Post #362: The Town’s multimodal transportation study, Part 2

This post looks superficially at what I consider to be some of the least-useful or most-puzzling suggestions in the Town’s multimodal transportation study.  My discussion of the big-picture issues for that study is in Post #359.  You can download the presentation summarizing the study here, from the Town’s website (.pdf).

What follows is not a systematic assessment.  It’s just a collection of the items I found most puzzling or most unlikely at the time.  Or the ones that just blithely assumed that (e.g.) existing parking and buildings could be eliminated.  So these show the proposal and my immediate response.

Detail follows


Intro

As I listened to the presentation of the Kimley-Horn study at the 8/19/2019 joint work session, I often found myself shaking my head.  As in, what on earth are these people talking about?  Or, you can’t do that, there’s no room on the road.  Or, I thought the Town was already doing that?  Or, I already looked at that, and it just plain won’t work.

And after a while, I have to admit, that got under my skin.  Because, upon questioning, a lot of those turned out to be “gotchas”.  Sure, you could do what they suggested … if you were willing to do/assume some other implausible or ridiculous or harmful thing in addition, to make that possible.

Possibly they had been given a brief in which they were asked to look at anything, no matter how impractical.  I don’t know.  And so I don’t know that it’s even worth listing a few of these.  But I though I might call out a few that just stood out to me.


Background:  Route 123 belongs to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I mean this literally.  This is not a metaphor.  This is not some roundabout way to make a point.  This is literally true.  The roadway is literally state property.  Ultimately, VDOT has the final say on any material changes to Primary Route 123.  E.g., by law, we cannot change the stripes on the road without permission.  You need to keep that in mind, because if you propose stuff that VDOT or Fairfax County will likely never agree with, then you are wasting time.

I laid all this out in my post on what’s not feasible on Maple, Post #331.

So with that in mind …


A few separate proposals

A

Page 70, add curbside parking on Maple during off-peak periods.  I couldn’t tell whether this was a joke or not.  Or when, exactly, they thought Maple reliably had an off-peak period, or at least, such a period when any Maple Avenue businesses are open.  Or who would want to be shopping during those hours, assuming they exist.  Or what businesses would materially benefit from a handful of curbside parking places.

But mostly, I could not imagine VDOT would approve narrowing Primary Route 123 down to two lanes, under any circumstances.  I went to Google satellite view, and I’m fairly certain that literally no part of Route 123 has curbside parking, from DC (Chain Bridge) all the way through to US Route 1.

If this not possible, then why waste our time on it?  And, for sure, this has nothing to do with relieving traffic congestion on Maple.


B

Page 27:  Eliminate curbside parking on Church Street and add bike lanes.  Anyone who has been on Church realizes there’s no space for bike lanes there.  And as it turns out, this was one of many ideas that were presented as “gotchas”.  This was presented as “add bike lanes to Church street”, and you had to read the fine print to see ” … by eliminating 127 on-street parking places.”

If you dig down, read the fine print, and know the inside story, this looks like the Town is floating a trial balloon for a way to promote the new mixed-use building proposed for 145 Church (Post #346).  (It would be directly across from the post office.)  If that’s built, and the Town gets parking space in the garage, then maybe they would feel free to say they might eliminate curbside Church parking, and what a blessing they might bring to the Town in the form of bike lanes on Church.  Maybe.  Sort of.  Possibly.

Bike lanes on Church would be a nicety.  In my opinion, it’s far too dangerous to bike on the sidewalk there.  So if you bike down Church, you need to be in the roadway.  The curbside parking not only makes it narrow, it blocks sight lines at driveways, and it raises the risk of being doored.  So as a bicyclist, sure, I’d like to see bike lanes on Church.   And such lanes would fit nicely into building a bike-centered retail and recreational area around the W&OD.

But ….

