Rendering from VDOT.

Plans to convert 2 at-grade intersections on the Fairfax County Parkway to freeway-like interchanges fall short for cyclists and pedestrians.

The planned interchange will appear where Fair Lakes Parkway and Monument Drive meet the parkway. It will turn these intersections into a mess of bridges and ramps.

The plans include widening the Parkway for about 3 miles, eliminating more traffic lights on the Parkway mainline, and making trail connections for bikes and pedestrians. The Washington Post‘s Dr. Gridlock seems quite enamored with the project.

VDOT claims that “shared-use paths and sidewalks will enhance pedestrian access at the interchange and to the Rocky Run Stream Valley Park trail system.” If turning this roadway into a freeway improves pedestrian access, conditions must be abysmal now.

Although the project includes pedestrian and bike accommodations, this will be a dauntingly scary place to be either a cyclist or pedestrian. In the

artist’s rendering of the project, it is virtually impossible to make out any pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure.

The artist’s rendering nicely details traffic flows, lanes and other automobile-related details. One can make out some sidewalks, but it’s not at all clear how they are supposed to connect or how one could safely use them.

The buildings in the corners of the rendering are going to be even more separated than they are now. Although one could ostensibly walk from one to the other, it seems that the Fairfax County planners have not given much thought to actually making that a feasible option.

It appears that pedestrians wanting to cross to the other side of the freeway will be required to cross several exit and entry ramps. And they’ll also have to walk under a 6-lane wide bridge next to eight lanes of traffic — a rather unpleasant experience.

It’s clear that VDOT wants to make the Fairfax County Parkway more of a limited-access highway. They want to move more cars at higher speeds and greater capacity than before, and pedestrians and cyclists remain an afterthought.

However, it’s large projects like these that provide an opportunity to think more creatively about accommodating all modes. Alternative transportation is growing in popularity as is the importance of sustainability, and it is important to be creating easier and safer ways of crossing barriers — not creating new ones.

Steve Offutt has been working at the confluence of business and environment for almost 20 years, with experience in climate change solutions, green building, business-government partnerships, transportation demand management, and more. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children and is a cyclist, pedestrian, transit rider and driver.