hour, on Maple, calculated from a mid-2010’s Town of Vienna traffic study.   This is our starting point, and I think it provides the right context.

It’s also good to get a broader idea of how Vienna workers commute now.  Most of what we can know comes from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.   You can query their database, for the Town of Vienna, most easily by clicking the Guided Search link on this Census Bureau web page.

Here are two tables, for Vienna, from the Census website above, illustrating a couple of key points about how Vienna workers commute.  (This question asks for whichever travel mode accounted for the greatest distance in their typical commute.)

Commuting mode of transport breaks out as roughly:

  • 70% drive alone
  • 10% take public transport
  •   9% carpool
  •   3% walk
  • <1% bike

And about 7% work from home.

There are big difference in median income level by choice of commuting mode.  Interestingly, those who drive solo are not, as a class, the highest earners.  Instead, those who use public transport are the highest average earners, by a huge margin.  Presumably, that’s the Metro-riding population largely working in downtown DC.

Median income by commuting mode, from lowest to highest, sorts in this order:

  • Bike
  • Walk
  • Carpool
  • Drive alone
  • Public transportation

 

So if we’re trying to hook up Metro users with rental scooters/bike, so that they will not drive to Metro during rush hour?  Well, by and large, we’re talking about a market consisting of well-to-do middle-aged (median age 48, not shown) persons.  To me, a 50-year-old GS 15 step 10 on a scooter … that’s just a non-starter. 

So, presumably, if the walkers and bikers tend to be lower-income (and, not shown, substantially younger than average), then that would probably be the market we’d be targeting for e-bikes and electric scooters.  And, by and large, those folks aren’t the bulk of the Metro-riding market here in Vienna.

Again, I’m just trying to keep expectations reasonable when discussing multi-modal transport and Maple Avenue traffic.


The proposal.

Point 1:  The W&OD cut the Town of Vienna in half a century ago, and the ghost of the W&OD is part of the reason for the horrific traffic on Maple.  You can read my post on the traffic legacy of the W&OD railroad for details.  But you can get the gist of it with one graphic:  The black line is the nearly five-mile-long segment of the W&OD trail for which the only usable street crossing is Maple.  The upshot is that it acts like a fence with a narrow gate:  Traffic from a huge swath of Northern Virginia gets funneled through that tiny opening.

Point 2:  A bypass around Maple, for cars, is almost unthinkable.  See Post #331.  Aside from destroying some quiet neighborhoods, you’d have to create new car crossings in the W&OD regional park.  A northern bypass (not shown here), in particular, would not only destroy neighborhoods and park land, but would add miles to the trip compared to a straight shot down Maple.

Point 3:  But that same bypass route, for bicycles, is no big deal.  In fact, Google recognizes some variation of that southern bypass if you ask for bicycle-based directions.  Google understand that bikes, but not cars, can cross the W&OD in several places.  Here’s Google’s preferred route from Appletree II to Westwood Country Club.  (Caution:  Part of that that Wildwood Park trail was loose gravel the last time I took it, but that may have been paved by now.)

Point 4:  Most localities ban the use of electric scooters on sidewalks (although the status of electric bikes is mixed).  If we ban them on the Maple Avenue sidewalk, that pretty much prevents the use of these types of “personal transport” devices along Maple Avenue.  (Because you’d be crazy to ride a scooter, in the road, on Maple, during rush hour.)  And ditto for Nutley Street.  And that, in turn, largely prevents practical use of them by commuters.  You can see my writeup of that issue in Post #338.

Point 5:  Fairfax County is in the process of making two key bike-friendly connections to the Town of Vienna. 

Point 5.1  Fairfax County/Town of Vienna are in the process of connecting Tapawingo to the Metro and points south with a mixed-use (i.e., bike-friendly) trail.   They will rebuild the sidewalk on the east side of Nutley between the Metro access road and Tapawingo to make it into a “mixed use trail”, while adding a mixed-use trail most of the way from there to Pan Am shopping center.  This is in conjunction with the planned changes to the I-66/Nutley intersection (discussed in Post #284).

Point 5.2:  Fairfax is (finally!) constructing a west-bound sidewalk along Route 123 connecting Vienna with Tyson’s Corner.  You can see the construction going on now.

Extended Historical Note, so skip to the next bold heading if you aren’t a bike nerd.  Back in the day, getting from Vienna to Tyson’s Corner, by bike, via 123, was an adventure.  There was no sidewalk on either side of 123 for a long stretch between Vienna and the Toilet Building (Old Courthouse/Gosnell).  My preferred route at that time used Woodford to bypass that stretch of Maple, not a particularly safe choice in and of itself.  But in the last decade or so, a narrow eastbound (Vienna-bound) sidewalk was completed from Tyson’s to Vienna.   Now it appears that Fairfax is completing the west-bound (Tyson’s bound) sidewalk as well.

