Members of the New Alexandria Citizens Association took to the streets last week. They held a "protest" walk on Fort Hunt Road along the new trail from Belle Haven Road to Huntington Avenue. Standing on the side of the street with cars zipping by, it was easy to make their point — that the lack of a pedestrian walkway makes it dangerous for pedestrians, bikers, and joggers.
An email sent out by Deb Sell-Pugh, president, New Alexandria Citizens Association (NACA), prior to the protest stated: “Parts of the trail are not separated from the road and is actually along the existing shoulder of Fort Hunt Road. While the trail will provide access to the new bike lanes to be established from Route One Trail across the Beltway, it is dangerous. Several residents have reported more than two incidents in which cars veered into the path to pass on the right, made right turns at Belle Haven without seeing walkers. We hope that our protest can bring much needed attention to the fact that without improvement, great risk will be necessary to utilize it. We are currently working with the folks at Metroped, a non-profit advocacy group, in hopes of enlarging our group of walkers."
Later, Sell-Pugh said, “We had a few people from Belle Haven stop by and sign our petition, talk with us regarding the trail and its safety concerns. Many drivers and passerbys honked and waved in support. We will continue our quest via the Mt. Vernon Council of Citizens' Association (MVCCA) safety committee which hopefully will involve the members from transportation committee."
Sell-Pugh emphasized that while some individuals have concerns with the country club, they do not represent the opinion of the association.
“The first and foremost issue is the safety concerns where the trail is not separated from the road, the cross walk at Belle Haven and Fort Hunt needs improvement and the general appearance of the trail itself. Currently NACA is working with VDOT in an attempt to adopt the highway and trail to keep it clean and to see if arrangements can be made to cut back the vines that hang over at eye level,” Sell-Pugh said.
BILL HOWARD, president of Belle Haven Country Club, was surprised when asked to comment about the protest.
“This is the first I’m hearing about it,” he said, and went on to explain that Belle Haven has paved the portion of the road from the original country club entrance to Huntington Avenue. He said that they still have to stripe the portion of the road between the paved areas and that he was not averse to trimming the bushes if needed.
He said that he had met with other nearby citizen’s groups and would be happy to talk to members of New Alexandria.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” Howard said. “We know that we still have some striping and guardrail work to do, but Belle Haven is committed to upholding their part of the bargain and is not trying to shirk their duty.”
When asked to explain why the entire area was not paved, he said that in that one stretch, there was no place for pavement. There’s a drop-off of at least 12-15 feet, and he’s not sure if they could even do it with retaining walls. Howard’s understanding is that it’s the club’s responsibility to build the path but VDOT’s responsibility to maintain. He was not aware of any request made by VDOT that hasn't been done.
When informed about Howard’s comments, Sell-Pugh said, “It’s not what we envisioned, but any improvement is better than nothing.”
WHAT SHE HAD ENVISIONED is what was promised in an agreement back in 2002, whereas, “The Belle Haven Country Club, at the SEA-98-V-042 November 18, 2002 public hearing, agreed to provide a contiguous asphalt trail on the east side of Fort Hunt Road separated from the road. Based on this agreement, and as noted in the NACA letter above, many expect the installation of a trail separate from the road and they assume it will meet minimum state and federal pedestrian guidelines.
“Item #27 of the final development conditions approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors allows a trail that appears to be a subset of the minimum guidelines and expectations. Metroped was not advised of the change and it not clear the MVCCA was advised.
"Concurrent with the proposed entrance improvements, a four-foot wide asphalt trail shall be provided along the east side of Fort Hunt Road from Belle Haven Road to Huntington Avenue as follows: A four-foot wide asphalt trail will be provided with a two-foot separation from the travel lane, except where substantial fill would be required, as determined by the Department of Public Works and
Environmental Services (DPWES), in which case the existing shoulder can be used or the trail can abut the existing curb. In these areas where the existing shoulder would be used for the trail, the width of the travel lanes for Fort Hunt Road shall be reduced to 11-feet per lane, with the striping section for the whole roadway adjusted accordingly, and the existing shoulder will be converted to a four-foot wide asphalt trail, delineated with diamond shapes and border striping, and separated by two-foot painted shoulder and appropriate chevrons. Additional asphalt will be provided as required to achieve the above-described trail and roadway section. Approximately 600 feet of five-foot high, black vinyl coated chain link fence will be provided along the eastern edge of the trail at the higher roadway elevations between Edgehill Road and the Club entrance.”
AFTER THIS AGREEMENT was signed, subsequent meetings were held and the terms of the original agreement were changed.
“They pledged to put in a lighted, paved trail,” said Arthur Broeg, who was present at the protest walk. He is not satisfied with the present solution, and said, “The reason it’s coming up now is because [Belle Haven Country Club] is doing this $19 million renovation. The 2002 hearings were supposed to be open to the public, but nobody happened to be there. [Supervisor Gerry] Hyland was supposed to contact VDOT.”
Hyland is out of town this week, but Brett Kenney, Hyland’s chief aide, said, “We are aware that it is an issue and are working hard to take care of it.”
Kenney is planning to arrange a meeting with Hyland, VDOT, Fairfax County and Belle Haven Country Club within the next two weeks.
John Andrews was also at the protest, and said, “What we’re trying to say is that an orange line on the road is not enough to keep cars from hitting people.”
Broeg’s wife, Lennie Bloch, said, “I walked this trail at 8 a.m. and 500 cars passed me. It’s very underused and very dangerous.”
Part of the concern is that when cars going north on Fort Hunt Road back up to make the left-turn onto Glen Drive, other cars go around them to avoid waiting. That puts those cars in the path of pedestrians and bikers; Sell-Pugh is concerned that someone will get hit. A suggestion has been made to put up a flag or some other type of marker to make it clear to cars that there is a walkway there.
Bob Brubaker, director Metroped, Inc., was initially involved, and said. “When we saw [the trail] going in, it was not what we thought it was going to be. We have strong pedestrian advocates and strong support from the MVCCA, but it’s a never-ending fight. The county agreed to this. This was part of the county’s comprehensive plan and when it got updated, they should have held to it. It’s not only unsafe, but it looks sloppy. It’s supposed to be a connector to Huntington.”