Seven Corners Pedestrian Bridge follow up

This is a follow up to the May 19 post that generated a great discussion on GreaterGreater Washington (see post and comments here). I attended the ribbon cutting on May 20 and subsequently collected data on two occasions.

I learned at the ribbon cutting that original discussions about a pedestrian overpass in this vicinity began as long ago as 25 years. I also learned that the "all in" costs, including engineering, design, etc. for the bridge was about $8 million, which is a lot more than what I reported in the original post (which may have just been construction costs; I don't know). I also met Penny Gross, the local politician who was instrumental in maintaining pressure on the county to get this bridge completed.

I had a conversation with the Pedestrian Program Manager for Fairfax County and pointed out some of the improvements I thought would make the facility more useful. He was very interested in hearing my point of view and seemed genuinely interested in improving pedestrian experience in Fairfax.

One key improvement that is needed is improving how pedestrians get from the bridge to the stores. Here are two photos: the first is the sidewalk if you take the stairs and the second is the sidewalk if you take the ramp. Both just end abruptly with the Starbucks and B&N beckoning across the lot.

Despite the fact that this area is quite unfriendly to pedestrians, it actually has a lot of pedestrian use. Here are the statistics I gathered on two different dates: Thursday, May 21 from 10:05 to 11:05 AM and Tuesday, June 16 from 1:30 to 2:30 PM. Both days were excellent weather with temps in the 70's.(Caveats about these data are at the end of the post)

In both cases there were more users at the Patrick Henry crossing than on the bridge itself, underscoring the continuing need to make that intersection safe and pleasant for pedestrians. I was surprised that no cyclists used the bridge. It may be that it is still early and they may not be aware. It will be interesting to follow up a year from now.

I also learned from the Pedestrian Program Manager that the county has plans to add signals and crosswalks at Seven Corners itself, which would be a definite improvement to the worn footpaths and crossing-fingers-that-the-light-is-red situation that exists there now.

The people who made the "Mad Dash" across Route 50 did so in three locations: 6 of them crossed between the bridge and Seven Corners; 2 crossed between the bridge and Patrick Henry and 2 crossed 50 yards or so east of Patrick Henry.

The bridge will, of course, require maintenance, and hopefully the county has budgeted for that. Already the bridge has become a magnet for graffiti; I took some photos.

I also noted this overflowing trash receptacle. Over time, if the facility is allowed to become run down, some people will choose not to use it any more. After only a month, this one seems to already be neglected.

During my May 21 data gathering hour, I had conversations with a few bridge users:
- A gentleman carrying a batch of Starbucks coffee (presumably for himself and coworkers) who said he lives in the area. Was skeptical while it was being built but now he really likes it. Admitted to making the mad dash on many occasions, but said he won't need to anymore.
- A mother walking with a young child going to story hour at Barnes and Noble. Used to cross at Seven Corners but now thinks the bridge is a much better option. Never dashed in the past.
- Long-time resident was aware of the numerous pedestrian deaths at this location. Generally pleased with the bridge. Declined to comment when I asked if he had made the mad dash in the past.
- A gentleman from outside the area who had parked in the nearby lot and was just checking the bridge out for curiosity's sake.
Caveats on table data:
Data was gathered while sitting on the bridge. Accuracy as follows:
Bridge users: 100% accurate
PH Drive: Likely undercounted by 10-20% due to distance and sight line. Better data on second date due to learning curve.
Seven Corners: Likely undercounted by a lot due to sightline and inability to see parts of the crossing area
Mad Dash: 100% accurate; no way anyone could cross without being seen.

Geo-Engineering on the Cheap - Bangladesh?

I was reading this recent article in The Atlantic about geoengineering. These paragraphs caught my eye:

The scariest thing about geo-engineering, as it happens, is also the thing that makes it such a game-changer in the global-warming debate: it’s incredibly cheap. Many scientists, in fact, prefer not to mention just how cheap it is. Nearly everyone I spoke to agreed that the worst-case scenario would be the rise of what David Victor, a Stanford law professor, calls a “Greenfinger”—a rich madman, as obsessed with the environment as James Bond’s nemesis Auric Goldfinger was with gold. There are now 38 people in the world with $10 billion or more in private assets, according to the latest Forbes list; theoretically, one of these people could reverse climate change all alone. “I don’t think we really want to empower the Richard Bransons of the world to try solutions like this,” says Jay Michaelson, an environmental-law expert, who predicted many of these debates 10 years ago.

