Cyclists and pedestrians will get their own separate real estate along a one-mile stretch of the popular W&OD trail in Falls Church.
Officials broke ground Wednesday morning on a dual trail that will help address congestion, flow and safety by creating a separate trail for pedestrians. The “groundbreaking” was set up as mini piles of dirt to accommodate social distancing.
The trail from Grove Avenue to Little Falls Road will be detoured during construction, which is set to be completed in late June 2021.
Trails have been a popular out-of-the-house activity during the pandemic as gyms and workout studios were forced to close — but all that popularity has led to unprecedented congestion. Nearly 94,000 cyclists and pedestrians used the W&OD Trail in May, according to the closest sensor data about two miles from the expansion area. In May 2019, that data showed 59,000 cyclists and pedestrians utilized the trail.
A visible crushed rock path along the trail where the groundbreaking took place, suggests walkers often veer off the asphalt to avoid congestion.
Michael Nardolilli, chairman of NOVA Parks, pointed to a Washington Post letter to the editor that lamented crowded trails as unusable during the pandemic. He says many people have turned to quieter side streets instead.
“It reminds me of a saying that’s attributed to Yogi Berra that, ‘No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,’” he said. “So we are here today to start on a solution to that problem.”
The project, which has been in the works since 2006, will build an eight-foot trail for pedestrians, in addition to the existing 11-foot trail used for cyclists.
The expansion will also include creating new swales to manage stormwater, replacing native plants and putting in infrastructure for lighting in the future.
More dual trails are planned for Arlington and other sections of the W&OD, which has some residents concerned about the impact expansion will have on trees.
The W&OD trail started in 1974 as one of the earlier railroad-bed-to-trail conversions. It stretches 45 miles from Arlington to Purcellville in Loudoun County.
Dave Snyder, Falls Church Councilmember and Northern Virginia Transportation Authority member, says he hopes the expanded trail will become the new normal for the path from Arlington to Purcellville.
“It’s transportation infrastructure, it improves it as a park and recreation amenity and improves it in terms of environmental quality,” he said, “both getting people out of their cars, connecting them in a safe way under pandemic conditions, and also dealing with climate change-related stormwater issues.”
Officials said NOVA Parks, the City of Falls Church and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority collaborated on the project, with NVTA paying the $3.2 million for the expansion.
Monica Blackmon, executive director of NVTA, says the trail beat out other roads and transit projects in the region.
“I think that everyone is coming to the realization that trails are a viable form of commuting,” she said. “They’re no longer just a recreational path that people use in their free time… And I think the pandemic has really highlighted that.”