Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Letter: Wilson Unsafe Walk to Ashlawn

If our children are expected to walk to our proposed future neighborhood school, Ashlawn, there must be something done to make this entire route safe for pedestrians. Currently it is far from that. You may already be aware that many other citizens have voiced similar concerns at the recent school board meetings and elsewhere.

Although the school issue has brought this concern to the forefront, it should be made clear that this has long been and remains a critical safety issue for walkers and bicyclists of ALL ages along this corridor through the Bluemont Park and Dominion Hills neighborhoods. This involves pedestrian and bike transport to all nearby destinations including Metro trains and buses, workplaces, parks, shops / restaurants and of course schools. Safety should be everyone's number one concern, always, and transportation on Wilson Boulevard is simply unsafe for those who choose to enjoy the most fundamental of means: leaving the car at home and getting some fresh air and exercise on the way to wherever we're going. It's the car-free diet we're all hearing about, right?

The dark lines on this revised map still show current boundaries. The purple shaded "planning units" (portions of neighborhoods) are ones to be moved under Superintendent Robert Smith's latest proposal (released Jan. 30, 2008). Planning Unit 1410 would move from McKinley Elementary School to Ashlawn. PU1410's southern boundary is Wilson Boulevard. (Click to enlarge the image).

The area I'd like to focus on is our own planning unit, 1410, nearby PU1403, and others in the Four Mile Run valley in Bluemont Park and Dominion Hills. 1410 is the one that once enjoyed Stonewall Jackson (what is now ATS) as its walkable, neighborhood school, eliminated years ago as a neighborhood choice even though it is only a few blocks away. There exists an obscure, roundabout back way to walk to ATS from our area; however, with the recent proposals, 1410 and others are forced into school walk zones for Ashlawn that are very unsafe, requiring walking down long stretches of extremely narrow sidewalks along Wilson Blvd. during rush hour, and crossing over its 4 busy lanes.

If you've ever walked down Wilson in these areas, you know that you would NEVER let your kids walk along there alone - it's unsafe even for adults - with the speeders, heavy truck traffic and pollution on this major, arterial route. The sidewalks are on average 2 to 3 feet wide (about 2 feet to pass at the telephone poles), with absolutely no safety barrier between a distracted child and the road. The speeding traffic is literally less than 24 inches away, and so one wrong move from either driver or walker could result in a tragedy.

We once attempted to take our baby daughter in her carriage down the sidewalk, and it couldn't even pass between some telephone poles and the property owners' walls/yards. The problem is compounded on waste removal days, when the sidewalks are completely blocked all day in numerous places by the bins. For all these reasons safe biking on this stretch has also proven an impossibility: biking up and down the hills with traffic on Wilson is a death wish, and the sidewalks are too narrow to offer an alternative....

We adults rarely even walk on these sidewalks, since it is plainly dangerous and just so unpleasant - but Wilson Blvd. is the only route east and west in the area, without going very far out of the way, since we have the I-66 corridor within two blocks to the north and no parallel neighborhood streets in the vicinity to the north or south of Wilson. As a result, we often feel we are trapped in our own neighborhood--with really only a few "escape routes" for walkers/bikers--creating a limited feeling of connection to the surrounding Bluemont community.

In a similar sense we in 1410 also feel trapped by our increasingly limited options to attend neighborhood schools. Aside from Ashlawn and its lack of a realistic walk zone, we are all but locked out of ATS by the lottery; we are not in a priority group for Barrett enrollment, our next closest school after that; and there is talk of a possible future limit on transfers to this and other nearby schools due to high capacity.

In conclusion:

  • As parents in 1410, we strongly feel as though we're being called upon to make undue sacrifices regarding our children's school choices, sharing a larger part of the burden in the boundary/capacity solution, without having anything granted in return.
  • As citizens of Arlington, we are being asked to "add injury to insult," as it were, with the prospect of being forced to walk our families down Wilson's hazardous sidewalks, barely passable in places, and some of which are obstructed weekly.
  • What the status quo dictates is that, unless safety is improved considerably along Wilson in Bluemont Park, POTENTIAL WALKERS AND BICYCLISTS WILL REMAIN OR BECOME CAR PASSENGERS OR SCHOOL BUS RIDERS TO EVERY DESTINATION, even if it's a few blocks away. This is not the "car-free diet" recently trumpeted for Arlington... it's just more of the same and worse: a net increase in vehicles on the road.
  • Is this really what we all want? My family thinks Arlington can do better, and we need ACTION from our Arlington County government. As someone who has joined Board Members on community walks and bike rides, I know that we share similar goals and spirit - so I'm confident that we can make progress here together.

    Thank you for consideration of these critical matters - we look forward to hearing from you.

    Respectfully,

    John Marston

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