It's about 2 miles from Columbia Pike's Town Center (the commercial zone centered around the intersection with Walter Reed Dr) to the Pentagon City Metro, a trip that should only take about 10 minutes by bicycle. Cyclists on this route are a rare sight, however, due to traffic conditions and substandard infrastructure along the way. Improvements are coming over the next few years; they won't bring cycling nirvana, and they won't come overnight, but overall they represent a significant improvement in the cycling experience between Columbia Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City.

Current Conditions
Cycling on-street on Columbia Pike is quite harrowing for any but the most confident cyclists. Traffic volumes are heavy; when not stopped at a light, traffic often moves quickly, especially once you get East of South Courthouse Rd. Cyclists traveling during morning rush have the added joy of needing to ride in the left lane for a while due the the right lane of Columbia Pike becoming a turn lane during morning rush as it approaches the Washington Blvd bridge. Once you're past Washington Blvd traffic volumes thin out a bit, but you're heading uphill to the Navy Annex and what traffic is coming is likely paying little head to the 25 mph speed limit. Once you crest the hill, the downhill toward Joyce makes for a pleasant descent, helping you keep up with oncoming traffic. Joyce Street heading under I-395 is, if anything, worse than most of Columbia Pike - wide lanes and a freeway like appearance cause cars to exceed the already inexplicably high 35 mph speed limit. To make things worse, the sidewalk isn't even a reasonable alternative to any of this. The sidewalks along most of Columbia Pike and along Joyce are narrow, riddled with obstacles, bumpy and frequently chock full of folks waiting for the bus. Riding in the neighborhoods on either side of the Pike so as to avoid biking the Pike is possible but challenging (bring a map!) - street connectivity is spotty and no one road will allow you a signalized crossing of the various North/South arterials.

Once you've made it to the East side of 395 those heading for the Metro now have the option of a round-about route with bike facilities (Joyce to Hayes) or contending with a 6 lane arterial (Army Navy Dr). Those heading for Long Bridge Park again have a round-about option (Joyce to Hayes to 12th across the bike/ped path continuing on 12th to Long Bridge Dr) or contending with Army Navy Dr. Were it not for the one-way portion of 12th/Crystal Dr cyclists could avoid Long Bridge Dr altogether and directly access the Long Brideg Dr esplanade from the corner of 12th & Crystal Dr. Those heading to southern Crystal City or Potomac Yard will find themselves stymied by various one-way portions of Crystal Dr and a lack of decent east/west access roads to get to it in the first place - 15th St, 18th St, 23rd St - none of these have bike facilities. If you're just passing through you'll probably want to stick to Eads St though it's bike lanes could use some TLC.

What's Coming:
The Columbia Pike Bike Boulevards Project

This project attempts to make 9th St and 12th St the go-to option for cycling along the commercial core of the Columbia Pike corridor. The project will include sharrows all along 9th and 12th St, various curb extensions to narrow the travel way which should help curb speeding, swapping some 2-way stops so that the cross street stops rather than 9th or 12th St, various intersection reconfigurations and the installation of HAWK signals at unsignalized intersections with major arterials (Glebe, Walter Reed, George Mason Dr). The initial plans have been updated based on resident feedback and to coordinate with other projects. The reconfiguration of 9th St and Walter Reed has been moved into the Walter Reed Drive Decal Fee project that is currently in-design. 9th Street will not be converted to two-way traffic until the County can come up with a solution to the neighborhood's concerns about cut-through traffic. In the interim, Eastbound bike traffic will be routed up Ivy, across 7th St and back down Irving; in reality, given the low traffic volumes there, I expect to see rampant salmoning as the preferred alternative for most cyclists over a 5 block detour. Improvements to the trail in Doctor's Run Park have been moved to two separate projects: The lower trail from the school trail to George Mason Dr. will be improved as part of a Neighborhood Conservation project. The upper trail from the school trail to S. Quincy St. has numerous large trees and drainage issues that also require it to be addressed in a separate project. As far as I know, no timeline or funding source has been identified for the second project.

The easy changes in this project (signage & paint) are expected to being late this Summer; curb extensions, medians, HAWK signals, and sidewalk realignments will all require a field survey. The survey is expected to occur late this Summer as well, with design work resuming on these elements once the survey is complete; The HAWK signals will require VDOT review which will take additional time as well.

The Columbia Pike Multimodal Project

This project will essentially completely reconstruct Columbia Pike from the Fairfax line to Joyce St. It will bring a mostly standard lane configuration to the Pike - 11' outside lane, 10' inside lane and either a left turn lane or median in the center. From a cyclist perspective, the interesting pieces are the lack of bike lanes (due to right-of-way constraints and the strong possibility of streetcar tracks coming the pike), the potential for narrower lanes reducing traffic speeds and the addition of two segments of 10' wide sidepath - one on the East end of the Pike and one on the West. On the west end, a 10' sidepath on the North side of the Pike will connect Jefferson St with the Four Mile Run Bridge. On the East end, a 10' sidepath on the North side of the Pike will connect Vietch Street down to Joyce St.

