|Article Prepared By Robert Michie
NMTC, Lee District
Last Reviewed: 9 January 2006
In the late 1990's, Fairfax County rerouted Oakwood Road at South Van Dorn Street (see Exhibit 1). A new pedestrian trail featuring a tunnel under the I-495 slip ramp was added to the project. The old walking path that paralleled South Van Dorn Street was allowed to deteriorate. The old trail, however, continues to be used. Exhibit 2 shows a handrail damaged by an automobile collision in June 2005. Users of the older trail want the handrail replaced. Fairfax County declines to replace the handrail because (1) There are no mandatory safety requirements for handrails to be installed at that location, and (2) an installed handrail at that location actually poses more hazardous conditions to some bicyclists.
This particular area is a road that descends a steep hill from a Capitol Beltway access ramp to a series of highway, railroad, and Metro (light rail) bridges leading to the City of Alexandria. Exhibit 1 shows several high density housing developments to the west of South Van Dorn Street. Walking to the Van Dorn Street Metro Station is a common activity. Many pedestrians, including those who live on the east side of South Van Dorn Street, prefer the old path over the new path (along Oakwood Road) because of several perceived deficiencies of the new route: it is longer; it is mostly unlit, and it leads into an isolated area where pedestrian are on their own. A sound wall along upper Oakwood Road prevents quick escape or rescue should a pedestrian suddenly need help. Therefore, the old walking trail still has its fans.
The County's position is that there are no mandatory safety requirements for handrails to be installed at that location, and that an installed handrail at that location actually poses more hazardous conditions to some bicyclists. The County points to Fairfax County's Public Facilities Manual, Virginia Department of Transportation's Road and Bridge Standards, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. None of them specify that handrails are to be provided for walkway users at places similar to this. Exhibit 2 shows what appears to be a bike trail to the left of the handrail. The County is concerned that bicycle handlebars can be caught if the handrail is in place. Therefore, the County decided not to replace the handrail.
What the County has not considered is the way inclement weather exacerbates the conditions along both the old and the new trails. In icy conditions, trails that descend steep inclines always need handrails. In addition, the trail users are right: the unlighted and isolated conditions along the new Oakwood Road trail make it problematic for single walkers in the wintertime.
Field Check 16 December 2005:
The South Van Dorn Street Pedestrian Trail needs considerable redesign, starting at the Beltway Access Ramp shown in Exhibit 1 to the Metro Station at Eisenhower Avenue. The whole path in this area is very unsafe following bouts of inclement weather in the wintertime. The cited engineering manuals should be studied again for directions on how to provide pedestrian safety in icy conditions.
First Problem: Descending the hill in the vicinity of Comfort Inn
The most direct approach is to divert users to the new trail alignment on Oakwood Road. Without question, this is a longer path to walk for users coming from the west side of South Van Dorn Street. When they arrive at the new alignment, they find an unlit and isolated pathway waiting for them.
Second Problem: Persistent Ice on the I-495 Pedestrian Underpass Bridge
Third Problem: Persistent Ice in the vicinity of the Railroad and Metro Bridges along the Trail
Fourth Problem: Persistent Ice Along the Eisenhower Avenue area of the Trail.
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