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Northern Virginia Getting 'Road Diet'

You've heard that "road diet" expression before here, most recently in reference to Arcola Avenue in Silver Spring. But this will be the first time that Northern Virginia sees a transportation department slim down a roadway to make travel safer.

Lawyers Road Diet.jpg

In the image at left from the Virginia Department of Transportation you can see the plan to reconfigure Lawyers Road in Reston. In August, a scheduled repaving of the roadway will be done, but in the process, the road will be reduced from four travel lanes to two. A central turning lane will be added, and so will bike paths on bothsides of the road.

To what end? VDOT says Lawyers Road handles about 10,000 vehicles a day between Reston Parkway and Myrtle Lane. Over the past three years, there were 56 crashes on this two-mile section. VDOT engineers estimate that 15 of those could have been avoided. Several vehicles have been hit from behind while waiting to turn left.

So traffic engineers think they could reduce the crashes by at least a fifth just by restriping the roadway. "VDOT has identified a no-cost approach to reduce vehicle crashes and improve safety on Lawyers Road while also giving cyclists additional travel options," Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine Hudgins said in a statement. "It's a win-win for all."

When drivers first see such redesigns, "win-win" is not the first thing on their minds. It's more like, "Where did my road go?" And they often say that the narrower road looks more dangerous to them. That's what happened on Arcola Avenue and on the uppermost portion of Connecticut Avenue just after Montgomery County slimmed down the roads to improve safety.

Drivers get used to it. The technique of road narrowing has been used thousands of times across the country in various ways to protect drivers from each other or to protect pedestrians from drivers.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 19, 2009; 10:29 AM ET
Categories:  Construction , Driving , Safety  | Tags: Lawyers Road, Northern Virginia, VDOT, road diet  
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This has been done successfully in Northern Virginia before....Military Road in North Arlington.

Volumes of 10,000 vehicles per day do not need 2 lanes in each direction. I'd say the safety benefits outweigh the loss in capacity and ability to pass. Get volumes at or above 15,000 vehicles per day and I would not recommend this practice.

Posted by: thetan | June 19, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Here's more about the Arlington County project that thetan is referring to, including some maps and diagrams:

Posted by: rtthomson1 | June 19, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

This actually is a very good idea. I saw this done successfully to a similar road when I lived in GA. An urban, 4 lane street with no access control essentially becomes a two lane road with two turn lanes as through traffic tends to keep to the right lane to keep from being held up by cars stopped in the left lane waiting to turn left. Some cars get stuck in the left lane, some dodge out of the left to the right and back again to get around the turning car. So you have more chances for accidents: the stopped left-turning car, the danger caused by cars swapping lanes to get around the left-turning car, and the left-turning car having to cross two lanes of oncoming traffic. When the street in GA was given this treatment, it became a much easier street to drive on. Traffic flow improved.

Posted by: ksu499 | June 22, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I'd say this is not the complete fix needed for these 2 miles of road. I think that the traffic signals must also be changed to control left turns and there is a curve right after St John Newmann's church where people speed all the time and you cannot see anyone coming in the other direction and you have a traffic signal immediately after and very difficult to see. This piece of road is a mess, with deer crossing at all times too and not enough lighting at nights.

Now, 5 years down the road Soapstone Dr will feed straight into the Whiele station, so traffic will increase for people trying to get off Reston Pkwy/Lawyers Rd to get into Soapstone. So, this should be addressed with a long term solution rather than a short term, patch me now approach. But, like anything else, Hudgins rarely listens to their constituents on this area and Reston Association has not asked the surrounding communities for any feedback.

Posted by: scout12000 | June 23, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Turn lanes will be a huge improvement, as will bike lanes. The larger issues of visibility, speeding, etc., can't be easily solved without extensively regrading the road (and destroying its character in the process, which would affect properties all along it). But I think that restriping it will at least mitigate them. A few more traffic signals might also help, since it often seems that people are using it specifically because they can speed along it, avoiding the lights in Reston. But in reality, it's a back road, not the Reston Bypass.

Posted by: amanda8 | June 23, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Bad idea. First: the speed limit is way too high for that road and it varies from end to end.

Second: The mess at Fox Mill and Reston Parkway/Lawyers needs to be fixed -- that's a nightmare of an intersection and it needs to be straightened out (literally).

Next -- just a few bicyclists and tens of thousands of motorists -- not a fair balance.

Everywhere else in the DC area, roads are being WIDENDE; why on earth would we consider narrowing one of the few (only?) cross-county roads that gets around the ever-worsening congestion in Tyson's Corner?

Finally, the Reston Association is going far beyond its mandate and jurisdiction by getting involved here. Milton and Robin have their own dirty sandbox to clean up and they should stay out of these matters on which they have neither authority nor expertise.

Posted by: PostReader007 | June 26, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

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