Glebe and Carlin Springs Road. Photo by wfyurasko on Flickr.

Arlington is trying to make Glebe Road safer for pedestrians in Ballston with changes at several key intersections. These will make pedestrians safer, but as Ballston evolves into a more urban place, Glebe may need even more significant changes which VDOT may resist.

Glebe Road is a major north/south artery in Arlington County running from the Chain Bridge to US 1 near the border with Alexandria. As Ballston initially evolved into a denser, urban neighborhood, Glebe Road more or less marked the western border of any change. Now, that border is shifting farther west and Glebe Road is itself developing as a node of urban activity.

Many of the car dealerships and gas stations are being replaced by taller and mixed-use development. This includes several new bars and restaurants, which mean that Glebe Road is also seeing more pedestrians along its sidewalks at all hours.

This is great for the neighborhood, but it is tempered by the fact that this section of Glebe also has some Arlington’s biggest and busiest car intersections.

In response, Arlington is proposing a number of changes for pedestrian safety at the intersections with Wilson Boulevard, Fairfax Drive, and Carlin Springs Road.

These changes are definitely an improvement to the current conditions, but ultimately Arlington needs to more completely rethink Glebe, from its intersections to how many lanes the road really needs.

Northbound on Glebe Road at Wilson Boulevard. Image from Google.

The picture above is what a driver sees while waiting to proceed north Glebe at Wilson Boulevard. Several cars could fit in the space between the crosswalk and the white line.

The intersection itself is very large and it is difficult for drivers to see what is ahead of them, not to mention those trying to cross on foot before the light changes. Even despite this large distance, a driver trying to left onto Wilson Boulevard does not have to wait for a green arrow if they think the way is clear.

Current (top) and plan (bottom) for Glebe and Wilson. Images from Arlington County and Bing.

The plans move the crosswalks to align with the white stop line. This would reduce the amount of pavement that pedestrians need to cross. The county will also eliminate a slip lane on the southwest corner. However, the new design still leaves two slip lanes which encourage speeding and create potential conflict points between drivers and pedestrians.

Northbound on Glebe Road at Fairfax Drive. Image from Google.

Plan for Glebe and Fairfax. Image from Arlington County.

At Glebe Road and Fairfax Boulevard, two slip lanes are being removed but one slip lane will remain. This is unfortunate, since pedestrians already face the task of crossing 8 lanes of traffic at this intersection. Other corners will get rebuilt and become sharper. This will extend the sidewalk and slow down cars negotiating a turn, reducing the amount of roadway that pedestrians need to cross and make pedestrians more visible at the intersection. Concrete will replace some of the brick sidewalks at the intersection with Wakefield Street, closer to the ramp to I-66, and provide a smoother surface for pedestrians and cyclists connecting to the Custis Trail and the Arlington Loop. At the intersection at Carlin Springs Drive, Arlington will move a stop light pole to be less intrusive on the sidewalk, replace brick crosswalks with the more traditional zebra-style painted crosswalk, and replace the concrete on the sidewalk itself. There are no slip lanes at this intersection, but pedestrians face challenges from crossing another 8 lanes of traffic while cars are negotiating unprotected left turns and avoiding traffic that is entering and exiting from the Ballston Mall Garage. But turning Glebe Road into a safer street cannot just focus on the intersections. Planners must consider if Glebe Road is wider than necessary. The section through Ballston is 6 lanes compared to the usual 4 along the rest of the route. These extra lanes are less than a mile long, and allow parking in some sections but not others. Passing Ballston Mall, there is not any parking. Drivers speed up into that third lane for about ¼ mile before having to turn onto Wilson or merge back into the travel lane. This means that in an area with increasing numbers of pedestrians and cyclists, drivers have to make confusing lane changes that can distract them from seeing other road users or encourage them to be reckless. The intent of these lanes is to serve drivers coming on and off I-66. But Glebe doesn’t have similar extra lanes around exits onto US 50 and I-395. It would be better to simplify the road so that drivers can focus their attention on what is going on around them rather than trying to negotiate a confusing right-of-way. Glebe Road is Virginia State Route 120, meaning the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) controls the road. Thus far, VDOT has been unwilling to consider changes to roads that reduce the amount of space for vehicles, which ties Arlington’s hands. The pedestrian improvements for Glebe Road are welcome, but as more development comes to Ballston, Glebe Road needs to become a street that better balances the needs of all users and keeps them safe.