Detail-oriented readers may have just realized that the 10' sidepath stops exactly one block short of the 9th St bicycle boulevard. Staff have said "Current plans leave a gap between Wayne and Veitch, where the church property and retaining wall make widening the sidewalk very difficult" which I'm not sure I buy - the current plans actually show a 6' sidewalk and 5' landscaping strip on that block. It would seem the solution is as simple as removing that one block of landscaping strip; while I would mourn the loss of those trees, it would seem on balance to be worth the loss in order to avoid the interruption in bike facilities. There are many more street trees called for in the reconstructed Columbia Pike than are there now so the project as a whole would be a net gain in tree canopy. I have queried staff on this issue but haven't yet heard back on whether there is some other unknown issue that makes the solution more complicated than removing a block of landscape strip. UPDATE FROM STAFF (6/15/12): "At this point, we can officially state that it looks feasible to extend the shared facility (wider sidewalk) to S. Wayne St. but we'll need to verify this as we move forward in the planning process."

The plans are at the 50% design stage and are now being revised to address both VDOT and County staff comments and will then be resubmitted to VDOT. The project will then proceed to final design. That process should take about another year or so. The County expects to begin construction starting at the Fairfax County line and moving eastward in phases. The first phase (from the Fairfax County line to S. Frederick St.) is expected to begin in Summer or Fall of 2013.

Columbia Pike Realignment

Arlington National Cemetery is expanding; the gas station on Joyce has already been demolished to make way and the Navy Annex and Southgate Road will soon follow. Arlington County is in negotiations to potentially realign the east end of Columbia Pike to have it meet Joyce Street much closer to I-395. This would allow Arlington National Cemetery additional contiguous land and allow Arlington to make many potential upgrades to that area of the Pike. An agreement has not yet been reached but it is hoped that the realignment would nicely match up with the end of the next project on Joyce St.

The Joyce St Sidewalk Project

This project runs along Joyce St as it goes under I-395, from Army Navy Dr to approximately where the old gas station was before it was demolished. Excess travel lane width is being converted into extra room for the sidewalks on both sides of the road. Existing sidewalks are narrow, with numerous intrusions and partial obstructions and are placed close to highway guard rails and moving vehicles. The area also lacks appropriate lighting. The new configuration will retain the two road lanes in each direction that currently exist, but the approximately 5 ft. wide sidewalks will be replaced by 8 ft. wide sidewalks with 4 ft. of buffer zone between it and traffic. Pedestrian scale lighting will also be added into the buffer zone. While County Staff advised, this project is funded and managed by the Federal Highway Administration; the project was recommended in the 14th Street Bridge Environmental Impact Statement. Cyclists who are intimidate by the traffic on Joyce should appreciate the improved sidewalks; the narrowed lanes and less freeway-like atmosphere will hopefully slow traffic for those of us who bike on-street.

Construction started at the beginning of May and is expected to take five months.

The Army Navy Drive Cycletrack

This project will consist of a "road diet" on the existing travel lanes on Army Navy Drive, including removal of the median, to provide room for a two-way dedicated bicycling facility on the south side of the right-of-way, alongside the existing sidewalk. Traffic signalization and driveway apron changes would also be included in the project. While early in the design phase, the initial proposal is that it run from Joyce St to 12th Street providing a critical connection between the Columbia Pike corridor and Pentagon City / Crystal City. In response to my inquiry, County staff described the project as "early in the design phase" and "without a specific timeline" but the County Manager's Proposed (not yet adopted) Capital Improvement Plan has funding for the project in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 fiscal years so I would expect that to at least be a "best guess" at this time.

Long Bridge Drive Reconstruction

Long Bridge Drive (formerly Old Jefferson David Highway) is being reconstructed between 12th Street and Boundary Channel Drive and will include Bike Lanes and smooth, brand new pavement when completed. This project has been held up multiple times by various issues with the underground utilities but is expected to wrap up this Fall.

Crystal Drive Two-way Conversion

This is a three phase project that will eventually convert Crystal Dr from 12th Street down to Potomac Ave to two-way operation. In the areas that are currently 1-way, there will be sharrows in the northbound lanes and a Southbound / Eastbound bike lane. (some portions of Crystal Dr are already two-way and include bike lanes in both directions.

Phase I covers the northernmost block (Crystal Dr / 12th St / Clark St / 18th St) and will begin construction this Summer. Phase II covers Crystal Dr between 23rd and 26th St and will begin construction late this Summer or this Fall. Phase III will cover Crystal Dr between 26th and 27th St and will also cover 27th St itself between Route 1 and Crystal Dr. Phase III is still in the conceptual stage and is without a firm schedule.

The Hayes Street Multimodal Project

Hayes Street by the Pentagon City Metro is already somewhat bike friendly with bike lanes stretch from Army Navy Dr all the way to Eads. Along with many pedestrian improvements, this project will also bring green paint to those bike lanes and will double the amount of bike parking at the Metro (some of which will be covered).

