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Friday, January 2, 2009

Imagine Seven Corners

Yikes. Just the thought of an area named "Seven Corners" makes me not want to drive there. Wilson Boulevard, Roosevelt Boulevard, Arlington Boulevard, Leesburg Pike, Broad Street, Sleepy Hollow Road, and Hillwood Avenue all converge in nearly the same place at the southern tip of Falls Church. I have only driven through this area a select few times, always on weekends, and only once on purpose. It is a nightmare. No doubt that in an area named after it's intersection, the intersection would be the most dominant feature of the landscape.

Michael Perkins over at GGW suggested that I use this area to start my New Year's resolution to write more on Virginia... and it couldn't be a more desperate region for a street grid. Serving mostly strip malls and car-dependent medium-density apartments, the roads through this area operate with a series of frontage roads, bridges, and quasi-interchanges. One might argue that this area is too sparse to merit much investment in the road system. But I believe a better working street grid could reduce the painful traffic jams while at the same time accommodating pedestrians and transit, perhaps even catalyzing further growth. Here's what that part of town might look like if it had a better street grid:

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The region could start by improving pedestrian facilities from the East Falls Church Metro station, located just under a mile north of the intersection at Wilson and Roosevelt. Keeping Arlington Boulevard up to its current semi-freeway standard would be possible with lots of overpasses, but of course this would be far more costly. A sunken freeway, however, has far less impact on connectivity than an at-grade route.

Traffic will of course be relieved by the addition of new roads, guiding cars around the disastrous intersection for which the area is named. This approach is known to work better than widening roads, as it cuts down on the number of vehicle miles required for a particular car travel, reduces traffic (particularly if there is an emergency situation blocking one of the roads), and induces more pedestrian travel. The added capacity allows some reduction of automobile capacity on the existing major roads to make way for transit and/or streetscape improvements. In the end, cars, pedestrians, transit riders, residents, and business owners tend to benefit more from well connected streets. Seven Corners would no doubt benefit immediately from reduced traffic jams, before any other changes are made.

Centralized locations such as Seven Corners shouldn't be unsavory destinations because of traffic. With attractions such as the unique Eden Center, a predominantly Vietnamese shopping district on Wilson Boulevard, Seven Corners could be a great destination, not just a clogged interchange out in the burbs. I have limited experience with this location, so strongly encourage comments with suggestions or further information.


Daniel M. Laenker said...

Why not a traffic circle at the actual Seven Corners? For once, that might improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety rather than either/or - to say nothing of the current situation, which detracts from both.

Dave Murphy said...

I think a traffic circle with Rt 50 going underneath it is a fine idea. Perhaps even a few more throughout the new street grid would be good as well.

Nick said...

I agree. I like the idea of a traffic circle with route 50 running underneath it. Also, I've always thoguht Seven Corners could be a prime location for a future metro/light rail stop: perhaps the transfer station for lines running on Route 50 and Route 7 (from Tysons).

Douglas A. Willinger said...

I concur.

I am amazed that with the DC tradition of such (aka DuPont circle) that there are not more such intersections within and around Washington DC.

Scott said...

I wish I had seen this last month when you posted it. I live in Seven Corners, southeast of the intersection. This could be a wonderfully walkable area with all the shops and restaurants nearby (my apartment has a Walk Score of 80), but the pedestrian infrastructure is seriously lacking. Most notably, there's nowhere to cross Route 50 between Wilson Blvd and Patrick Henry Dr, half a mile apart. And the 7C intersection has few sidewalks and no walk signals.

Replacing the intersection with a traffic circle would be great. I can't say I see it happening anytime soon, but then, this area has been pretty neglected for a while.

Your proposed road network seems a little less practical, with streets running right through existing apartment buildings -- yikes! A light at Peyton Randolph Dr would be the single greatest improvement, since from Wilson Blvd to Patrick Henry Dr is a half-mile stretch with NO crossing of route 50. However, the political will may not be there to get it done since Fairfax County is right now building a skybridge near that location, unfortunately. I do not approve of having to walk up and down 2 flights of steps to cross the street. Rather demoralizing.

Route 7 is nowhere near as bad. Not only are there several stoplights on the same length of road, but the cycles are much shorter.

Also badly needed is a stoplight with pedestrian signal for crossing Wilson Blvd at the main gate for Eden Center. (Google's label for Eden Center is in the wrong place -- it's the larger shopping center north of Wilson Blvd, not the one to the south.) I currently have to jaywalk every time I visit Eden Center. Roosevelt Blvd is really too far out of the way.

I rarely venture west of the 7C intersection, but there is a Korean grocery between 50 and Hillwood Ave, and I doubt people south of 50 ever walk to it. In general, route 50 is the problem here. Until there's the political will to turn it from quasi-freeway into main street, it's going to remain an uncrossable obstacle, preventing Seven Corners from meeting its full potential as a walkable area.

dan.walker3 said...

I can hardly keep from laughing. I'm not sure whether the article is for real or pulling our leg.
Of course, Seven Corners (also called Fort Buffalo) WAS a circle until they cut the underpass for Route 50 in (I'd guess) the early 1960s. I'm not going to take the time to confirm the date.
So, if they wanted a circle they should have kept it.

Dan walker