Things are always changing on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. It’s come a long way since I first moved here, with the Vietnamese restaurant in the shape of a boat (with Christmas lights on it!) at the corner of Wilson & Nelson. And just last week, the last buildings (on the north side of Wilson) that were here when I arrived have come down. While there have been inevitable disappointments (the loss of Indian Spices Gifts & Appliances, broken promises about street level retail, etc.), it’s generally been a positive progression. I’m not so sure I can say that about the latest couple of changes, though.
Both changes are aimed at improving the pedestrian experience. The crosswalk in front of Ballston Mall has been replaced with a light. The other project involves the sidewalks along Wilson Boulevard (between North Oakland and North Monroe) being widened. And since I’m in my car 1/100th of the time I’m on foot, you’d think that I’d be happy. But I don’t think either is going to work out as planned.
First, the Ballston crosswalk – with a unique pedestrian activated light system – has worked out pretty well as is. Sure, there’s the occasional car that doesn’t defer to pedestrians, in that it rolls through the crosswalk when someone is waiting to cross – I’ve not seen a near-miss in years of watching. To insert yet another light on that short section of road will only snarl traffic a bit more (esp. if things continue as they were today, with the lights completely out of alignment). The new lights seem like a solution in search of a problem.
Second, the sidewalk project involves a significant narrowing of Wilson Boulevard. Same number of lanes, much less space. And extended corners with enormous radii. This, of course, has a traffic calming effect. You know in that calming = increased slowness and frustration way. I’m not sure that one of Arlington’s primary thoroughfares really needs calming. The leaves very little room to manoeuvre around the cars making the inevitable left-hand turns. Wilson is becoming a pretty busy alternative commuting corridor, and this will only make things worse. Last (but definitely not least!), this makes Wilson even more unattractive for cyclists, who are already pretty squeezed on this road.
I’m all for improved pedestrian access and safety, but I think Arlington went about it the wrong way this time. Let’s hope I’m shown to be incorrect.