  • I doubt that any merchant there would agree to eliminate parking.  A garage three blocks away is not the same as a parking place in front of the store.
  • I also doubt that, in general, the Town would eliminate parking (used by the many) to benefit bicycles (used by the few).
  • Church street bike lanes are not critical to bike access, in the sense of getting from A to B.  If you don’t want to bike down Church, use the Maple Avenue sidewalk to get where you are going.

 


C

Page 53, replace the Nutley/Maple intersection with a roundabout.  I found this one annoying for a whole host of reasons.

First, Kimley-Horn apparently didn’t realize that kids walk to Madison, through that intersection.  Because roundabout + rush hour traffic = no way for pedestrians to get across the street.  So you’d have to have a traffic light, on the roundabout, to allow kids to cross the street.  Councilman Noble said that would be required by the Americans with Disabilities Act anyway.  So, stopping traffic frequently, during rush hour, with a stoplight, pretty much defeats the purpose of a roundabout.

Second, as Councilman Noble pointed out, traffic flow is probably too high for a roundabout to function efficiently anyway.  That’s the conclusion I came to in Post #331.  Typical peak hour flow on Maple exceeds the designed capacity of a two-lane urban roundabout.

Third, we don’t really have room for a roundabout at that intersection.  I mean, yeah, you could squeeze it in without literally having to knock down a building.  Barely.  The picture below, from CalcMaps.com, shows how the outline of the roadway would fit for a 150′ diameter circle, which is the smallest acceptable diameter for a two-lane urban roundabout, under Federal design guidelines.  This doesn’t even include space for the sidewalk.  At the least, the folks at 444 Maple West end up with a continuous stream of traffic about 15′ from their front door.

Again, do you really think VDOT is going to let us take a gamble that this might work, when a) even without a traffic light, traffic flow exceeds what this is designed to handle well, and b) you’ve got to have a light to allow pedestrians to cross, and that light will be used a lot during morning rush hour.

If not, then let’s not waste our time with this.


D

Page 46, new traffic light at Pleasant Street.  This one was a complete bafflement to me.  This has nothing to do with pedestrian travel, because we already have the HAWK light pedestrian crossing just a few feet up from that intersection.  (In fact, they’d have to move that HAWK light if they put in a traffic light).  It has nothing to do with anything north of Maple, because Pleasant runs one block then connects to the extremely narrow streets of the heart of the Windover Heights district.

The reason seemed to be that it would let cars turn left on Maple, and so take left turns away from the Courthouse/Maple intersection.  But that made absolutely no sense to me.  Left turns are not the holdup at the Maple/Courthouse intersection, and in my opinion, few people who wanted to go west on Maple would find Pleasant to be a natural route.  I literally could not figure this one out.


E

The pedestrian and bike network sections did not appear to add much value to the report, in my opinion.

Page 25 ff, the entire section on bicycles.  I don’t think that any of the Kimley-Horn engineers were bike enthusiasts.  I suspect the Town would get better advice from its own Bicycle Advisory Committee.

First, I’ll call out what wasn’t mentioned.  Where, in the Town of Vienna, do you see the greatest concentration of bicycles parked, day in and day out?  The schools.  On a nice spring day, the Vienna Elementary bike rack is a thing of beauty.  Any discussion of a bike network in Vienna has to highlight the schools.  My guess, youth bike riders outnumber adult bike riders in Vienna by at least 20-to-1.

The call for putting true bike lanes on Courthouse would eliminate some curb-side parking.   The thing that looks like a bike lane on Courthouse isn’t really an official bike lane.  For one thing, it’s too narrow in sections.  And for another, if it were a bike lane, that would eliminate curbside parking.  Making it a bike lane means banning that parking, which would probably not go over well.  As it stands, you sometimes have to look over your shoulder and swerve around the parked cars.  All said and done, I think it’s a reasonable accommodation all around, just as it stands.

