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Silver Line Makes Trip To Tysons Easy, But Getting Around On Foot Still A Challenge

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It's now easier to get to Tysons, but it's still a challenge to ger around.
Martin Di Caro/WAMU
It's now easier to get to Tysons, but it's still a challenge to ger around.

At the intersection of Rt. 7 and Westpark Drive there are three crosswalks and traffic signals to help pedestrians navigate the slowly emerging urban landscape around the new Silver Line Metro tracks connecting the Greensboro and Tysons Corner rail stations.

There are crosswalks, sidewalks, and a pedestrian signal button. But it is not pedestrian-friendly.

People have only 20 seconds to cross all ten lanes of Rt. 7 under the elevated Metro tracks. Of course, they can take refuge in the wide median until the traffic lights cycle through again, waiting for the walk signal to give them another 20 seconds to make it the rest of the way. But should it take two minutes to cross the street?

The situation along Rt. 7 is emblematic of the challenges facing urban planners as Tysons begins its transition from a car-centered suburb of surface parking lots to a walkable urban environment of narrow streets and wide pedestrian plazas.

That vision is decades away. In the meantime, pedestrians and bicyclists hope the Fairfax County Department of Transportation can follow through on a 2011 study on walking infrastructure to help people get to the four new Metro stations in Tysons Corner without having to scamper across wide roads without traffic signals.

Less than a week after the Silver Line’s opening, pedestrian infrastructure in Tysons Corner has been exposed as inadequate.

A block from the Tysons Corner station is the intersection of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive. There are crosswalks on two sides of the intersection, but some pedestrians ignore them. Instead they are taking a shortcut, darting across nine lanes of traffic to get to the rail station entrance.

"This intersection is very challenging. This is representative of the old Tysons Corner. The Tysons that was built for automobiles," says Chris Wells, who runs the pedestrian safety program in Fairfax County. Plans to narrow the road and add a crosswalk are at least a year from being realized.

In fact, it will be several years before all 37 projects now in the funding pipeline — for which the county has earmarked $83 million — will be completed.

“There are some in construction right now. All the rest of them are in design," said Tom Biesiadny, who runs the county's transportation department.

The county has built ten crosswalks at key spots in Tysons Corner over the past year, but at many corners where new high rises have yet to be built there are no crosswalks or walk signals.

The shortcomings are not a surprise. Last week before the Silver Line opened, Wells said his teams would be out on the streets every morning watching pedestrian flows to determine where the next round of improvements would make the most sense.

"I have to arrange my walking routes based on knowing where the crosswalks are," said Denise Fisher, who lives at a condo complex in Tysons. She said motorists are not mindful of the growing numbers of pedestrians walking to and from the Metro stations and nearby bus stops, making the lack of crosswalks even more glaring.

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