Construction begins this Summer.

Combined Effects

So once all these projects are complete, how do our hypothetical trips change? Biking along the Pike could now be accomplished on either the 9th St or 12th St bike boulevards, low-speed residential street with sharrows and signalization to cross major arterials. Riders could then transition via a single block of sidewalk riding from the 9th St Boulevard to the 10' sidepath on the East end of the Pike. At the end of the sidepath on a realigned Columbia Pike our cyclist could then transition either to the wider sidewalk on Joyce or the narrower travel lanes which have hopefully slowed traffic there. If our cyclist is continuing on to the metro, they can now transition to the Army Navy Dr cycletrack and then make a right onto the green bike lanes on Hayes St to park at the new covered bike parking at the Metro. If they are heading to Long Bridge Park (perhaps to cruise the esplanade) they can take the Army Navy Dr Cycletrack over to 12th Street which now being two way allows them to access the esplanade at the corner of Crystal Dr and 12th or they can turn onto the bike lanes on Long Bridge Drive. If they're heading to Crystal City or Potomac Yards, they can take the Army Navy Dr cycletrack to 12th St, get in the bike lane and continue all the way down to the Potomac Avenue sidepath.

Look for another post in the coming weeks with my thoughts on further improvements that can be made in Columbia Pike Corridor and its connections to Pentagon & Crystal City.


Comment by L Wolff

I bike on Columbia Pike regularly. This was very informative, thank you so much for posting!

L Wolff
Comment by C Mann

Nice to have this summarized in one spot. A few questions. Is south gate rd going away completely? So now coming out of pentagon city, I'll be forced onto the steeper, busier Joyce st?
What's the point of the green bike lanes on Hayes?
Do you know the status of the trail under humpback bridge that will connect with boundary channel drive?

C Mann
Comment by Chris

1) Yes, sadly South Gate Road is going away completely, so coming out of Pentagon City you'll have to ride on the Pike either on-street or on the awful sidewalk until the new 10' sidepath is built as part of the Multimodal project. If/when the re-aligment of the Pike happens those conditions may improve further - hard to say.

2) I don't know specifically what the County is trying to accomplish, but in general the green bike lanes have been tried out in other jurisdictions and found to be better at reminding drivers that cyclists are there. That said, there have been issues and concerns about the materials used for the green markings as far as durability and slipperiness when wet so this may be a "test project" to see how they work in Arlington. I'll ask staff and report back when I know more.

3) Last I knew the trail under the humpback bridge was at a standstill due to DoD security concerns, but then recently a project popped up in the Capital Improvement Plan called "Boundary Channel Drive Interchange" that talks about reconfiguring portions of Boundary Channel Drive with roundabouts and includes a sentence about making critical connections to the Mt Vernon Trail which leads me to think a compromise may have been reached. Perhaps converting some of those cloverleafs to roundabouts frees up enough land that the trail can be built a sufficient distance from the sites that DoD is concerned about? I've been meaning to ask staff about that one as well - I'll let you know when I hear back.

Comment by Ren

Agreed. Thanks for a great summary. I also bike the Pike regularly and appreciate having this all together.

Comment by pikespotter

Great, comprehensive post. Yet I think you are sugarcoating some of this. A "sidepath" is a nice name for a sidewalk, and for commuters who currently ride in traffic, that's definitely a downgrade. Also the 12th street boulevard remains a "road"-to-nowhere. What's the bike commute for a current morning-eastbound commuter who lives south of the Pike going to be when all this is implemented? Impossible, it seems, without crossing the Pike twice and using a sidewalk to ride.

Perhaps the next post talks about the 110 and GW Parkway connections at Pentagon? To be fair these aren't County issues but do matter.

Again, helpful post.

Comment by Chris

My personal bias is certainly showing through - I'm not comfortable riding on most stretches of the Pike so to me a reasonably wide sidepath is an upgrade. I understand that other folks disagree - on the other hand if you're comfortable commuting on-street on the Pike now are some streetcar tracks going to deter you? My understanding is they're a hazard for the unwary, but not insurmountable (though I have zero personal experience with this).

Long-term maybe we've got more options - the Pike Multimodal project exists specifically as a near-term plan. A plan for what to do with Columbia Pike until sufficient redevelopment occurs that we've got more right-of-way to work with. In the long-term perhaps a cycle-track is a possibility.

The length of the 12 Street Boulevard does suck pretty bad - years of development without a push for grid connectivity is coming back to haunt us. The Neighborhood Plan calls for extending the 12th Street boulevard all the way to Queen St, though that'll require lots of redevelopment and the cooperation of Arlington Village to achieve. And still the question will remain what do you do after you get to Queen if you're heading further East. Without the Hoffman-Boston Connector (which perhaps I should have included in this article) you're still stuck with either on-street on the Pike or crossing to the sidepath. I've been meaning to check with staff on the status of the Penrose-Foxcroft bridge also though I don't hold out a lot of hope for movement there anytime soon.