The I-66 trail, as currently proposed, is going to be better than nothing. People will use it for both recreation and transportation. It will be fine, a "gentleman's C" if you will. Nonetheless, the thing isn't going to win any awards or have people in other cities asking "why can't we have something like that." It looks like what it is, a trail that was added to - and around - a design for a road. One could imagine how different I-66 would look if they put the trail in first and built the road around it instead. Here, are ten things you might choose to hate about the I-66 Trail.
The placement inside the sound wall. It wasn't originally supposed to be like this, but as I'm sure you know, VDOT is planning to build the trail between the sound wall and the highway. The problem is not so much that it's beside the highway - as many have noted, lots of trails are built next to highways - it's the placement inside the sound wall that's a problem. This means that the sound from the highway is actually amplified at the trail, and that road exhaust is trapped there too. It means little to no shade. It means that in a crime situation a jogger would have no place to escape to. And it means that neighbors can't build gates or walkways that connect themselves to the trail. Though the trail will be 10-20 feet away, some people might have to ride a mile or more to get to it. I think it is only marginally less safe, but it is terribly less pleasant and much less useful.
The argument is that the soundwall can't be flipped without taking more land, and I finally figured out what they're talking about . Here's the image of the trail inside the wall, followed by the image of outside the wall.
In the first, the wall+trail need 16.6 to 20.6 feet and in the second 20.6 to 23.6 feet. There are a few differences, but the main issue is that 4' concrete..whatever it is...between the barrier and the sound wall if the trail is put on the outside. This means that 3-4 extra feet are needed. I find it hard to believe that this can't be found with a combination of reasonable acquisitions, narrowing of the trail or narrowing of other items in the right of way. But we may never know. Fairfax County Supervisor Linda Smyth recently stated in an email that
VDOT/EMP is not going to spend time or money on figuring out the amount of ROW needed to put the trail on the residential side of the sound wall. It would require surveying and preliminary engineering to come up with a reasonable estimate.
So when they say it will take more lane, just know that they don't actually know that for sure and they don't know how much or where. This is why they can't and don't answer those questions.
They also claim that the outside the wall design prevents utility work, but I find this unconvincing as well unless the utilities are to be below that 4' concrete base. But they haven't done the work mentioned above, so I don't see how they can know that. It's pretty clear from emails sent by Smyth that this is about people not wanting the trail next to their house and not about engineering.
Long Detours - The trail suffers from the same problem that complementary trails to a multi-modal project suffer from: it's viewed as secondary. By that I meant the road was designed first and then the trail was added in afterward. How different it would look if they designed the trail they wanted and then built the road around it. Alas, this process leaves cyclists with long detours. At Fairfax County Parkway, for example, they have to travel north, south and west if they want to go east. (The trail is the lime green line). A cyclist travelling on the path through this section will travel about 2100' farther than a car on I-66 will. And they have to make an at-grade crossing of Fairfax County Parkway.
No direct W&OD Trail connection - despite the fact that the W&OD trail passes through the project area, the I-66 trail doesn't connect to it directly. Instead it peters out more than a mile away at the intersection of Gallows Road and Stenhouse Place (below), where a "potential shared use path" could someday connect the east end of the I-66 trail to the W&OD Trail. Until then, this is your connection.
And while we're at it, it sure would have been nice if this had included a new W&OD Bridge to straighten out the trail along the old RR right of way (the red line below).
Connectivity opportunities missed - The trail has more missed connections that a Valentine's Day issue of the City Paper. It could easily connect to Lotus Lane in Centerville, Heron Dr, Crown Rd, Rosemallow Circle, Fair Oaks Mall, etc...but it doesn't. And the connection to Dunn Loring Metro involves going north a block, crossing Gallows at grade and then going south two blocks.
Here it passes beneath Wapples Mill Road, which appears to have a bike facility that suddenly stops, without connecting to it.
Or here, where the trail could be easily connected to Quail Creek Lane if a connection were built across the red line and up the right side of the image below.
Gaps - There's a gap in the trail from Nutley to Blake, and another from Route 50 to West Ox. Those sections are to be built by VDOT/FXDOT as part of other projects but I'm not sure what will fill them. Trail? Bike lanes? Sharrows? They look to be on-road facilities that follow a longer path. That one of these gaps is in the area near the Vienna Metro is only more disheartening.
Crossing over - At Route 50, the trail crosses from the north side to the south side and then dead ends. At the other end of this gap, it crosses back over to the north side. Why not stay on the north side?
Close up of the transition to the south side
South side route
The break at Stringfellow - In order to avoid a stormwater management pond, the trail will hit Stringfellow Road at two different places. Trail users will need to cross at grade and then use this sidepath. Instead of going over Stringfellow like drivers will.
The trail ends at Centreville - I-66 expansion goes on to Haymarket. Sure, there are plans to extend the trail as well, with work performed by VDOT, FXDOT, Fairfax County Park Authority and Northern Virginia Parks Authority, but I suspect this will mean a lag in completion.
For most of the way, the trail is only on one side. Maybe hate is too strong for this, but a trail on both sides would serve many more destinations.
The proposer is allowed to use reduced trail widths.
The trail is still going to make it easier to bike through the area, and will likely serve many cyclists, runners and walkers, but it isn't anywhere near as good as it could be.