A cyclist riding on Columbia Pike in Annandale, Virginia. Image by the Annandale Blog used with permission.

Annandale is poised to be Fairfax County's most bike friendly area. Yes, Annandale. Bike lanes are popping all over the place there.

Annandale is located in eastern Fairfax between Fairfax and Alexandria. With over 45,000 residents and long known as the commercial and cultural center of Northern Virginia's large Korean population, Annandale has more transit-dependent people than the rest of Fairfax County. That's thanks to a collection of older homes and apartment buildings that provide housing that's cheaper than places in nearby Arlington and Alexandria.

General area of Annandale. Little River Turnpike is route 236 and runs from west to east. Image by the author.

Annandale has some pretty dangerous roads

The area's main road is Little River Turnpike, which runs between Fairfax and Alexandria. The road has interchanges with both I-495 and I-395, with those roads basically creating two distinct borders for Annandale. Little River is wide and congested, there are no bike lanes, and sidewalks come and go. It's an intimidating environment for anyone who wants to get around by a mode other than driving.

Overall, according to the Fairfax police, five of the county's 11 most most dangerous spots for pedestrians are located in the Mason District (the Board of Supervisor's District where Annandale is located).

Annandale is getting better for people on bikes

Things are, however, looking up. Fairfax has added bike lanes to most of these roads within the past few years. There are bike lanes on John Marr Drive, Markham Street, McWhorter Place, Heritage Drive, Evergreen Lane, and Ravensworth Road. Bike lanes will go onto Hummer Road this summer, and they'll connect with bike lanes on Annandale Road and Heritage Drive, allowing cyclists to travel from Springfield to Falls Church. At over five miles long, the route will be one of the longest continuous bike lanes.

These bike lanes were all painted in 2016. More are coming this year. Image by Fairfax County.

On Little River Turnpike itself, the county's plans are a little different. Noting the inconsistent sidewalks, Fairfax plans to fill in the gaps and widen sidewalks in a lot of places to create a real path on either side of the road that pedestrians and cyclists can share. On sections of the road where there are service lanes, the county plans to paint road markings and add signage to make it easier for cyclists to take advantage of the calmer section of the road.

Other changes include rebuilding intersections to be more bike and pedestrian friendly by improving crossing signal timing and eliminating “slip lanes,” which encourages drivers to merge onto Little River Turnpike like it's a highway rather than a main street through a populated area.

Service Roads line Little River Turnpike and could be the backbone of a growing bike lane network in Annandale. Image by Google Maps.

A few trails run near the heart of Annandale. The Holmes Run Trail starts north of Annandale near Bailey's Crossroads and runs into Alexandria. West of Annandale is the Cross County Trailm which runs north and south across the entire county. There is also a trail overpass on I-495 between Americana Drive and Wakefield Park.

These provide some options for cyclists to travel without dealing with traffic at all. But no trails run particularly close to the heart of Annandale, and parts of the trails can be rough and unpaved, making the trail a bad option for certain kinds of bicycles. A Little River Turnpike with better bike infrastructure will make it easier to bike from Annandale to the Cross County trail. Also, unpaved sections of the CCT in Annandale are due up for paving, which will help.

Rendering of what a service road with special bike treatment could look like. Image by Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

There's a lot of work to do to make Annandale perfect for cyclists. There are some big gaps in the bike lane network, particularly on Backlick Road and Columbia Pike, both of which are major roads in Annandale. Additionally, work on Little River Turnpike will likely be done piecemeal, meaning it may be a long time before plans actually come to fruition. The area's highways are a big barrier as well making it hard to bike outside of Annandale to other areas like Springfield and Alexandria.

But the cumulative effect of many small projects around Annandale is poised to have some big effects. We are now seeing a real network of bike routes rather than a few incomplete bike lanes that are nice but do not have a ton of benefit to cyclists who want to travel beyond a small area.

This change will help cyclists who already live or travel through Annandale as well as perhaps get more people on bicycles; a lot of people don't ride because they don't think it's safe enough. As things improve, Annandale will continue to show how even sprawling, suburban areas can become safe places for riding a bike.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Reston.