The call for painting bike-lane-like markings (“sharrows”) on a few other streets was not useful, I think, precisely because there is so much curbside parking on those streets.   Once a large portion of the curbside space is occupied by cars, you can’t ride your bike in the painted section anyway.

Completing the sidewalks near Maple typically involved adding sidewalks to stretches of road that already had an adequate pedestrian path on one side of the roadway.  Given that we have plenty of roads with no pedestrian pathway whatsoever, I thought that all amounted to a misallocation of funds.  You’d get a better return by taking care of the places where people literally walk in the street.  After that, we can consider adding sidewalks to areas where there’s already some pedestrian path.

Several of the pedestrian-safety issues would result in more traffic congestion around town.  In particularly, I’ll point the leading pedestrian intervals for the lights (allowing pedestrians to travel first, then giving cars the green light).  That leaves less time for the cars to travel through those lights.  I have a vague feeling that we already have a leading pedestrian interval on one light here in Vienna, but I cannot recall what it is.  For most of them, though, the walk sign lights up at the same time as the green light.


F

Systems level analysis and synergy

Bottom line from this report was that I didn’t find much that was helpful.  I don’t think I came away with even one slide where I said, wow, I’m glad they suggested that, because that’s great and nobody would have thought of that.

Which is OK, I guess, because if there were obvious ways to reduce traffic congestion on Maple, I’d bet that somebody would have implemented them already.

But one thing that really stuck out was the lack of any system-wide analysis.  I thought that the core task of a multi-modal transportation study would be getting all those modes of transportation to work together as a system.   I assumed that a core task was to look for synergies that make all the parts function better.  This study, by contrast, was more-or-less a list of individual, sometimes-contradictory suggestions, with no attempt to connect them together.  No attempt at identifying key synergies.

Having said that, I’ll give an example of what I mean.

The report discusses a circulator bus, that is, a dedicated bus making a loop up and down Maple and Church.  In isolation, I think that’s an impractical idea, and likely to be little used, as I described in one section of Post #359.  Putting aside the fact that we already have a Fairfax Connector bus that does that, the real question is, how would people get to that bus, when so few live within walking distance of Maple?  And how can you get adequate demand for that bus service — get it to the point where people actually want to use it?

Separately,  Kimley-Horn talked about improving the bus shelters.  Separately, the Town is talking publicly about a parking garage at Patrick Henry library.  Separately, the Town appears on track to OK a mixed-used building across from the Post Office, in which they will purchase parking.  Separately, the Town has until 1/1/2020 to pass ordinances regulating rental electric scooters, bikes, and ebikes.

Now take those separate pieces, and put together a concept for a system.

Currently, individuals drive to each of their individual destinations on Maple.  Even where merchants are within walking distance, many people consider it improper to park on a merchant’s lot, shop there, then walk to an adjacent merchant, and shop there.

Consider a system where individuals are encouraged to park at one of two central garages (or, on weekends, public lots) and take a frequently-running circulator bus to reach their individual retail or other destinations.  Include an Uber/Lyft dedicated area in each garage.   Include bike/scooter racks at each garage.  Require the vendors licensed by Vienna to rent such devices to keep those racks stocked. Simultaneously, add bike/scooter parking at the Circulator bus stops, to encourage people to get to Maple by any non-car means, then use the bus.  Again, require the Vienna-licensed rental providers to keep these racks stocked.  Identify potential sources of users beyond retail, such as schools, churches, or other.  On weekdays, the afternoon circulator route might include near-Maple schools to serve students doing extracurricular activities.  On weekends, it might include near-Maple parks.  Advertise linkages with Fairfax Connector to Tyson’s Corner and Metro.  Promote use of the system by some tangible means.  E.g., on Saturdays, the circulator bus might offer X% off coupons to riders, good on that day only at participating merchants (e.g., at merchants whose parking situation is very tight.)

All of that is aimed at getting cars off Maple.  No clue whether any of that would work.  But that’s the kind of thing I thought was missing.