Photo by magandafille on Flickr.

VDOT is widening Route 7 in Tysons Corner to fit in the Silver Line. New signals will require pedestrians to use two full light cycles to cross the road. This is making pedestrian conditions worse just as Fairfax is trying to transform Tysons into a more walkable place.

According to Dr. Gridlock,

Because of the widening, pedestrians only have time to cross half of Route 7 during a green traffic signal cycle. The new traffic signal requires that pedestrians stop on the median, press the signal button and wait for the light to cross to the other side.


As tipster B. points out, traffic engineers would rate an intersection as “failing” if, 24 hours a day, traffic conditions required cars to wait 2 whole light cycles to cross the road. Yet VDOT is deeming that pedestrian “level of service” to be adequate.

Instead of widening the major existing arterials, officials should focus on getting the street grid built so Route 7 could still fit the Silver Line without being wider. Parallel streets create traffic capacity without forcing enormous widenings. Routes 7 and 123, right under the Metro stations, will become the centers of the future walkable areas, but are already too wide to really be optimal mixed-use boulevards.

Fairfax is trying to retrofit a suburban “edge city” into an urban place at a scale never before attempted. The scale of the existing auto-centric infrastructure, such as the wide arteries and large interchanges, is the biggest obstacle. It’s important the Tysons plan succeed. Virginia shouldn’t make the task even harder by making the existing hurdles to walkability even higher.

Update: In the original post, it wasn’t clear whether Route 7 was getting wider to fit more lanes or to fit the Silver Line. It’s just adding the Silver Line, not more lanes, but the wider footprint makes it worse for pedestrians. Parallel streets could allow fewer lanes on 7 itself while maintaining the overall traffic capacity.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.