VIENNA, Va. — A ceremonial ribbon-cutting preceded a group ride on the newly opened first portion of the I-66 Parallel Trail (I66PT). Representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, I-66 Express Mobility Partners1 and Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling spoke for several minutes each before the ribbon cutting.
flickr photo album: I-66 Parallel Trail ribbon cutting
The I-66 Parallel Trail was not originally part of the Transform 66 project. VDOT’s Susan Shaw, P.E. claimed that FABB was instrumental in getting the trail included in this Megaproject.
Eventually, 11 miles of trail will be completed by the I-66 contractor and 7 miles by Fairfax County and others. The I-66 contractor portion will be completed in August of this year. Other sections will open over the next couple of years. FABB is advocating that those sections be completed as soon as possible.I-66 Parallel Trail Ribbon-Cutting on May 17
FABB advocated for the trail and even organized rides along the 40 year old Custis Trail to show examples of what works well and what does not. The Custis Trail is parallel to I-66 in Arlington County.
Vienna Metro to Cedar Lane
Following the ribbon cutting, a group ride left from Vienna Metro parking lot and proceeded east on I66PT. Starting near the Virginia Center Blvd. ramp to I-66 westbound, the trail is fresh, unmarked asphault that winds around a ramps of the Nutley Street (VA 243)2 interchange. A tunnel connecting the other side of the interchange is not open yet. The through trail heads right at t-intersection and directly into another tunnel under Nutley. On the other side, the trail abuts I-66 westbound lanes. The trail climbs as it goes eastward. The main trail is blocked off at Cedar Lane until August. The ramp to Cedar Lane is open. The stop sign is pointing the wrong direction though.
Most of the group turned around there and headed back to Vienna Metro. Some broke off to Cedar Lane, though I overheard another cyclist saying it was not currently an ideal connection.
Vienna Metro to VA 123
Departing Vienna Metro to the west, a bike lane along Virginia Center Blvd./Country Creek Rd. serves as I66PT. Crews were still painting the markings on in the early afternoon. At Oakton High School, I66PT westbound has its own bike lane all the way to Blake Lane. Eastbound however, has sharrows on the two lane road with Oakton High parking on the side. That isn’t a great combination and hopefully crashes are avoided. That’s not much of a strategy though.
After Blake Lane, a true path resumes for the I66PT. It continues all the way the EXIT 60 interchange with VA 123. Currently, it feeds into one of the “ramps” along VA 123 northbound before merging with a sidewalk. There are low branches along that sidewalk.
A compromised project
FABB is clear about its position on the trail:
The trail is not perfect and there were choices made about its placement that are less than optimal. FABB invites bicyclists in northern Virginia to join us in fighting to ensure that future highway and roadway projects include much needed bicycle and pedestrian facilities that are safe, accessible, and connected.I-66 Parallel Trail Ribbon-Cutting on May 17
Generally speaking, the trail is right next to the highway instead of being buffered by a noise wall. In short, VDOT accepted the “not in my backyard crowd” arguments. Some 2017 coverage:
Virginia lawmakers oppose plan to sandwich I-66 trail between a sound wall and traffic – The Post (soft paywall)
I-66 Trail should be outside the sound wall, but VDOT giving into irrational fears instead of rational ones – The Wash Cycle
It felt like I had dust in my eyes, in spite of wraparound sunglasses, after riding on this portion. Additionally, one of the few places that had the trail inside the sound walls was next to Yeonas Park, home of Vienna Little League.3 Oddly enough, no access between the I66PT and Yeonas was included.
Commentary in Jordan Pascale’s DCist article was quite critical:
Yes, it is loud. On a recent ride, traffic noise reached 85 decibels. Behind the sound wall, it was 65 decibels. The CDC says that noise “above 70 decibels over a prolonged period may start to harm your hearing.”
Yes, you do smell some exhaust — it’s likely worse during rush hour…First Ride: Northern Virginia Opens New “66-Parallel” Bike And Walking Trail
The fatal crash seems like hyperbole. The noise is very real though.
I anticipate there will be eventually efforts made to put up some kind of barrier, perhaps similar to those on the Wilson Bridge over Alexandria. That will not be cheap; I suppose the NIMBYs can be proud that they were mollified over their existential fears rather than trail users genuine concerns.
The discontinuous sections are also a disappointment, particularly around Oakton High School and Centreville. The inclusion of Gallows Road, rather than building a new trail section along I-66/I-495 interchange right away, is more forgivable, though still unfortunate.
The phrase “perfect is the enemy of good” comes to mind here. At least this section is more level than many parts of the Custis Trail. There are still opportunities for improvement which is a lot better than not building anything.4
An additional noise wall should be added between automobile lanes and the trail.
In order to improve navigation, I66PT and other area trails should be assigned route numbers5 that are posted along the trail. A Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices M1-8 local bicycle route sign with “66” on it is the obvious choice. The routing would include the portions of Gallows Road and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail connections to the Custis Trail in Arlington.
Sign image adapted from Richard C. Moeur’s trafficsign.us. Interstate 66 shield created at shields-up.net.
Bike to Work Day 2023
Friday, May 18 is Bike to Work Day 2023. Registration is still available.
1 I am skeptical of these “public-private” partnerships. Privatizing public infrastructure is fraught with peril. There is a whole manifesto I could write about this…
2 I have never heard Nutley refered to as 243 – this will probably be another blog post
3 Yenoas Park predates I-66. When I was a Vienna little leaguer (AA Senators, AAA Red Sox), traffic noise was an issue and repeated requests for noise walls were made. This project finally brought that to fruition. Why that particular section couldn’t get noise walls when so many other did was odd.
4 Looks in Larry Hogan’s general direction (marylandmatters.org)
5 I’m going to have to follow this up with some “speculative cartography”