That new sidewalk is probably going to get close to zero pedestrian use.  That’s a long stretch of road, through a low-density suburban neighborhood.  And, as discussed next, it requires a lot of footwork to get from there into the heart of Tyson’s.

If you have tried bicycling from Vienna to Tyson’s Corner mall and vicinity, along 123, you know that you have to get off 123 somewhere around the Toilet Building to get across Route 7.  (Or take your life in your hands using the 123 bridge over Route 7.)  That said, it is feasible to take surface streets to get across Route 7 and into the heart of Tysons by (e.g.) bicycling past the Bed, Bath and Beyond (Boone to Howard to Watson).

Point 6:  Put all of that on one map, and see what you make of it.  The blue lines are the new bike-friendly connections.  What you end up what could be a ribbon of bike-friendly paths, from Pan Am in the south to Tyson’s in the east — blocked by the Town of Vienna.


Discussion.

First, to be clear, you can fill in the gap now, on your own, if you know the way.  But it’s not a particularly bike-friendly route no matter how you slice it.  You can bike on Tapawingo during rush hour, but it’s not a relaxing trip.  You can take Courthouse — very nice most of the way, due to Town of Vienna road striping — then it’s a bit of a scramble to avoid Maple from there to the east boundary of Vienna.

Second, we’re talking about some fairly long commuting times for anyone using ebike or electric scooter for this route.  From I-66 to Tyson’s Corner Mall, using Tapawingo to Follin to get across Vienna, is about 4.5 miles.  No matter how you slice it, that’s going to be at least 20 minutes on a fast ebike.  Which seems excessive, except when compared to the time Google says it would take to get from the Vienna Metro to Tyson’s Corner Mall by car during a typical AM rush hourGoogle guesses anywhere from 16 to 40 minutes by car.

So from a commuting-time perspective, it’s a case of picking your poison.  Sure, that’s a long time to sit on an ebike or stand on a scooter.  But it’s also a long time to sit idling in traffic along Maple.  And likely the variance of the trip time is much lower by ebike than by car.  If you have to time it so that you are never late for work, you might actually be better off with the ebike.

(Why would anyone use Vienna Metro to get to Tysons?  You wouldn’t.  You’d use Dunn Loring on the Orange line, or go up to the Silver line.  But think of this as making a through connection, for scooter or ebike, for anyone who wants to get from south of Vienna to east of Vienna or vice-versa.)

Third, from a value perspective, it’s not clear that the Town of Vienna can or should make any material expenditure to make that “Maple Avenue ebike/scooter bypass” any easier.  Why?  Refer to the pie chart at the top of the page.  Merely having an official ebike/scooter path doesn’t mean that any significant number of people will use it.  At best, it’s a gamble on the future, and it’s a gamble that probably would have a small payoff, if any.

Fourth, that said, the Town could try to make some reasonable accommodation to allow easier cross-Vienna ebike and electric scooter travel, particularly once Fairfax is done with the Nutley sidewalks.  For example, opening up a single stretch of sidewalk to electric scooters  — Nutley between Tapawingo and Courthouse — would open up reasonably safe trail- and road-based scooter access from Vienna Metro to mid-town Vienna via Courthouse.  (This assumes scooter use is allowed on the “mixed use trail” connecting the Metro access road to Tapawingo via Nutley.)  And thus avoid Tapawingo, which, as noted above, is not a bike-friendly street.)

So I could see a set of signs, on that stretch of sidewalk, explicitly allowing electric scooters, warning pedestrians, and then a big sign at the end directing all electric scooter traffic into the striped-off “bike lane” section of the Courthouse roadway.  Signs are a few hundred dollars each.  Vienna would give up a little bit of pedestrian safety on one stretch of sidewalk, in exchange of opening up a large segment of Vienna to reasonably safe transport via “personal mobility” devices, while still banning such devices from (e.g.) the Maple Avenue sidewalk.

And I could see a similarly-marked section of sidewalk from Follin to the east boundary of Vienna.  Again, to connect with the rest of a sidewalk-based route up 123 to Tyson’s.

Finally, I don’t mean to say this is the final word on this topic.  Mostly, I am trying to highlight a (maybe the) key issue that Vienna must resolve if there is to be any practical use of these new “personal mobility devices” for commuting.  If these new “personal mobility” devices are banned from the sidewalks — as almost every other locality appears to do — Vienna has to work out how to get around that on Nutley and Maple.   Because those two streets are key to getting around and through Vienna, and riding a scooter, in the roadway, at rush hour, on either one, would be both unsafe and dysfunctional.

At the end of the day, I’m not saying I have the best solution.  I’m not even saying there is a good solution.  But I am saying that you have to solve that problem if you want these new devices to have any material impact whatsoever on Maple Avenue traffic congestion.