Photo by author.

A scrum of people in bike helmets and safety vests gathered at Gateway Park in Rosslyn yesterday evening to scrutinize the dangerous intersection where the Custis Trail crosses Lee Highway and North Lynn Street.

This intersection has has been a dangerous one for many years. Unfortunately, it will not see engineering improvements until 2013 or 2014 at the earliest.

The bike/ped trail, which is parallel to Lee Highway, crosses North Lynn Street here, just south of the Key Bridge. This was the site where a driver recently turned into the path of a cyclist, causing a crash which police ended up blaming on the cyclist.

The Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee (ABAC) organized the “site visit” to provide citizen input and fresh perspective on the dangerous crossing.

While engineering improvements are at least two years away, Dennis Leach, the Arlington County transportation director, promised his staff would further investigate in the upcoming week at least two of the suggestions that arose tonight regarding marking and signage.

One participant suggested painting the crosswalk wider and madke it more prominent. For signage, another suggested modifying the crossing signal to include a bicycle shape. This will help to alert drivers to expect both pedestrians and cyclists. Arlington could potentially implement both in the immediate term.


Photos from yesterday’s event by the author.


In the longer term, the Arlington County Division of Transportation team discussed future design changes to the intersection which will include removing lanes on Lynn Street and Lee Highway and creating a bump-out on both the southeast and northeast corners of the intersection.

Less likely to see further investigation by the county transportation engineers is a suggestion to install traffic cameras to increase enforcement of drivers violating the cyclists’ right-of-way.

However, participants raised questions about enforcement to the Arlington County Police. The police called for cyclists to travel at a safe, controlled speed, especially when traveling downhill, on the Custis Trail. Cyclists requested greater enforcement of drivers violating the right of way and driving while distracted to create a safer environment for bicycling.

While the intersection is unsafe for even a regular bicycle commuter, this intersection is even more unsafe for less experienced or less regular cyclists, for example those traveling through this “Gateway” between Georgetown and Arlington on Capital Bikeshare bikes.

Improvements could take many forms, including behavioral changes, engineering work, or better enforcement. But perhaps the best question is not how to make the intersection safer, but when we can make the intersection safer. After this evening’s site visit, perhaps the best idea is to avoid crossing here in the meantime.

The North Lynn Street Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail Safety Improvements project is fully funded. This site study is also part of the larger, Rosslyn Circle project which includes all four intersections surrounding Gateway Park, for which there will be a public meeting October 5 at the Arlington Temple Methodist Church.