Category: Parks

Bike Activist Who Opposes W&OD Trail Widening Supports Mt. Vernon Trail Widening

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on July 21, 2020.

Some who oppose NoVA Parks’ proposed W&OD Trail widening in Arlington, support widening the northern section of the Mt. Vernon Trail. Longtime bicycle activist Allen Muchnick says the proposed Mt. Vernon Trail widening is not really comparable to NoVA Parks’ proposed W&OD widening for multiple reasons:

1) Due to past NPS policies and funding constraints, the Mt. Vernon Trail has generally been paved no wider than 9 feet. For busy shared-use paths, an 11-foot paved width is the minimum recommended. Consequently, much of the Mt. Vernon Trail is clearly substandard and needs work.

2) Unlike NoVA Parks’ proposal to build dual adjacent pedestrian and bicycle paths for the W&OD totaling 22 feet in width, the widened Mt. Vernon Trail would generally consist of only a single path just 11 feet wide. Thus, the Mt. Vernon Trail widening would generally only approximate the current width of the W&OD Trail and would be only about half as wide as NoVA Parks seeks to make the W&OD in Arlington.

3) The northern section of the Mt. Vernon Trail in Arlington carries a very high level of weekday trail traffic, about 300 trail users/peak hour. It’s much more heavily used than the W&OD Trail in Bluemont Park.  Because it provides a) a vital route for several long-distance, interstate bikeways, b) foot and bike access to four existing Potomac River crossings, and c) sweeping views of our nation’s capital, the Mt Vernon Trail is one of our nation’s preeminent bikeways.

4) Unlike the W&OD Trail in Arlington, the Mt. Vernon Trail lacks any nearby parallel path, such as the existing Four Mile Run Trail, that could accommodate much of the trail user volumes.

5) Unlike the W&OD Trail that follows Four Mile Run in Arlington, the Mt. Vernon Trail is generally located much farther away from the Potomac riverbank, and the Potomac River is a navigable tidal river, not an eroded urban stream.

6) Although the Mt. Vernon Trail widening would be funded with VDOT money, it is subject to NEPA review because it’s on federal land and VDOT money includes federal transportation funds.

Nevertheless Muchnick endorses Arlington civic activist Bernie Berne’s recommendation that County Board approval for project construction be contingent on review of the environmental assessment by relevant County advisory bodies.

NOVA Parks CEO Says Not to Worry About Doubling Width of W&OD Trail

Reply to Paul Gilbert, June 3, 2019.

In recent commentary in the Sun Gazette, NOVA Parks’ CEO Paul Gilbert argued that concerns about doubling the paved width of the W&OD Trail are misplaced, because NOVA Parks plans to improve storm water management. First, how is the public to assess this claim when neither a preliminary design nor an environmental assessment have been produced?

Second, Gilbert claims that a combination of swales, meadows and wetlands will be installed to control runoff. Yet on a one mile stretch of the widened trail between East Falls Church and Bon Air Park—half the length of the project area–there is no room to put in these structures without ripping out the existing rain absorbing understory along Four Mile Run.

Gilbert allays concerns about tree removal, saying that only 7 mature trees are slated for removal from the trail widening project west of Lee Highway. This is not the scenario relayed by Falls Church residents in a recent letter to the editor of the Falls Church News-Press, who oppose “the proposed elimination of valuable, usable space, and natural assets, including almost 100 trees (oaks, cedars, maples, Japanese cherry, dogwoods, etc.) and bushes adjacent to the proposed trails.”

Gilbert says that trail widening is environmental, because it will induce more bike and foot traffic. Yet NOVA Parks refuses to consider the less damaging alternative of redirecting foot traffic to the adjacent Four Mile Run Trail.

Mr. Gilbert indicates that dual trails are the wave of the future, and Arlingtonians should get on board. I’m all for dual trails, namely an existing paved trail on either side of Four Mile Run. I also insist on a full environmental assessment including an alternatives analysis for W&OD trail improvements.

Northern Virginia Stream Bank Restoration Projects Do More Harm Than Good

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, May 16, 2020

A letter to the editor in this week’s Mount Vernon Gazette entitled “Wrong Approach for Stream Restoration” (pp. 6-7), deplores misguided stream “restoration” projects in our region.  