Even if Richard Branson behaves, a single rogue nation could have the resources to change the climate. Most of Bangladesh’s population lives in low-elevation coastal zones that would wash away if sea levels rose. For a fraction of its GDP, Bangladesh could refreeze the ice caps using sulfur aerosols (though, in a typical trade-off, this might affect its monsoons). If refreezing them would save the lives of millions of Bangladeshis, who could blame their government for acting? Such a scenario is unlikely; most countries would hesitate to violate international law and become a pariah. But it illustrates the political and regulatory complications that large-scale climate-changing schemes would trigger.

So let's see: it's a violation of international law to try to protect your country's economy, people and very existence by cooling the climate (e.g. Bangladesh), but it's fine and dandy to maintain your country's fossil-fueled economy by warming the climate (e.g. United States). Do I have that right?

Used Car vs. New Car (Reprise)

A couple of weeks ago I posted my take on the environmental impact of buying new vs. used (see post here). I received a thoughtful email from a reader in Colorado:
I have been thinking about the same question. When buying/trading used cars does MPG matter to the environment?

Most people, rightfully, want to do the right thing for the environment and get more fuel efficient vehicles. But let's go in the opposite direction for the sake of argument.

Let's say that at a used car dealership I hand in my Honda Civic and purchase your Ford Behemoth (and you do the same in the opposite direction) was our transaction environmentally net-net?

I would think so since both cars are in use. Your article seems to point to the same conclusion. Does this abdicate used car buyers from considering fuel efficiency in their purchases and trades?

While I agree wholeheartedly that NEW car purchases need to be as environmentally friendly as possible, to guide manufacturers towards more fuel efficient vehicles. I think that used car purchases are just shuffling owners. The miles in each car need to be 'used up' prior to it's replacement in the U.S./Global fleet with a (hopefully) more fuel efficient model.

I might even go so far as to argue that if you maintain your Ford Guzzler you are doing the environment a favor by keeping it out of the hands of a secondary market. Many of our cars that are highly used end up auctioned and sent to Central and South America, where people may not be able to afford to keep them running as efficiently as possible - or where they would not be subject to stringent emissions monitoring. (A statement of economic inequality, not character.) Where I live near Denver you can watch them parade on Wednesdays from the Used Car Auctions down I-25 headed south towards Juarez, Mexico. Will their new owners have the means to optimally maintain the functioning of the vehicle to ensure minimal environmental impact?

Such thinking would also lead me to believe that a Cash-for-Clunkers would have a long term, net benefit by taking the guzzlers out of the total fleet faster. Obviously, such thinking then also points to the efficacy of raising CAFE standards.

Thanks - I enjoyed your article!

And thanks for reading and commenting.
Here's one more twist to think about. I have a colleague who suggests that as long as CAFE standards are in effect and the manufacturer you purchase from is not exceeding CAFE, then by buying a fuel efficient car you are just allowing the manufacturer to sell another less efficient (and more profitable) one, because they can do so and still keep their fleet average above the limit. There's probably a bit of truth to that--CAFE regulates a fleet average, and your purchase is just part of that overall average. However, it's a pretty complicated system (details here), so I'm not confident of my opinion. And all in all, I think the economic signal sent by purchasing a more fuel efficient car is the right signal to send, so I'll stand by my original post.

I'm Top 75!!

I'm pleased to report that I was named as one of the top 75 environmentalists to follow on twitter by Mashable, the Web Social Media Guide. See the list here.

If you like, you can follow me on twitter here.

Rethinking Trail Signage

Not long ago my sister from Los Angeles was visiting me in Arlington VA, and wanted walking directions to a coffee shop. She didn't mind taking a longer walk, so I recommended one about 2.5 miles away that she would enjoy. The shortest and most pleasant way to walk there included sections of bike trails. I found that giving her directions to be really difficult. Everything had to be described in great detail ("After about 600 yards you'll pass under a street overpass. Then I think the next trail off to your right is the one you want. I'm not sure there's a sign, but look to your left and you'll see a marshy area.") Eventually I printed out an Internet map for her to take with her.

Anytime I have tried to give people directions to my house via the trail (which is the easiest way to get to my house from the Metro), I find it challenging to describe where they exit the trail to get to my street. Once on the streets, though, it's easy, because there are street signs at every corner. Once, in fact, I gave my wife directions to a friend's house. Once on the trail, though, one of my descriptions was not quite accurate and she got nervous she was going the wrong way. So she bailed out and walked on the streets, which added about a 1/2 mile to her walk but gave her confidence she knew she was in the right place.