Crossing the Pike

Crossing the Pike

The Cross County Trail crosses the Leesburg Pike, but there are no pedestrian facilities to help users across the road.

Mike Pahner doesn’t usually cross the Leesburg Pike. The Great Falls resident goes out for a daily walk, part of which goes along Colvin Run Road and then onto the Cross County Trail. Pahner seems to have explored most of the area on the north side of Leesburg Pike, including a spot that may be where the old Route 7 crossed Difficult Run.

He doesn’t really want to go to the other side of the pike, noting the peaceful area where he walks. Some people, however do want to cross the road there, and that intersection is the official crossing of the Cross County Trail. However, there is no crosswalk there.

“It is just dangerous,” said Jeanette Twomey. Twomey is president of the Hunter Mill Defense League, but she was not speaking in that capacity.

She said she has seen a group of children and adults crossing the road on bicycles and was concerned about them being able to make it across the four lanes of traffic, plus shoulders and a median. “It’s just a long stretch,” Twomey said.

She further notes that there is nothing to warn motorists that the area is a pedestrian crossing. “Even a sign on Route 7 would help,” she said.

This is the only place where the Cross County Trail crosses a major highway at grade, said Jenny Pate, trails coordinator for the Fairfax County Park Authority. In other situations, the trail is able to slip under or over major roads on a bridge.

People who want to cross Route 7 have to wait for the light to change. “You just cross when the light is green,” said Jenny Pate, trails coordinator for the Fairfax County Park Authority.

The Cross County Trail is a north-south multi-use trail which is planned to run from the Potomac to the Occoquan river. The 40-mile trail goes through a host of different landscapes, from dirt to gravel to pavement and even includes sidewalk at points.

This part of trail goes along Difficult Run. It had gone under the Leesburg Pike, but that was stopped several years ago. There is a legend that the trail was re-routed after a horse got stuck under the bridge, but Pate said she has not been able to substantiate it.

Pahner said that he usually sees bikers waiting to cross. “There’s generally not as many walkers or runners,” he said.

Pate said she did not know of instances of vehicles hitting pedestrians at the intersection.

Any pedestrian facility across Route 7 would be installed by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Any road crossing would first need a study of the proposed facility.

WHILE THEY HAD not been aware of the issue, the department will now initiate a study. “We will have somebody go out and take measurements,” said Ryan Hall, a spokesperson for the department.

An engineer will go and look at the intersection. “Each individual location is evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” said Cindy Engelhart, bicycle, pedestrian and transportation engineer with the department.

Engineers take into account such variables as traffic, the volume of pedestrians and sight distances. They compare these to federal guidelines and then determine if the spot in question might require facilities above what the standards might call for. “There is a lot of engineering judgment involved,” Engelhart said.

Studies such as this typically take about one month to be completed, Hall said. At that time, the department will make a determination on whether there should be a crosswalk or some other type of pedestrian help installed. However, even if one is recommended, it does not guarantee that the project will be funded.

Pate’s first choice for a correction to the trail would not be a crosswalk, but a raised bridge so the trail could be re-routed under it. She hopes that the department might be able to do that as changes to Route 7 happen. “My wish would be that they would make the bridge high enough,” Pate said.