According to author Rod Simmons, a Fairfax County environmental consultant, the LTE, “identically applies to . . . the currently planned upper Donaldson Run and Gulf Branch projects in Arlington County, as well as virtually all other upper headwater stream projects in our region.”

He says: “The biggest problem with the so-called natural channel design approach to stream “restoration” for us in the greater Washington, D.C. region is that it is planned and implemented in completely the wrong places: small order, interior forested, upper headwater streams and wetlands. Natural channel design (i.e. the Rosgen method) is mainly applicable to large order streams and rivers, especially the kind one finds in the American west. Applying it to small order, upper headwater stream channels of the deeply dissected Fall Zone of our area is a misuse of the methodology, a misunderstanding of eastern Fall Zone hydrology and stream geomorphology, a sure recipe for failure, a mismanagement of public funds by inappropriately targeting sediment-control projects in places with low levels of the very nutrients for which funding is based, and an unacceptable loss of irreplaceable native forest, wildlife, and landscape memory.

“The controversial Hollin Hills stream construction projects in the Little Hunting Creek watershed of Fairfax County, Virginia embody the worst elements of these misguided land use projects at virtually every level, from land giveaway to project planning to backing by elected officials.”

According to Suzanne Sundburg, “the science is clear. Privatizing stream ‘restoration’ has perverted its original intent. No matter how well intentioned, the process — as currently practiced in Arlington and elsewhere — it is incredibly destructive to holistic stream and riparian ecology.

“Corrective measures made solely to the receiving streambed will never correct the root cause: steadily increasing inputs of runoff volume and speed, fueled by increasing impervious surfaces and the loss of mature tree canopy throughout the watershed.”

More Trees To Be Removed From Flood Prone County Park

Excerpts from Suzanne Sundburg’s letter to Arlington County Board dated September 23, 2019.

Benjamin Banneker Park contains a formally documented FEMA floodplain, a floodway and a county-identified resource protection area (RPA). Yet even after the July 8 flash flood, the County plans to remove a large number of mature trees and significantly increase impervious surfaces.

I wish that I could tell you how many trees will be removed. However, no tree survey appears to be publicly available. It’s not contained in the staff report for 12-16-17, when the County Board reviewed the framework [for the park]. And the current staff report actively avoids providing this information, even as an attachment.

A reference is made to E2C2’s inquiry about the lack of information on tree removal, among other things, but there is no indication that E2C2’s questions were ever actually addressed. The environmental assessment (EA) referenced in the current staff report isn’t posted to the project web page, nor is the environmental assessmen (EA) posted to E2C2’s web page.

Nowhere do I see a calculation of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that will be re-emitted into the atmosphere when the trees at Benjamin Banneker are removed, even though there are electronic models that would enable staff to calculate the stored carbon.

In its January 28, 2019 presentation to E2C2, staff briefly mentioned the removal of the existing homes on the parcels acquired in order to “increase [the] park[‘s] infiltration ability.” So far, so good.

But staff has yet to explain how removing mature trees, enlarging and paving the current semi-pervious gravel parking lot, and widening paved trails will improve infiltration and won’t exacerbate existing stormwater runoff and flooding problems. 

When will staff and the board begin to discuss the elephant in the room? How much more flood damage will it take? Must we wait for documented drowning fatalities before the board takes action?

This quote seems appropriate: 

“I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.” —Greta Thunberg

Boathouse Facility Will Add More Congestion To Rosslyn

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 5/21/2019

I came down with Potomac Fever when I acquired a brand new Folbot folding kayak in 1997, and I’ve been paddling on the Potomac ever since. While there is no cure for Potomac Fever, paddling alleviates the symptoms. So I was enthusiastic about National Park Service (NPS) plans to construct a boathouse in Arlington.

Nevertheless I’m concerned about the health of the Potomac, specifically the impact of dredging the channel between the proposed dock and Teddy Roosevelt Island and traffic congestion in the nearby. The Gravelly Point alternative has neither of these impacts. Yet NPS rejected it because of occasional strong river currents and lack of access to public transportation at that location.

An experienced rower recently advised me that the Rosslyn location is unsuitable for rowing teams, because the channel between the Rosslyn site and Teddy Roosevelt Island is too narrow to maneuver large boats. Also, while river currents are a factor for small craft at Gravelly Point, they have little impact on large sculls. Likewise since high school rowing teams would be transported to Gravelly Point by bus, the lack of immediate access to transit is immaterial, and ample parking already exists for anyone who drives.

The Rosslyn alternative will put an ancillary administrative facility on a wooded area at the intersection of Lee Highway and Lynn Street near Key Bridge. This facility, the need for which has never been demonstrated, will exacerbate both congestion and runoff in a resource protection area and turn Key Bridge into a traffic nightmare during rush hour.

Today’s vote to approve an agreement with NPS to construct the Rosslyn facility is strictly pro forma. The train has left the station, but only because Department of Parks and Recreation never saw a park it didn’t want to pave over, and County Board never saw a boondoggle it didn’t want to buy. Nevertheless I think that those who live and work in Rosslyn should know that there was a reasonable alternative to more traffic congestion at Key Bridge and further degradation of the Potomac River.

Arlington “Bicycle Element” Calls for Widened Bike Trails

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, April 23, 2019.

Several organizations have recommended widening bike trails in County parks to handle a growing population of bikers. This is the same mantra used to widen highways in Northern Virginia with the same result–more congestion, unsafe conditions, loss of wildlife habitat and excessive runoff.

Dr. Bernard Berne, a long time community leader and avid cyclist, reports that he is “not aware of any studies that have demonstrated that widening existing trails in urban areas increase[s] their safety or decrease[s] speeding. In the absence of such demonstrations, the Bicycle Element should not ‘consider widening to accommodate heavy use’ (Policy 10.b, p. 25).”

Dr. Berne has forwarded to you a set of proposed amendments to the draft Bicycle Element that would proscribe or limit road widening in urban parks.

He also recommends that you add the following sections to Policy 5 (p. 19) consistent with the 2012 AASHTO Guide for Development of Bicycle Facilities:

i.   To protect natural areas near trails, limit the maximum widths of paved trails to 10 feet.

i.    Mowed buffers adjacent to paved trails in natural areas should not exceed three feet in width, except where environmental conditions prevent this. 

Please add a sentence to Appendix C. Design Guidance (p. 46):  

The AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities is used by Arlington County staff primarily for the design of multi-use trails. ASHTO guidance includes limitations on the widths of heavily used trails that are constrained by natural areas and Resource Protection Areas (RPAs).

Please remove from Appendix D projects to widen both the Four Mile Run (2-02) and Mount Vernon Trails (2-09), as both transect Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) along the Potomac River and/or a major tributary thereof.

Finally remove the 8th Road N./Bluemont Park Connector (2-30) and the Bluemont and Upton Hill woodland trail linkage (2-29), neither of which are needed and both of which would adversely impact an RPA.

Tree Canopy Estimate Questioned

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting On June 16, 2018.

At the April 21, 2018 County Board meeting, civic activist Suzanne Sundburg blasted the County for misrepresenting the health of Arlington’s tree canopy. She said:

“Arlington’s claim of a 1 percent tree canopy increase between 2011 and 2017 is not statistically valid”—due to the wide 6 percent margin of error in the reported statistic.

Christian Dorsey dismissed Sundburg’s criticism of the County’s 2017 tree canopy study that reported this number. He said: “Getting into a misunderstanding about data points of a percentage point or two are not really useful for our public policy.”

Yet the District of Columbia Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) is embroiled in a controversy right now with Forest Service (USFS) researchers over a similar difference in reported statistics. (more…)

Stop Paving Over Parkland

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on December 16, 2017.

While I generally support the Framework Plan for Benjamin Banneker Park, I oppose the widening of the multi-use trails from 8 feet to 12 feet with a ten foot minimum.

First, most of the park lies within a resource protection area (RPA) defined by the watershed created by Four Mile Run. Four Mile Run Trail runs close to the stream throughout the park—as close as three feet from the stream bank in some areas. (more…)

Reconsider Approval of Design for Lubber Run Community Center

These remarks, delivered at July 18 Arlington County Board Meeting, are excerpted from a message sent to County officials on July 17 by long-time civic leader and environmentalist Suzanne Sundburg.

I request that you defer taking action on item 52 (Lubber Run Community Center – Endorsement of the Conceptual Design) for the following reasons: 1) flawed process, 2) environmental impact and 3) cost.
(more…)

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